The top five law school marketing failures

Lawyerin’ ain’t easy these days for a tremendous number of recent law school graduates.

New attorneys are graduating with staggering debt. Last year, graduates of private law schools left school almost $125,000 in debt. For public law school grads, the debt average was over $75,700.

Jobs are hard to find. In 2011, just over half of all newly-minted graduates had found permanent, full-time legal work up to nine months after getting their diplomas.

It’s not a good time to be a law school, either. The message that law school is more likely to lead to massive debt and unemployment than a prestigious six-figure income has not been lost on undergrads and people looking for a career change.

Significantly fewer people have been taking the LSAT the last two years. In 2011, the number of people who took the LSAT fell 16 percent, the largest drop in a decade. Applications are down precipitously — about 16 percent as well.

In recent years, law schools have resorted to some unconventional methods to scare up and otherwise impress potential future law students. Here are of the more interesting ones.

1. Thomas M. Cooley Law School

If you are a bigwig at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich., (with four smaller campuses dotting the Michigan landscape as well a new satellite campus in Florida), you’ve got a problem. You have a huge number of students graduating at a time when jobs for lawyers are sparse. Your bar results aren’t historically atrocious, sure, but you perpetually find your school far from the top of the excessively important U.S. News rankings. Also, a lot of people simply don’t seem to like you very much.

What to do?

Well, naturally, you devise your very own ranking scheme that places you second in all the land, alongside the likes of Harvard Law School (#1), and well above Yale (#10) and Stanford (which can’t even crack the top 25). Then, you try to foist this “Judging the Law Schools” ranking onto the public with a serious face. Who knows? Maybe they’ll buy it.

What’s different about Cooley’s rankings? In a nutshell, the school stacks the proverbial deck in its favor. For example, library-related criteria such as seating capacity and the total number of library books constitute fully one quarter of the 40 factors used. While libraries are surely important, of course, any law school with five campuses and a massive enrollment seems likely to have lots of chairs and books, as the blog Third Tier Reality has trenchantly noted.

What’s more, as Above the Law observes, Cooley has managed to climb in its own rankings. In 2009, Cooley ranked Cooley just 12th. Now, Cooley has found that Cooley is #2. While 12th is pretty good, why couldn’t Cooley rank itself higher initially? And what exactly must it do now to convince itself that it’s better than Harvard?