USNWR, RIP

Monday, May 6, 2013

Most people attend law school to obtain jobs as lawyers (Not butchers or bakers, or candlestick makers.)

If law school was just a cool place to chill out for a few years without building specific job skills, they’d call it “college.” Jobs are important, and we think that law schools should be competing to place students in the best jobs, not the best libraries. And given the cost of obtaining legal education, we want to know which law schools put you in jobs that pay you money, instead of jobs the law school pays for. With that in mind we present our inaugural ATL Top 50 Law School Rankings.

So launched Above the Law’s Top 50 Law School Rankings.

And if I were the editor-in-chief of US News & World Reports (USNWR) law school rankings, I would wave the white flag of defeat and resign my position forthwith. (Of course, they won’t do that, but here you have yet another example of the capability of entrenched incumbents to assume the future is predestined to look like the past, and to prefer denial to reality.)

What’s so great about ATL’s law school rankings, and why should we care?

Two words: Prestige vs. results.

USNWR focuses on prestige. 40% of their ranking weight comes from what they call “quality assessment,” which is merely one grandiose accumulation of votes by lawyers and others about schools they like. Surprise: The prestige scorecard is grossly skewed by the sheer throw-weight of alumni numbers, in many cases. By alumni number skew, I simply mean that each individual vote is counted equally, so schools with bigger class sizes and bigger alumni pools get more votes if everyone simply votes for their alma mater. I would, wouldn’t you?

What makes up most of the rest of the USNWR ranking? A combination of median LSAT score, which are correlated with nothing meaningful, so far as we can tell, and raw undergrad GPA, valuing a 3.5 at Princeton less than a 3.6 at Boise State—and yes, we welcome the PC police emails on this score.

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4 Comments


  1. Stu, 11 months ago Reply

    I agree that the ATL ranking is a good effort. And I agree that Elie’s follow up post, discussing some of the criticisms, was an unusual display of forthrightness on the part of somebody making rankings. My criticism is that a number of the inputs are also quite easily subject to gaming. For example, the NLJ250 data isn’t an ideal proxy for employability (at least not at the top). That is, the NLJ250 ranking evaluates a placement at Cravath, Wachtell, or other similarly situated firms as equivalent to a placement at Adams and Reese. Not to suggest that Adams and Reese isn’t a great firm, but I think that few would suggest it’s in the same league as the others. Unfortunately, this is a feature that actually does have an effect at the top. At that level, I think that the relevant question is less about access to jobs as much as willingness to take certain jobs. The biggest outlier is, of course, Yale (comparatively few do biglaw), but the data underlying the NLJ250 ranking suggest that Penn students are actually willing to take firms a step down in prestige from, say, those that NYU students are willing to go to. So that’s a concern.


  2. Tom, 11 months ago Reply

    Batch rankings are the key. If you look, the scores tend to cluster anyways.

    Also, you are completely on point with abandoning scholarships as a metric for ranking schools, but only insofar as it comes to choosing which school to attend. At that point, of course, you’ll already know which school gave a preferrable funding package. But it might influence the decision to apply to schools, given the cost of application (why apply to a school that I know I will not be able to afford?).


  3. guest, 11 months ago Reply

    The biggest issue is the assumption that all NJ250 firms are equal, and that NJ250 firms + SCOTUS or federal judges are the only desirable rankings category. I agree with ATL that they need to draw the line somewhere, and that line should definitely be above “JD preferred,” but what about prestigious (according to ATL) programs like DOJ Honors, or generally desirable other federal honors attorney programs? No one goes to the DOJ because they didn’t get their first choice job at a big firm, unlike many JD-preferred positions.


  4. legaltruth, 11 months ago Reply

    What I would like to see is a report looking at the influence US News actually has in applications and enrollment. Are prospective law students making their choices based on the US News Rankings? I haven’t seen any studies on this topic.

    Further graduate education in general is facing a crisis, not just law school. The legal community needs to look at the larger picture and outside their insular profession and see that many have faced or are facing similar problems. Collaboration to find a solution or reviewing ones that worked should be part of the solution method. Not just get a room or committee full of lawyers and law professors/school administrators together to come up with a solution. Having one economist is a mistake when a major portion of the crisis is about pricing. A committee of economists would be much better.


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