Law Schools

NY Times Reporter Sounds off on Legal Education, Accreditation and the 'Crazy' Race for Rankings

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New York Times reporter David Segal, whose recent series of stories on legal education has touched off a furor in the legal community, says law schools have taken the quest for higher rankings and greater prestige to “an incredibly destructive” place.

Segal says the “madness” created by U.S. News and World Report’s annual law school rankings have led many schools to employ all kinds of different “shenanigans” to make themselves more appealing to prospective students and to cover up just how bad the job market for law school graduates is.

Segal’s remarks came in an interview with Bloomberg Law’s Lee Pacchia that was posted on YouTube on Thursday. The conversation touched on several subjects, including the high costs of a legal education, the ABA’s role as a law school accreditor and the competition for prestige that has shaped many law schools’ actions.

Segal, whose normal beat at the paper is consumer finance, says he got into the business of legal education quite by accident. He met a recent law school graduate at a cocktail party who told him that while he had been lucky enough to land a job, none of his friends had.

“That just seemed like an interesting fact to me, and I just dove in from there and then just found out how just crazy the whole law school market is,” he says.

Segal says the U.S. News rankings do some good, but have led almost all law schools to fudge a lot of their figures and set “really sad” priorities. He said U.S. News bears some of the blame for building such perversities into its rankings.

“But it doesn’t help that law schools are just completely obedient to the set of standards and jump through any hurdle that is erected by U.S. News” to improve their ranking, he says.

Segal also says the ABA has a “terrible conflict of interest” stemming from its dual role as an accreditor of law schools and as the voice of the profession, though he doesn’t mention that the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, the ABA’s accrediting arm, is completely independent of the association. He said that despite some reforms that have brought more nonlawyers into the process, the accrediting function is still essentially dominated by lawyers, whose primary interest is in enhancing the prestige and salaries of the legal profession.

“That is just a recipe for a bunch of self-interested decisions,” he said.

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