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Earlier this week, our admissions office received an e-mail from an applicant admitted for this fall's entering class, but who had not yet made his decision whether to send in his deposit and enroll. In the e-mail, he asked how, despite the success of Hamline's programs, can the school still be a U.S. News fourth tier school?
I was reminded that I had not spoken to our law students about the 2010 rankings released two weeks ago. My e-mail response to this admitted applicant sums up my judgment about our law school and its place in the rankings, so I thought I would share it with you. So here's what I wrote, and pardon me if I read to you today:
The short answer to your question is that, although the U.S. News scores put us in its fourth tier, I don't consider Hamline to be a fourth-tier law school. Nor should you.
At the outset, we're proud that our Dispute Resolution Institute is ranked No. 2 among dispute resolution programs in the nation. Our Health Law Institute is ranked no. 18 in the country. We're the only Minnesota law school (and among the elite law schools in the country) to have two nationally-ranked specialty programs.
Yes, U.S. News ranked our overall law school program at No. 145, at the top of the fourth tier. The last ranked third tier school was no. 144. I should note that Hamline has been ranked in the third tier as recently as 2008.
As you consider your decision, I suggest that you examine the data behind the rankings. Please compare Hamline to the other schools that you are looking at. I suspect that we compare favorably, and perhaps better, on such criteria as UGPA (3.16 - 3.66), LSAT (150 - 158), selectivity (49%), lower student/faculty ratio (14.8), job placement after nine months (89%), high Minnesota bar passage rate (92.8%) and strong overall bar passage rate (91%). It appears that our shift this year into the fourth tier can be attributed to weaker scores in the external reputation rankings, which is dependent on the strength of the school's marketing efforts within its jurisdiction.
The rankings are nowhere close to a true measure of our progress and achievements as a law school. Our published scholarship continues to raise Hamline's national and international profile. It's also unfortunate that U.S. News does not evaluate or rank what matters most: our teaching and curriculum. We still excel in providing practice-focused legal training in a student-centered educational environment within a well-respected university. We are passionate about our teaching, writing and service. Personally, if we did a better job at promoting what we do, we would gain improved rankings in the reputation categories. That is a major priority for me as dean.
I will offer one final observation. Unless you're considering an elite law school within the top 20, your success as a student and professional will not depend on the "pedigree" of your law diploma. It will depend on your ambition and achievement at whatever law school you attend. My advice is that you choose the school that provides the learning environment and support (financial and otherwise) that best enhances the prospects for your success. I strongly believe that Hamline will give you the platform from which you will prosper.
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That was my response. I hope it will get him to "yes." If you're asked the same question by your colleagues and friends, feel free to share those same observations.
Thanks for listening today.