Based on the USN&WR ranking methodology, the lawyer/judge assessment seems to be a significant factor (accounting for 15%) in pulling down our overall score. As Bill Henderson comments on the Conglomerate, there can sometimes be a significant disconnect between the lawyer/judge assessments and peer assessments, with the latter more likely to reflect the current stratification of schools based on other indicators, such as LSATs and UGPAs. In that case, UHLC's peer assessment places it in the same neighborhood as other schools ranked from 43 to 60.
A sticking point for me, though, has always been the weight given to UGPAs where the quality of the undergraduate institution and course of study is not factored in. Should a B student from MIT be rejected in favor of an A student with a liberal arts degree? If you're at one of the top IP schools in the country, I say NO! Another issue is how the faculty/student ratio is calculated. Should distinguished adjunct professors (who may only be available to teach in the evenings) be discounted in favor of full-time professors with minimal practice experience? If you're at one of the top schools in the country, I say NO! And these are just a couple of examples of how the need to jockey for position in a flawed ranking system can negatively impact a law school's attempts to provide the best environment for its students and faculty.
I admit that when I was choosing which Texas law schools to apply to a few years ago, the USN&WR rankings factored into my final decision. Since then, I've also learned to appreciate some of the qualitative factors that make UHLC a great school - factors that the USN&WR rankings just don't reflect. I hope that future law students will be able to see past the latest numbers and realize what a great school in a great city can do for their future careers.
[UPDATE] For a bit of background on where UHLC has been in the rankings over the last 10 years, Dean Rapoport included the details in her recent article, EATING OUR CAKE AND HAVING IT, TOO: WHY REAL CHANGE IS SO DIFFICULT IN LAW SCHOOLS, 81 Ind. L.J. 359, 362 n.7 (2006):
According to our records, our 1994 U.S. News & World Report ranking was 49, our 1995 ranking was 42, our 1996 ranking was 46, our 1997 ranking was 49, our 1998 and 1999 rankings were 50, our 2000 ranking was 58, our 2001 ranking was 51, our 2002 ranking was 50, our 2003 ranking was 53, our 2004 ranking was 69, and our 2005 ranking was 59.[/UPDATE]
(data provided from NewsGator Online)