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Methodology affects law-school rankings

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An annual report ranking graduate schools puts two law schools in Indiana at a tie for 23rd, while one dropped nearly 20 spots to 87 and was ranked at 21 in the first-ever ranking of part-time programs. A fourth was ranked as a Tier 4 school, where schools are listed alphabetically.

U.S. News & World Report's annual report of graduate schools used data from fall 2008 and early 2009 and is officially available today. The overall scores used for rankings are based on a weighted average of 12 measures, including median LSAT scores, acceptance rates, employment rates for graduates, bar passage rate, and student-faculty ratio. Law schools must be accredited and fully approved by the American Bar Association and draw the majority of its students from the U.S. in order to be listed.

The University of Notre Dame Law School and Indiana University Maurer School of Law - Bloomington were tied at 23rd.

Last year, Notre Dame was ranked at 22, up from 28 in the rankings released in 2007. In rankings released in both 2008 and 2007, Indiana University Maurer School of Law - Bloomington was ranked at 36. This is the first year the Bloomington law school ranked in the top 25.

Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis ranked at 87, down from 68 in the rankings released in 2008, but similar to 85 in rankings released in 2007.

Gary R. Roberts, dean of the IU School of Law - Indianapolis, blamed a change in the methodology for the school's difference of almost 20 spots from last year.

"In fact, by any objective measure our law school is the same, if not stronger, than it was last year," Roberts said in a statement.

Unlike previous years, this year's ranking system included "class admissions data for both full-time and part-time entering students for the median LSAT scores, median undergraduate grade-point averages, and the acceptance rate in calculating the school's overall ranking," according to the publication's Web site.

Previous law school rankings only included the above data for full-time entering students. Since 1990, part-time J.D. students' data had been included for all other statistical variables.

The Indianapolis law school also ranked eighth in a top 10 list for best legal writing programs, and 10th in a top 10 list for teaching health-care law. It was the only one in Indiana to rank in these or other top 10 lists that included clinical training, dispute resolution, environmental law, intellectual property law, international law, tax law, and trial advocacy.

Also, in this year's first ever rankings of 87 part-time law school programs at ABA accredited law schools, Indianapolis' only law school ranked at 21, tied with Catholic University of America (Columbus) in Washington, D.C., and DePaul University in Chicago, which was also one of six law schools that tied the Indianapolis law school in the overall rankings.

Valparaiso University School of Law has consistently been ranked as a Tier 4 school; the school's part-time program ranked at 52, tied with seven other schools.

Nationwide, some law schools have denounced the magazine's ranking system, saying it puts too much emphasis on LSAT scores and GPAs, adding that prospective students should look beyond these rankings to determine which school is their best match. Other studies and law school rankings do exist; at this time the U.S. News and World Report rankings are the most well-known.

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