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Grading Law Schools — The Super Lawyers Approach

Grading Law Schools — The Super Lawyers Approach

When people ask where I went to law school, I like to say I went to the Harvard of St. Paul, Minnesota. That would be William Mitchell College of Law.

Never heard of it? This tells me you’re not from Minnesota. You see, Billy Mitchell (as we affectionately call it) is very well respected in this state. It’s produced  a Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court (Warren Burger), scores of State Supreme Court justices and many of the top lawyers in Minnesota. While Billy Mitchell ain’t Harvard, it’s a darn good law school. 

But you’d never know that if you relied on the US News & World Report rankings of law schools from 2008. We Mitchell grads took a collective shot in the, um, midsection when our school was listed dead last in the survey. (Okay, it wasn’t quite that bad — the magazine didn’t bother to “rank” the loser schools listed in the 4th tier, so they just listed them alphabetically).

Two other law schools from the Twin Cities, Hamline and the University of St. Thomas, were listed in the third tier, while the University of Minnesota was ranked 22nd nationally.

I swear this is not sour grapes on my part here, but US News completely missed the mark on Mitchell. Consider the 2008 Minnesota Super Lawyers list. Thirty-four percent of the lawyers on the list graduated from the University of Minnesota; 26 percent from William Mitchell; 9 percent from Hamline and zero from St. Thomas (which is not surprising, since the school opened in 1999). How can it be that a lowly 4th tier school produces more than a quarter of the state’s top lawyers?

Perhaps Mitchell suffers because it doesn’t have a football team. It’s an independent law school, not affiliated with a major university or college. Who knows? But one thing seems clear: US News uses a national ranking process. As such, they seem to do a good job ranking “national” law schools, but when it comes to local and regional schools, the process might not work so well.

The majority of students entering law school will not attend a nationally ranked school. For these students there needs to be a more reliable indicator of how local and regional schools rank compared to one another. That’s where Super Lawyers comes in.

A reliable indicator of the quality of a law school is the quality of the attorneys it produces. In coming issues, Super Lawyers will publish graduation statistics on the lawyers named to our statewide lists. We believe this will give students a more accurate picture of how local law schools compare to one another, and will give a fairer shake to the Harvards of places like St. Paul, Minnesota.




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