Right now in the soggy “Golden State,” a dispute between U.S. News and World Report’s hospital rankings and the San Francisco City Attorney’s office has morphed into litigation. The LA Times has reported that “San Francisco City Atty. David Chiu issued two subpoenas to [U.S. News and World Report] earlier this month” with respect to hospital rankings and other health institutions. “The first demanded answers about the company’s process for ranking hospitals. The outlet also makes money from the healthcare facilities, including through its sale of ‘badges’ that high-scoring institutions can and often do place on their websites and other branding materials. The second subpoena demanded internal business records that might reveal more about U.S. News’ rankings process and whether the financial relationships with hospitals are a factor.”
This litigation should be interesting. California has codified the law of unfair business practices (Business and Professions Code section 17200 et seq.) and so whether these rankings could be seen as an unfair business practice will be determined in the lawsuit that USNWR has filed in federal court.
For its part, USNWR claims that the subpoenas violate the First Amendment, and it seeks an injunction blocking compliance with those subpoenas.
Why should lawyers care? Think about it. The precious USNWR law school rankings have been the bible for prospective law students trying to decide where to apply, whether that school would be a fit, and, of course, the reputation of that school weighs heavily on decision-making, whether rightly or wrongly.
Any possibility that USNWR’s rankings of law schools could be a possible future target? I would imagine that some law schools, especially lower tier, may be watching this litigation with interest. Some law schools have ditched the rankings and more probably will.
GPAs and LSAT scores are not necessarily indicative of success as a lawyer, and why should those matter? I’m not the only one to think that way. And does anyone really care about those things once out in practice? Maybe in Biglaw, but most lawyers do not practice in that rarified realm. In fact, the longer one is out of law school and practicing, the less value, if any, those “predictive” (and I use the term advisedly) scores have to real life. Has any client ever asked what your GPA was? Your LSAT score? I thought not.
It’s not what you bring to the table when you enter law school, it’s the education you carry when you practice. That’s the fallacy, I think, of any rankings. Rankings only matter in the eyes of the beholder, kind of like beauty. And we all know what a fallacy beauty can be.
Rankings should not be the be-all and end-all of any decision. Every prospective law student needs to do their own due diligence about where to apply to law school, whether to go to a particular school, whether the law school is a good fit, not just academically, but — even more important — financially. How much debt is in the offing and how much debt is the student willing to incur to get that professional degree? How deep in hock is she willing to go?
Reread John Grisham’s novel “The Rooster Bar” as a cautionary tale.
Not to limit itself just to law school rankings now that some law schools have kicked it to the curb, USNWR has just released its first “Best Companies to Work For” list of Biglaw firms. As the ATL post points out, the results are, at best, a mixed bag. It’s not just a modified version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs but other aspects of law firm life that, in olden times, would probably have been considered too “woo-woo,” but not any more. What did USNWR also consider? A positive work environment, day-to-day employee experience, and opportunities for advancement.
Looking at the scorecard for the top 10 Biglaw firms in USNWR’s list, the factors are “quality of pay, work-life balance, stability, comfort, belongingness (?), and professional development.” Do you remember in high school (I know, going back that far is a stretch for me) how some students yearned to be part of the popular group (was that you)? Are these top 10 Biglaw firm rankings just a grownup version of that? What do you think?
And last, but not least, if anyone forgot to calendar the date, tomorrow, February 2 is Groundhog Day. That’s the day that Punxsutawney Phil emerges briefly from hibernation to tell the world whether there is going to be six more weeks of winter or if spring is nigh. If only he could tell us there’s going to be only six more weeks until the 2024 election, rather than the endless months of campaigning ahead of all of us.
Jill Switzer has been an active member of the State Bar of California for over 40 years. She remembers practicing law in a kinder, gentler time. She’s had a diverse legal career, including stints as a deputy district attorney, a solo practice, and several senior in-house gigs. She now mediates full-time, which gives her the opportunity to see dinosaurs, millennials, and those in-between interact — it’s not always civil. You can reach her by email at [email protected].