The Washington College of Law fell from 49 in 2013 to 72 in the 2015 U.S. News & World Report’s Best Law Schools rankings, a drop that affects recent grads of the school.
WCL’s standing has plummeted in the midst of a nationwide drop in law school enrollment.
“It makes me sad that WCL has fallen so far so fast, especially when I experienced firsthand what a great school it is,” Jessica Ritsick, a 2011 alumna of the school, said. “As an alum, it's hard to not only watch the rankings drop, and to watch the economic value of my degree drop with them, but to watch the administration sit back and not only let this happen, but try to deflect responsibility for its role in the predicament to begin with."
Currently, The Georgetown University Law Center is ranked 13 on the list and the George Washington University Law School is ranked at 20.
WCL’s drop means the school has been taken out of the running for a number of potential transfer students and has also removed itself from consideration for other students applying for the first time, according to Ritsick.
Ritsick transferred to WCL from another law school in 2009. She describes herself as one of the lucky ones in terms of employment; she had a judicial clerkship after graduation, then worked at a law firm and now works in the federal government.
“I'm so happy that I picked WCL,” Ritsick said. “I feel that I got a quality education, and I'm incredibly happy with the foundation the school provided me, as well as the tremendous support and mentoring I received from faculty, many of whom remain my mentors today, and who continue to help guide me in my career.”
However, Ritsick said that if she were in law school today and looking to transfer, she would no longer consider WCL.
“WCL is now ranked considerably lower than the school from which I transferred,” Ritsick said. “When you are looking to transfer schools, it's a simple fact that you transfer up, not down.”
According to WCL’s 2014 Standard 509 Information Report, 100 students, or 21.1 percent of first-year law students, transferred out of WCL prior to the 2014-2015 academic year.
“The rise in the phenomena of transfer students is largely due to the impact of commercial rankings that fail to acknowledge crucial components of a well-rounded legal education such as clinics, global opportunities, and diversity to mention a few,” Franki Fitterer, director of public relations at WCL, said in an email.
Brian Westley, a 2012 graduate from WCL now working in a D.C. law firm, said that when he graduated from WCL, the school was ranked in the top 50.
“I’m alarmed that WCL’s ranking has fallen so dramatically and so quickly in the past few years,” Westley said in an email. “While I don’t like that so many people in the legal profession obsess about rankings—and I wish they wouldn’t—the reality is, rankings do matter, not only to prospective students, but to employers.”
The administration needs to address the fall in rankings, he said.
Graduates’ employment prospects, or “placement success,” are part of the data used to determine each school’s ranking, according to U.S. News. Other qualities used to determine rank include: a peer assessment score, an assessment score by lawyers and judges, the school’s selectivity, the school’s bar exam passage rate and faculty resources.
WCL’s percentage of graduates who had a job lasting at least a year was 40.2 percent for the class of 2012, according to U.S. News. This metric also stipulated that in these jobs, bar passage was required or a J.D. degree was an advantage. In comparison, the rate that year was 85 percent for GWU and 77.3 percent for Georgetown.
“The nine month employment rate as calculated by U.S. News for our 2012 graduates was 53.6 [percent], and it is 60.5 [percent] for the 2013 class,” Fitterer said in an email.
The employment statistics presented by U.S. News do not accurately reflect the career opportunities that WCL graduates have, Fitterer said.
“Citing limiting categories of employment statistics that are constricted by timing or job type does not take into account the totality of the graduates’ career choices,” Fitterer said in an email. “The categories given the most weight by U.S. News do not fully consider all our graduates’ success in seizing other opportunities in Washington, D.C., and beyond: jobs in the business sector, law-related professional jobs in government and policy, and further graduate study, including in our own dual-degree programs.”
WCL has seen a decline in its number of applicants over the last few years. The law school received 6,028 applicants in 2012, 5,808 applicants in 2013 and 5,186 applicants in 2014, which may be a part of the national trend of declining law school enrollment, according to Fitterer.
When WCL fell out of U.S. News & World Report’s top 50 national law schools list in 2013, students and alumni started a petition on Change.org for the removal of Dean Claudio Grossman, The Eagle previously reported.
“Aside from the likely unemployment and crippling debt they face, [WCL students] now will also be graduating with a degree from a ‘second-tier’ school,” the petition said.
In the petition, dated March 12, 2013, students and alumni called for Grossman’s removal because they claimed he had refused to take the necessary measures to maintain the school’s rankings amongst the nation’s law schools, firms and other employers.
The petition was signed by 164 people but failed to obtain Grossman’s resignation.
“Employment success continues to have our undivided attention,” Fitterer said in an email.
WCL has expanded its commitment to student career development through the 11 Faculty Practice Groups, first launched in fall 2013, according to Fitterer.
“Most importantly, our new Tenley Campus will enhance opportunities for students even further, as it becomes the outstanding new home for our law school,” Fitterer said in an email.
Despite the recent decline in its ranking, Ritsick maintains that WCL is a strong school, and wishes more people could see it that way.
“This is unfortunate, because at its core, WCL is a quality school, with great faculty, and an engaged and supportive law school community,” Ritsick said. “No one likes the rankings, but for as long as they exist, they matter, for better or worse.”