The law school combines low in-state tuition, focus on clinical skills (they have 14 clinical programs), high first-time bar passage rates, and low debt loads for graduates. The school admits to being a “no frills” law school, unconcerned with rankings and prestige but obsessed with value and quality.
Could this be a “model” for other schools to follow? Smaller, localized schools that eschew rankings manipulation and bells and whistles in favor of quality and clinical acumen?
My initial impression was that perhaps this is the beginning of a trend, a move away from rankings-obsession. But as I think about it, NC Central doesn’t seem all that different from many schools.
While there may be too many law schools out there overall, many law schools actually and exclusively serve a regional demographic that prepare students to be good lawyers. This doesn’t always (often?) lead to a good USNWR ranking. If anything, the attention they divert to upping their US News ranking only distracts them from doing what NC Central is trying to do – focus on clinical skills, reduce debt load, and graduate competent lawyers who pass the bar in one try and are better prepared than peers who paid 6 times as much for school.
NC Central isn’t a new model so much as a school that provides permission, in a sense, to ignore the rankings if you believe in what you’re doing and you’re graduating good lawyers. Of course, this is all notwithstanding the prestige and alumni network factors. But I think if you’re graduating quality people those things take care of themselves.
What it does for the prospective law student is challenge the notion that you should go to the most highly ranked school you get into. I don’t think it’s a fatal challenge, but if you live (and intend to stay) in the Raleigh/Durham, NC area and your choice is between Duke, UNC, Wake Forest, and NC Central perhaps NC Central isn’t as bad a choice as the US News rankings would suggest, particularly if it means the difference between $80K in debt and $20K (or less) with even somewhat similar job prospects in the region. (UNC, incidentally, is #22 on the best value list.)
I guess it depends what you want and what you value…. and, definitely, depends on the job market and anticipating future market trends.