Defining "Tiers" of Reputation
And all that confusion is about the school’s overall rating; what about ratings of particular programs? For environmental law, Vermont and Lewis and Clark are ranked highest; for trial advocacy, Stetson and Temple.
Moreover, the USNews version is one of several rating services; there are others which evaluate different variables.
And neither has USNews!
So USNews may know a lot about law schools, but we can tell you definitively that they don't know what a tier is.
When we look at law schools, we make suggestions based on 6 groups:
National Reputation. These schools (the top 14 in US News) are well known across the United States as good schools. These schools will have large numbers of recruiters from all over the United States. That is why someone from Georgetown may end up with a job in Los Angeles.
The schools below the "First Tier" are recognized as top schools, and should a wayward grad have thoughts of leaving, it is theoretically possible. That's why I think of these schools as
Top Regional Reputation with National Crossover. These are schools generally ranked between 15 and 50 in US News, where the majority of recruiters come from the area, but there are recruiters from other parts of the country. Fordham, for example, has about 350 recruiters. One hundred fifty come from the New York area; the remaining 200 come from all over, including forty from California.
Local Reputation with some Regional crossover. These are schools with local recruiters, but due to location some people from outside the area are willing to attend such a school. DePaul and Southwestern are such schools; although primarily local, the cities are attractive to both applicants and recruiters. Religious schools often fall into this group. a recruiter from a firm with a religious bent may want to recruit at law schools that attract like-minded people. Note that we are not talking about hiring people of a certain religion. That is, generally speaking, illegal. We're talking about the "kind" of person who would attend Mercer, Regent, BYU, or Pepperdine. That person need not be of the school's religion, but they must adhere to its principles.
Truly local schools are basically unknown to anyone who isn’t applying to law school or didn’t grow up next door to the school. When you graduate you can take the bar exam and be a lawyer. That is about all there is to say. Examples are Campbell, Oklahoma City, and Detroit Mercy. People from out of state don't go there, because the locale isn't alluring. No night life, no trendy nouvelle anything. You go because you're there and so is the school.
Boutique Schools are local schools with a specialty that has become known nationally. An example is Vermont Law School. Vermont is not known as a top law school unless you are going to specialize in environmental law; its reputation in that program is national. Franklin Pierce (now known as the U. of New Hampshire) for intellectual property, Stetson for trial advocacy, St. Louis for health law, are all good examples.
There is an almost-comical variation of the Boutique school: the sports school. Gonzaga was purely local until its basketball team made the NCAA Final Four; then it had a national reputation in some people’s minds. A few years later it became a local school again. Maryland was rocketed from purely regional to almost national with an NCAA championship. And Notre Dame will always be Notre Dame, even though Georgetown is the flagship Roman Catholic university in the United States.