UNH Law rises 26 spots in U.S. News & World Report, makes Top 100

By Sameer Panesar
On April 1, 2014

In the annual law school rankings compiled by the U.S. News & World Report, the University of New Hampshire School of Law rose to No. 93 this year, which is 26 spots higher than last year. The law school has seen an unprecedented rise in its ranking, rising 49 spots over the past two years which places the law school among the top 100 in the nation for the first time in the school's history. 

The law school, which was formerly known as the Franklin Pierce Law Center, became fully integrated with the university this past January. 

In August of 2010, UNH and the Franklin Pierce Law Center entered an affiliation agreement, according to Peter Davies, the director of marketing and communications at the law school. In that year, the school also changed its name to the UNH School of Law.

According to Davies, part of the rise in rankings can be attributed to the rebranding under the university's name.

"There was certainly a sense that the UNH brand would help us get greater brand recognition," Davies said. "There aren't many independent law schools in the country and there was a sense that affiliating with a larger institution could help in many ways."

As a result of the merger, the law school is able to offer joint degrees such as a JD/MBA. "There are curriculum advantages to having a connection with UNH," Davies said. 

However, the Franklin Pierce name still has a pull.

"One of the primary strengths of our law school has always been intellectual property law," Davies said.

The intellectual property program still retains the Franklin Pierce name. 

"I think it's tricky to say what exactly can be attributed to the name change," Davies said. "It did make a lot of people pay attention to us."

John Broderick, the dean of the UNH School of Law, emphasized that the rankings encompass both objective data and subjective opinions.

"About 40 percent of the rankings is something called peer assessment," Broderick said. "People from the legal world get to vote on the perceived quality of your law school even if their view is five years out of date. Therefore, the rankings are to some extent a trailing indicator." 

However, Broderick noted that the subjectivity of the rankings doesn't dismiss their value. Since becoming the dean in 2011, he has focused instead on improving the hard data encompassed in the rankings, such as the median LSAT score of the entering class, the median GPA of the first-year class and employment statistics for third-year law students. 

To counter a declining applicant pool, the law school faced a choice between lowering admission standards or keeping them the same, Davies said.

"We actually tightened standards to make a smaller but highly qualified class," Davies said. "We've been going in the direction of higher standards." 

"Some people rely on the ranking of a law school to assess the quality of a school," Broderick said. "Therefore, we had to attack what we can change. Hard data is hard data. As a consequence of focusing on the quality of admitted students, our median LSAT and GPA increased. We focused on getting students real jobs, not make-work jobs."

Broderick's goal is to make "everyone's law degree more valuable." As a result, the decisions to reduce the size of the admitted class and expand on academic programs and offerings have been difficult decisions to make.

"Schools are [instead] going after students and it's hard to do what we did," Broderick said. 

Davies also noted the advantages that being associated with the university has brought to the law school.

"I think it certainly helps to be associated with the UNH brand because it helps us land better students," Davies said, "because they like the sense of being affiliated with a research university and having the opportunity to obtain more advanced degrees." 

In a tough period in the market for legal education, the affiliation with the university has allowed the law school to pursue an expansion of its programs as well as offer joint degrees, allowing more interdisciplinary learning.

"We've been able to launch some new programs such as a sports entertainment law institute and the Rudman Center for Public Policy," Davies said. 

In the saturated legal market, the affiliation with UNH has also helped the law school increase its employment numbers over the past few years. 

"Some of that employment success could be attributed to being affiliated with UNH and a greater connection to the UNH alumni network," Davies said.

In a time in which law schools are decreasing the size of their faculty, the law school is hiring two new faulty members for this coming fall.

"Because of the economy, the people available for hire are really extraordinary," Broderick said.

Broderick is confident about the prospect for the UNH School of Law.

"Our law school is doing well in challenging times," Broderick said. "[In the future] I think there will be a huge opening in the legal profession. I suspect that the law degree will be increasingly attractive."


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