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March 20, 2018

How important is Maine Law's rise in U.S. News & World Report rankings?

Photo / Renee Cordes
Photo / Renee Cordes
Danielle M. Conway, dean of UMaine Law School, reported that In U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 list posted on Tuesday, Maine Law is at No. 106, tied with Albany Law School, University of Buffalo-SUNY and West Virginia University, while Yale, Stanford and Harvard held on to the top three slots. Maine Law was No. 139 in the previous listing.

About the University of Maine School of Law

The University of Maine School of Law is located 246 Deering Ave. in Portland.

A total of 604 students applied and 325 were accepted to the class of 2020, and 85 eventually enrolled, according to a report on the school's website.

Danielle Conway, the school's first African-American dean, was honored by Mainebiz as a Woman to Watch in 2017.

The University of Maine School of Law just shot up in closely watched national law school rankings, but the school's dean, Danielle Conway, sees that as a mixed blessing.

In U.S. News & World Report's 2019 list posted on Tuesday, Maine Law is at No. 106, tied with Albany Law School, University of Buffalo-SUNY and West Virginia University, while Yale, Stanford and Harvard held on to the top three slots. Maine Law was No. 139 last year.

Conway told Mainebiz she's taking the upgrade with a "huge grain of salt called a rock."

"We've not changed our structure, our faculty or our organization from one year to the next, and why can't people see that and understand that for small law schools like ours, these rankings are not meaningfully done, and it creates a volatility that negatively impacts or positively impacts our admissions cycle," she said. "I would much rather our admissions cycle be based on the actual quality of our program of legal education."

Conway, who like other deans received the rankings before they were made public, said the scoring system has always favored large schools over smaller ones like Maine Law.

"When you're a small school that's truly in the business of serving a particular community or a segment of the region, you're getting lumped into a category of well-endowed, long-standing schools that have the benefit of time and money," she said, "and it's really hard to compete."

But she acknowledged that moving up in the rankings could also be positive if it inspires prospective applicants to go to Maine Law's website to learn more about the school.

Conway highlighted the school's dedication to service, commitments to rural practice, public interest and experiential learning through clinical programs, a commitment to refugee and human rights representation and "our commitment to being Maine's law school."

She also said there may be a short-term bump in the applications cycle that starts this fall and goes through spring 2019 as a result of the rankings upgrade.

That said, Conway would rather see a focus say on a three-year rolling average for all schools, and perhaps separately for schools that are the only one in their state, rather than on year-to-year-fluctuations, to be fairer to smaller institutions.

She also says support in Maine is strong for its law school no matter what the rankings, which "means everything to me."

U.S. News & World posted its 2019 rankings online at midnight on Tuesday. It said that rankings of 194 law schools fully accredited by the American Bar Association are based on a weighted average of 12 measures of quality. Data were collected in fall 2017 and early 2018.

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