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U.S. News Movers:

Over at TaxProf, Paul Caron summarizes the biggest moves in the new 2007 U.S. News law school rankings. On the one hand, I'm pleased to report that George Mason moved from number 41 to number 37. On the other hand, don't make a decision on where to attend law school based on annual fluctuations in U.S. News rankings, and don't fool yourself into thinking that minor differences in rankings between schools signify anything meaningful.

UPDATE: Two years ago, I wrote: [While the U.S. News rankings suffer from flawed methodology,] the reaction of the Association of American Law Schools to the rankings, which has been to simply condemn them, is unproductive. Prospective law students are going to invest a lot of time and money in law school, and they are looking for as much information as they can get. Rankings, including even U.S. News's rankings, provide useful information. If nothing else, the rankings themselves influence the decisions not only of students, but to a lesser extent of junior faculty choosing among competing offers, law review editors selecting among articles, and employers, and thus become a self-fulfilling prophecy that can't simply be pooh-poohed.

The real problem is not rankings, but that U.S. News has had a virtual monopoly on the rankings, though Leiter has provided more useful (at least for those concerned with the academic quality of the faculty and students at various schools), though less used guidance for students for several years now. One hears of such things happening, but it's absurd, for example, when a student turns Chicago for NYU because the former is "ranked" sixth and the latter fifth. Both are excellent schools, with very different characteristics, located in very different cities. Which one a sudent decides to attend is a personal choice that should be influenced not a whit by a marginal difference in rankings. If there were competing ranking systems, students would recognize that there is a certain arbitrariness in any ranking, and be less hung up on whether a school has moved up or down slightly in any given year. Let a thousand rankings bloom! Newsweek, Wall Street Journal, American Lawyer, rise out of your collective stupors and do your own law school rankings!

Dan Solove has related thoughts this year at Concurring Opinions.

David Matthews (mail):
41 would make them an 11 seed, which is right where the committee placed them. 37 makes them a 10 seed, which might be a bit better, but perhaps they wouldn't have matched up as well in the first round. By neither ranking should we expect to see them in the Final Four.

Seriously, do U.S. News' rankings mean anything, honestly, about the quality of the education? And if so, what? That is, would MAJOR differences in rankings between schools signify anything meaningful?

(I'm asking sincerely.)
3.30.2006 11:15pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
The rankings must be accurate. My alma mater. U of AZ, went down two notches. It's got a great program in Native American Law, which must more than make up for the fact that one of its profs attempted to try a civil case and was on the receiving end of the only civil mistrial due to incompetence of counsel of which I have ever heard. It really helps, when trying a case, to be able to articulate a proper question. He'd ask a compound question, then rephrase it and ask for (unqualified) opinion, then rephrase it as hearsay, etc., etc., etc.
3.30.2006 11:31pm
Dumars (mail):
Law school rankings, unlike undergraduate rankings are very important, even career determinative. People should absolutely make their decision to attend law school on the basis of rankings, if they are interested in working at a big prestigitous firm, or even more so if they want to clerk for a federal court.
3.30.2006 11:33pm
davidbernstein (mail):
DM, the rankings per se are meaningless, but over time they become a self-fulfilling reputational prophecy, to the extent that I've heard many professors refer to themselves as teaching at "third-tier" or "fourth-tier" law schools, which are of course U.S. News categories. A law school that dropped permanently from, say, number 75 to the third-tier, is a law school whose reputation will suffer.
3.30.2006 11:38pm
JLR (mail) (www):
I find it interesting that, per Paul Caron's summary, some schools moved up as much as 30 spots (one law school went from #100 to #70; and another law school went from #95 to #70).

It would also seem that the six law schools that went from the "Top 100" to the "Third Tier" will have their recruitment efforts for the 06-07 cycle be hurt for what appears to be no statistically significant reason (which is an unfortunate consequence of the US News rankings that I have written about previously elsewhere in the blogosphere). Four law schools, according to Paul Caron, went up from the "Third Tier" to the "Top 100"; it is likely that that those schools will have their recruitment efforts helped during the 06-07 cycle.

Such probable effects appear to be excellent examples of the self-fulfilling reputational prophecy that Professor Bernstein adumbrates. The measurement of law school quality ends up helping to determine law school quality.

Although hopefully, there are enough people "in the know" who will realize that there are certain "Top 100 Bubble Schools" that will oscillate to and from the Top 100 in any given year.
3.31.2006 12:10am
Ray (mail):
I'm laughing at the UofA post. I teach HS mathematics and I'm planning on finishing up some undergraduate work and going on to law school, and being from Phoenix, I'm checking out the AZ law schools. So I'm at the UofA website and trying to figure out what in the world this Native American law thing is. '

I'm just glad to hear that it's not just me, that this sounded a bit contrived.
3.31.2006 12:14am
JLR (mail) (www):
Brief addendum: obviously the two examples I cite in the first paragraph went up 30 spots and 25 spots, respectively, to tie for #70. One wonders if such increases become statistically significant. Thanks for your patience.
3.31.2006 12:15am
justanotherguy (mail):
Seems to me that the real value of the ranking is that the ranking denote access to jobs in the form of initial interviews. So many of the AMLAW 200 just look at only a handful of schools based on some combination of reputation, rankings, and location. It seems that the rankings or the reputation play in clerkships and government hiring as well.

Whatever value the rankings have are based on how closely they are followed by those who hire the graduates.
3.31.2006 12:22am
Humble Law Student:
I think the point about rankings is that a school in the 6-10 band is significantly better than one in the 21-25 band. However, differences within each band are probably so small as to be irrelevant. Of course, anyone could tell you that if you had a choice between Virginia and George Washington, you should chose Virginia. So, while they give useful information, what they actually convey is something anyone with rudimentary knowledge of law schools could tell you for free.
3.31.2006 12:28am
GMUSL 2L (mail):
HLS -- then again, if you're 100% sure you want to do IP, then Mason or GW are demonstrably better choices than Virginia, because of the professors (including adjuncts), the curricular offerings, and access to the job market for summer, post-law school and internships/externships.

It may be similar in other areas, but I'm only talking about what I know.
3.31.2006 1:41am
Cornellian (mail):
The rankings must be accurate. My alma mater. U of AZ, went down two notches. It's got a great program in Native American Law, which must more than make up for the fact that one of its profs attempted to try a civil case and was on the receiving end of the only civil mistrial due to incompetence of counsel of which I have ever heard.

Hahaha, obviously he forgot the adage that those who can't do, teach.
3.31.2006 1:54am
Cornellian (mail):
The top 15 or so will place nationally, then there's a bunch that will place very well regionally, then there's everything else and there's very little change from year to year in which schools are in which group. That's pretty much all you need to know.
3.31.2006 1:56am
SP:
I'd say that the top tier of law schools - eh, more or less the same, the cream tends to rise to the top at any one of these schools, and I'd rather have the tenth best student at Number 40 than the 100th best at Number One. Just from my very limited experience.

Also from my very limited experience, there's a reason why a school is fourth tier, and I wouldn't want some of those grads to water my plants while gone for the week.
3.31.2006 2:41am
Top14 4eva:
GMUSL2L: Anyone who chooses GMU or even GW over Virginia is crazy -- even if they are deadset in working in the field of intellectual property law.

Virginia is recognized as being one of the top law schools in the nation. In fact, it is in the top 10 -- do you really think there are job opportunities open to GMU grads that are not open to Virginia graduates as well? I would be interested in any placement information you could provide.

GMU and GW might very well have a better IP curriculum. But the point of law school is not to teach you something that might well become obsolete next year. The point, at a good law school, is to teach you how to learn new law. As the fall of patent boutiques teaches us, one does not need a specialized knowledge of patent law to succeed in the field. When I interviewed with some of the top law firms in the country two years ago, many litigators were quick to tell me that patent law practice does not require any previous knowledge of the subject. Like any other practice, patent law can be picked up by anyone with a solid training in the fundamentals. Major law firms recognize this, which is why almost all of the major law firms recruit at Virginia, less at GW, and even less at GMU.
3.31.2006 7:03am
Anthony (mail) (www):

HLS -- then again, if you're 100% sure you want to do IP, then Mason or GW are demonstrably better choices than Virginia, because of the professors (including adjuncts), the curricular offerings, and access to the job market for summer, post-law school and internships/externships.


Do you have any evidence to support this claim or is this just pure speculation? Because every single study of law school career placement says otherwise.
3.31.2006 7:25am
Steve:
So I'm at the UofA website and trying to figure out what in the world this Native American law thing is. '

I'm just glad to hear that it's not just me, that this sounded a bit contrived.


Native Americans do, in fact, have laws. I'm not sure why that sounds contrived to you. My old firm, for example, handled a very complicated case in tribal court. And surely there are numerous issues of tribal sovereignty, etc., that are rather unique to Native Americans.
3.31.2006 8:19am
jurisprude:
I chose GWU over Virginia despite being accepted at both, and don't regret the choice. While it's true that the legal profession is a bunch of prestige whores who may occasionally use school ranking as a proxy for legal ability, the only time it might bite you in the ass is if you're shooting for a firm job or a clerkship, where it's the case that: (a) prestige matters and/or (b) there are so many highly-qualified applicants that you need some lodestar to narrow the field. If you're like me and don't necessarily care about either, you'll go wherever you feel most comfortable. GMU or GWU isn't going to fail to deliver the basic skills that make you an attorney.
3.31.2006 8:27am
jurisprude:
I chose GWU over Virginia despite being accepted at both, and don't regret the choice. While it's true that the legal profession is a bunch of prestige whores who may occasionally use school ranking as a proxy for legal ability, the only time it might bite you in the ass is if you're shooting for a firm job or a clerkship, where it's the case that: (a) prestige matters and/or (b) there are so many highly-qualified applicants that you need some lodestar to narrow the field. If you're like me and don't necessarily care about either, you'll go wherever you feel most comfortable. GMU or GWU isn't going to fail to deliver the basic skills that make you an attorney.
3.31.2006 8:28am
Cornellian (mail):
then again, if you're 100% sure you want to do IP, then Mason or GW are demonstrably better choices than Virginia, because of the professors (including adjuncts), the curricular offerings, and access to the job market for summer, post-law school and internships/externships.

This is absurd. If you're accepted at U. Va and GMU, you'd be crazy to go to GMU and it would be only slightly less crazy to prefer GW over U. Va. You will get a better legal education at U. Va in the only sense that matters to prospective law students, namely job prospects upon graduation. Speciality rankings mean zilch.
3.31.2006 8:39am
lawdevil:
Prof. Bernstein is correct.

"interested in working at a big prestigitous firm, or even more so if they want to clerk for a federal court"

This statement is overly simplictic. Of course you could not pay me enough to work at a "big prestigitous firm."

Native American Law is a large practice area. Most of the schools in the southwest have large Native American Law programs.
3.31.2006 9:12am
Adam (mail):
What they said. Law school's about learning to think like a lawyer, not to actually, um, learn a substantive area of law. C'mon. Go to UVa, play softball for three years, and then you can learn all the IP law you need to.
3.31.2006 9:14am
outsider:
jurisprude,

Could you share with us why you chose GWU over Virginia? IP ranking, location, others?
3.31.2006 9:18am
Stevethepatentguy (mail) (www):
I would hire the graduate of GMU or GW over a UVA grad for an Intellectual Property job, any day. Preferrably, one that went to school at night while working at the Patent Office for a few years and then in a D.C. firm.

Top 14 and Anthony: You may be right outside of IP but GMU and GW are recognized as among the top 5 programs in the country. The best IP professors in the country are the Adjuncts at DC schools.

This isn't really scientific but Finnegan Henderson (probably the best IP Firm in the country) has 12 UVA grads, 15 GMU grads and 63 GW grads. Another indicator would be where the CAFC clerks went to law school, I have no data on this but I would guess that GW and GMU dominate UVA in this category as well.
3.31.2006 9:40am
Top14 4eva:
Steve:

You're right - Finnegan hires many more people out of GMU and GW than UVa. Of course, GW and GMU's programs probably attract people who are disproportionately interested in IP and Finnegan as an IP boutique, knowing this, recruits heavily at those schools.

At my top 10 school, all of the die-hard patent people went to large, general practice law firms, because (from what I understand) they viewed patent boutiques as sinking ships and found they could get better litigation training elsewhere.

To go from your statistic to a claim that GMU and GW place better than Virginia, even in IP, requires a number of logical leaps that are completely unsupported.
3.31.2006 9:53am
JR (mail) (www):
"Also from my very limited experience, there's a reason why a school is fourth tier, and I wouldn't want some of those grads to water my plants while gone for the week."

I attend a third-tier law school, but I was accepted to schools which were much higher ranked. People with good statistics don't always play the game of going to the highest-ranked school. They choose their schools for a myriad of reasons that are outside the conventional wisdom. You should judge a person based upon their reputation and proven track record -- not on the basis of the school they went to. Even a person who could only get accepted to a fourth-tier law school may become one of the best attorneys, and the majority of the rest of the students that went to that fourth-tier school will become good and effective advocates. Now, you wrote "some grads," but your intent was to deride fourth-tier law schools and the people that graduate from them.
3.31.2006 10:01am
anonymous coward:
As far as I can tell, quality of an individual school's programs matters little for recruiting JDs. But firms will go to much lower-ranked schools for IP. If you're going to do patent law I can believe that your chance of getting a highly compensated associate position are nearly as good from GMU as Virginia.
3.31.2006 10:02am
Guest2 (mail):
Prof. Bernstein is right that the US News rankings are "a self-fulfilling prophecy that can't simply be pooh-poohed." I'm a new-ish partner at a mid-sized firm and have been involved in recruiting for several years. Interviewers do look at the rankings. It's a matter of self-defense. The number of candidates is huge, lots of them have essentially similar qualifications, and none of us has any evidence other than the rankings about the quality of more than a handful of schools.

Still, I've also seen repeatedly that a candidate from the top of the class in, say, a USN fourth-tier school will get more consideration than someone from the middle of the class at a second-tier school. (The top 10-15 schools don't count in this regard.)
3.31.2006 10:05am
anonymous coward:
"You should judge a person based upon their reputation and proven track record -- not on the basis of the school they went to."

Yes, but it is very hard to do this in brief interviews with a 2L. Thus the use of school and grades and law review as (bad) indicators of quality.
3.31.2006 10:06am
nomorealawstudent:
I don't often agree with what David says, but his position seems to be spot on in this case.
3.31.2006 10:19am
jurisprude:
Could you share with us why you chose GWU over Virginia? IP ranking, location, others?

I chose GWU over Virginia because (a) I'm from a town about the size of Charlottesville and I needed a change of pace as far as location goes; (b) D.C. offered more interesting opportunities in terms of externship possibilities; (c) I'm planning on doing prosecution, and the prestige of the school didn't really matter to me; and (d) the overall impression I got from the faculty and students at GWU was more favorable than that I got elsewhere.

The more interesting question is why I chose GWU over Georgetown (I also chose GWU over Notre Dame). That's a bit harder to answer, because there wasn't really one reason or group of reasons. Essentially, it was just a matter of GWU having a certain je ne sais pas that the other schools didn't.
3.31.2006 10:24am
Houston Lawyer:
I chose Texas over Berkeley notwithstanding that Berkeley consistently ranks higher. I planned on staying in Texas, and as an in-state student paid $4.00 a semester hour for tuition (this practice has since ended).

Most law firm hiring is regional. If we interview some one from an out of state school, we ask very closely about their interest in Houston. You should generally choose one of the higher-ranking schools near to the area where you intend to practice. You should also consider the costs of the higher ranked schools. New attorneys with large debts don't get paid any more than those with small debts.
3.31.2006 10:30am
Enoch:
Anyone who chooses GMU or even GW over Virginia is crazy

Virginia is #8, and GWU is #19. Does it really make that much difference? Just asking...
3.31.2006 10:30am
Ray (mail):
Steve

Native Americans do, in fact, have laws. I'm not sure why that sounds contrived to you. My old firm, for example, handled a very complicated case in tribal court. And surely there are numerous issues of tribal sovereignty, etc., that are rather unique to Native Americans.


Nothing personal, and yes it is contrived. I've definitely missed a few items, but looking at law schools in the SW, UofA is the only one I noticed offering a dual degree program with the Native America studies.

There's no doubt a whole range of legal issues that are singular to the native American, but building an entire degree around it is most definitely contrived. The bulk of the sovereignty work involves casinos, and protecting supposedly "sacred" ground from urban encroachment. You think I'm being surly, but I would venture that someone using this dual major would wind up dealing solely with casinos, freeways, and the occasional water rights issue.

But lighten up, really. If there was a need for such a specialty, how was your firm able to properly represent the tribal issue, if the firm is not necessarily specializing in the tribal law?
3.31.2006 10:41am
MDM (mail) (www):
I think if you're planning on staying in the DC area, an argument can be made that a choice between GWU/GMU/UVA is largely a wash. However, I think, as a general rule, UVA grads are going to have more doors outside DC (especially in NYC and on the West Coast) open to them than will GWU/GMU grads--also, if the applicant is already a VA resident, the combination of in-state tuition and lower cost of living may make UVA cheaper, which is a real factor.

(Personally, I turned down UVA and UTexas to go to NYU. I don't regret doing so, though might have if I were still paying off that debt.)
3.31.2006 10:50am
Guest2 (mail):
Enoch -- IMO, the difference between #8 and #19 is pretty significant, but that's because those numbers straddle the top-10 / not-top-10 split. I'd say there's not much difference between, e.g., school #19 and school #30, or school #51 and school #62.
3.31.2006 10:52am
Mike Schilling (mail):
George Mason has a law school too? I thought they were just a basketball power.
3.31.2006 11:12am
Stevethepatentguy (mail) (www):
Top14 4eva: You're pretty wrapped up in being from a top 10 school aren't you.

I don't think that either of us will quantitatively prove ourselves correct. I gave you my thoughts and an "isn't really scientific" data point to support them.

What factors would you consider in determining what is 'best?'

Name recognition- I will concede this goes to UVA
Generalized legal knowledge- I call this even
Specialized legal knowledge- GMU and GW win this
Contacts- GMU and GW win this hands down

You pick.
3.31.2006 11:12am
Anthony (mail) (www):
I think a few posters here are confusing two very different issues:

1) employment outcomes from a higher ranked school v. a lower ranked school

and

2) how do we identify higher ranked schools

Concepts such as the Top 14 and the difference between "national" and "regional" schools have nothing to do with U.S. News rank.

If U.S. News changed its methodology this past year and ranked UVA at #19 and George Washington at #8 it would not make George Washington a "top 14 school" or magically make GWU place better than UVA. Like it or not, it's a fact that the average UVA student will have much better employment prospects (by every objective measure) than the average George Washington student. Will there be exceptions? Of course -- a GWU student at the very top of his class who is also a patent law god will probably get a better job than the non-patent law student who is dead last in his class at UVA. However, all else equal, the average UVA student will end up with much better opportunities.

U.S. News did not cause UVA to place better than GWU. UVA has historically placed better than GWU, and barring some major disaster will likely continue to place better than GWU in the future. U.S. News has achieved its popularity because it best approximates what goes on in the real world -- it might be wrong on the margins (e.g. having NYU ranked slightly higher than Chicago even though Chicago places better nationally than NYU), but it's correct in general (e.g. UVA is ranked much higher than GWU and places its graduates at much better jobs than GWU). If U.S. News stopped mirroring real world behavior (e.g. ranking GWU higher than UVA, or putting Cooley in the top 10) it would lose any influence it might have. Remember, it's not like U.S. News was the first law school ranking -- it's just that it does a better job representing reality than its predecessors, like the Gourman Report.

This isn't to say U.S. News is perfect or ideal -- it's definitely not, and as the other commentator pointed out, it doesn't reflect that once you get past the "semi national" schools (which U.S. News generally, but not always, ranks in the 15-30 range) virtually all law schools are regional and one should probably choose based on location rather than perceived national prestige.
3.31.2006 11:22am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Native Americans do, in fact, have laws. I'm not sure why that sounds contrived to you. My old firm, for example, handled a very complicated case in tribal court. And surely there are numerous issues of tribal sovereignty, etc., that are rather unique to Native Americans.


Sure--but to found a whole program, with multiple faculty members, on it? All the tribes hereabouts are already represented. Employment opportunities will come about only when their attorneys die or retire.

In ten years here, I've heard of *one* job opening in the field ... the Yaquis wanted someone. Part-time as I recall, to be a public defender on misdemeanors. One opening in a decade is something to found a program around?

When working at Interior HQ in DC, they had around 8 attorneys to handle all Native issues for the entire country, so it's not like you can take your skills into government employment, either.

I could see a course or two in the area -- but a program?
3.31.2006 11:23am
Cornellian (mail):
Virginia is #8, and GWU is #19. Does it really make that much difference? Just asking...

A difference of eleven matters very little between 70 and 81 but here it matters quite a lot. After the top 15 or so schools, there's a huge dropoff in a school's out of state placement rate, a good if rough measure of whether a school has a national reputation. U. Va is in that top 15 league and GMU isn't.

Saying that students should be judged on their reputation and track record rather than the school they attended is all well and good, but the great majority of law students have neither reputation nor track record. They have only their first year grades and the name of the law school they're attending, plus or minus a few points for a good or bad interview. Hiring from higher ranked schools rather than lower ranked schools is not just snobbery, it's law firms going with the information they have.
3.31.2006 11:40am
Anthony (mail) (www):

What factors would you consider in determining what is 'best?'

Name recognition- I will concede this goes to UVA
Generalized legal knowledge- I call this even
Specialized legal knowledge- GMU and GW win this
Contacts- GMU and GW win this hands down



None of these are even relevant, let alone "best." Let's put aside that most of these are subjective factors that can't really be quantified or measured well.

All four of these are supposed to be proxies for employment placement/outcomes. However, why measure proxies for employment outcomes when you can just measure employment outcomes directly? This has already been done, multiple times by different researchers, and every single time the verdict was clear: UVA places significantly better than GWU/GMU.

As for your Finnegan datapoint, you haven't addressed Top 14's observation that patent law students generally prefer prestigious general practice firms to IP boutiques. Right now I have in front of me Harvard Law School's Fall 2003 OCI stats. Of all the HLS students that received callbacks from Finnegan, 84% did not even accept the callback invitation, and 0% of those who received an employment offer after their Finnegan callback accepted it. The fact is that students qualified to do patent law at top schools perceive this firm as a safety and frequently turn it down for other firms -- hence why GWU/GMU students (most of whom will not have offers at firms they perceive as better or more desirable) are overrepresented there.

Look, I'm not saying GWU and GMU are bad schools -- I think they're great and wouldn't discourage anyone from attending them. However you just can't dispute the objective stats, and I believe it's a disservice to prospective students to make them think their employment prospects will be as good coming out of GWU/GMU as they would be out of UVA -- while some students at GWU/GMU might be able to get 125k, the overwhelming majority will not, while that's not the case at UVA.
3.31.2006 11:40am
Pete Freans (mail):
The curriculum of first tier law schools are worlds apart from second, third &fourth. In fact, I have heard that the top schools have access to the REAL opinions of blockbuster cases, such as MARBURY, YOUNGSTOWN, or PALSGRAF, that remainder do not, complete with missing pages and footnotes. Can anyone confirm this?

I've been trying to get my hands on the Ivy League copy of PALSGRAF. I just know that Italian gave the Sicilian Scalia Sign to Mrs. Palsgraf, thus dropping his stash of explosives.
3.31.2006 11:50am
FXKLM:
The rankings are reasonably accurate as to specific measures of quality, but the aggregation of those measures into a single ranking is totally arbitrary. I'd like to see a website where law schools are ranked on several criteria (like general prestige, employment prospects, diversity, specific practice areas) that allows users to weigh those different criteria themselves and get an individualized ranking. Then we could generate an overall list based on the average weights chosen by all users. I've seen things sort of like that, but nothing on the scale of the US News rankings. Unfortunately, US News wouldn't like this idea because it wouldn't fit in the print edition. But I think someone out there could do this.
3.31.2006 11:57am
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
The group, if you can call it that, with the most to gain from having an accurate ranking of law schools, and the best resources to produce something like that, are employers. Maybe the ABA could play a role in this, or an independent organization, should law firms want to fund it. I just find it ridiculous that the US News gives such weight to peer opinions. It's sort of an "inmates running the asylum" situation - conflicts of interest and institutional inadequacy .
3.31.2006 12:09pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
FXKLM, you mention that diversity should play a role in determining the quality of a law school. Do you (or anyone else) know if US News takes that into account already? (It would be a huge systemic flaw if they did.)
3.31.2006 12:11pm
Aultimer:
There are more ways to get rich lawyering than billing 2000+ for the rest of your life in a tall building in a place with bleak winters. If you care to be outside that box, USNWR may be the one self-proclaimed proxy for quality, but "name recognition" is alive and well.

A 50-something GC who's been in-house somewhere other than the Northeast for many years may well prefer grads from Georgetown to UVA, Notre Dame to U. Mich, GMU to Stanford, or SMU to UTx - sports, religion, military, plain anti-elitism, patent and alma mater loyalty are all factors I've seen trump the USNWR wisdom.
3.31.2006 12:35pm
tab (mail):

If we interview some one from an out of state school, we ask very closely about their interest in Houston. You should generally choose one of the higher-ranking schools near to the area where you intend to practice.


I'm a law student, 2L, in Houston. Do you need anybody to water your plants this summer?
3.31.2006 12:45pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
I've been collecting statistics about law schools from all over the place and creating my own ranking system, in part based on how likely I think I am to actually get into each school and how much I suspect I'll have to go into debt at each school; thanks in large part to those considerations (as well as my "where I want to live for three years" ranking), I've got Berkeley dead last and I think Northwestern is currently number one. I gave some weight to the USNWR rankings, but I don't want to work the hours necessary to bill 2200 hours a year, so it's more important to me that a school have, say, a good mock trial team (I'm not sad about not being able to get into Yale anymore) and on-campus housing (or local housing that doesn't cost $1000+ per month; I'm not that sad about not being able to get into NYU, either.) My main focus is to avoid the process that led me to select my undergrad institution (which mostly had to do with things that don't apply, like "I'm 16 and don't want to live in a state where I don't have at least one parent nearby") and pick a school that actually does look right for me. It's all well and good to talk about hiring potential, but if you're going to be so miserable in law school that you do badly, you're going to have a hard time getting hired anywhere, no matter how great your school's reputation is.

I love, by the way, the Leiter opinion rankings where he asked people to judge schools on the basis of the names on their faculty, without naming the schools. I think he said that if he ran a ranking including "Princeton Law School" (which doesn't exist), Princeton would be in the top 20 just from the undergrad name recognition. I believe it. The stuff that Cooley's website has is pretty good, too, especially since it gives you the actual numbers for the schools (and it's really easy to pull those lists into Excel.)
3.31.2006 12:53pm
Thief (mail) (www):
I don't really care about the rankings. At this point just getting into "a" law school this year is enough for me.
3.31.2006 12:57pm
Anthony (mail) (www):

A 50-something GC who's been in-house somewhere other than the Northeast for many years may well prefer grads from Georgetown to UVA, Notre Dame to U. Mich, GMU to Stanford, or SMU to UTx - sports, religion, military, plain anti-elitism, patent and alma mater loyalty are all factors I've seen trump the USNWR wisdom.


No one is denying that some people prefer GMU to Stanford, or might prefer Stanford grads generally but not Jewish Stanford grads, and so on.

The problem, however, is that some anti-rankings proponents will latch on to one anecdote and use that to claim that rankings don't matter or that they're always unreliable (e.g. "I spoke to the hiring partner at Big Firm X and he told me that his firm refuses to recruit at Georgetown and only hires from George Washington; therefore U.S. News is wrong and George Washington is just as good as, if not better than, Georgetown!").

While some employers will prefer George Washington to Georgetown, studies have shown that most employers prefer Georgetown to George Washington. Thus, while there might be some exceptions, a student is generally much better off choosing Georgetown over George Washington (assuming all else is equal, e.g. you'd be paying full tuition at both schools).
3.31.2006 1:00pm
Some Lurker:
On an unrelated note, I just wanted to say how much I enjoy the big banner ad on the right hand side of the screen for the new book CONSTITUTION IN EXILE by Fox News commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano. Apparently it touches on such topics as how SCOTUS has permitted Congress to use the commerce clause to vastly expand its reach, and how the current regulatory state is unconstitutional.

Nice to see a member of the Constitution in Exile school of thought finally embrace it, rather than deny that it exists.
3.31.2006 1:10pm
tab (mail):
But seriously, the fact that USNWR holds a virtual monopoly on rankings isn't that suprising considering that the law school application process is controlled by the LSAC, a monopoly itself? There are countless examples of elitism, classism, and collusion in the legal profession - the ABA, the prohibitive costs of applying, attending, the job search process, etc. The USNWR rankings are the perfect tool for an already insular profession.
3.31.2006 1:10pm
Enoch:
IMO, the difference between #8 and #19 is pretty significant, but that's because those numbers straddle the top-10 / not-top-10 split.

Why does that rise to the level of someone being "crazy" to choose an 11-20 school over a 1-10 school? Do 11-20 grads receive a "significantly" inferior education, and enjoy "significantly" inferior career opportunities than 1-10 grads? Is this measurable in any way, or just a gut feeling?

After the top 15 or so schools, there's a huge dropoff in a school's out of state placement rate, a good if rough measure of whether a school has a national reputation.

Why isn't presence in the USNWR top 20 a good measure of "national reputation"? It is a national publication, and clearly (from all the fuss on these law blogs) the rankings have some significance...

I guess my question is where the "first tier" ends. Some seem to think there is "1-10 and then all the rest", then others say 1-15 is all that matters... but why not 1-20? Where is the cutoff, and why?

While some employers will prefer George Washington to Georgetown, studies have shown that most employers prefer Georgetown to George Washington.

What studies? The difference between Georgetown and GWU (#14 and #19) is even more baffling to me than the difference between UVA and GWU!
3.31.2006 1:12pm
Guest2 (mail):
The discussion and analysis are simplified, I think, if you treat the schools at the top of the top differently. There's a short list of schools (Yale, Stanford, Harvard, and maybe 3-4 others) that you should attend if accepted, regardless of what it will cost, how far you have to travel, how bad the social life is, how inconvenient it would be to transfer, how few courses they offer on what interests you at the moment, etc., etc. Having one of those names on your resume is (very nearly) priceless, no matter what you end up doing.
3.31.2006 1:20pm
Anthony (mail) (www):

What studies? The difference between Georgetown and GWU (#14 and #19) is even more baffling to me than the difference between UVA and GWU!


Take your pick:

Ciolli (2005) (for those w/ Lexis or Westlaw, also published in 45 Jurimetrics J. 413),
Sullivan (2005),
Leiter (2003),
Wehrli (1996) (no longer available online).

Very different methodologies (a few of which I highly disagree with, particularly Sullivan), but each gets the same general result.
3.31.2006 1:30pm
Sydney Carton (www):
"What studies? The difference between Georgetown and GWU (#14 and #19) is even more baffling to me than the difference between UVA and GWU!"

It's measure of the amount of urine a student attending one can project in a contest over the other (otherwise known as a "Pissing Contest"). It's the only objective measure that lawyers use.
3.31.2006 2:09pm
Cornellian (mail):
On an unrelated note, I just wanted to say how much I enjoy the big banner ad on the right hand side of the screen for the new book CONSTITUTION IN EXILE by Fox News commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano. Apparently it touches on such topics as how SCOTUS has permitted Congress to use the commerce clause to vastly expand its reach, and how the current regulatory state is unconstitutional.

Right, good luck getting somewhere with that argument. Considering this administration supports the position that growing marijuana in one's own backyard for one's own personal use is within reach of Congressional regulation under the interstate commerce clause I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the groundswell of support for a "regulatory state is unconstitutional" platform. The new Republican position is not to support placing limits on Congressional power, but rather to condemn SCOTUS decisions in that direction as "judicial activism."
3.31.2006 2:16pm
SLS 1L:
Nonsense. USNWR (finally!) ranked Stanford over Harvard this year, so its rankings must be taken as the infallible Word of God.

But seriously, why aren't other magazines competing with USNWR? Is there some reason why Time and Newsweek wouldn't be able to sell their own rankings guides based on different criteria?
3.31.2006 2:18pm
Los Angeles 0L:
As someone about to attend a 15-19 school, I worry a bit about the Top14 system that seems to exist. For those with experience, how much worse off will I be at a 15-19 instead of 13 or 14?
3.31.2006 2:43pm
Public_Defender (mail):
So, a tenured SMU law professor gets convicted of a violent felony, they keep her on the faculty (at as of now), and they go up nine points?

It's too bad Tookie was executed, SMU might have been able to give another unrepentant violent felon a tenured position.

At least we know SMU law students should be well versed in criminal law. They have at least one professor with a unique perspective on violent crime.
3.31.2006 2:48pm
Guest2 (mail):
Los Angeles 0L -- Don't give it a thought. You won't be any worse off. Just do the best you can to get good grades.
3.31.2006 2:59pm
Anthony (mail) (www):

Los Angeles 0L -- Don't give it a thought. You won't be any worse off. Just do the best you can to get good grades.


This post contradicts itself -- if he was at a Top 14 he wouldn't need to get good grades to get a good job (assuming that good job = biglaw). That's the entire point of the Top 14 classification: if you go to one of those schools, you can get a good job in the market of your choice even if you get bad grades (within reason, though even a few of my friends at Penn who had multiple Cs and B-s will be making $2400-2800 this summer), which just isn't the case at other schools.

I'm not saying he shouldn't go to his 15-19 school, nor am I saying he should obsess over this (if he's already been rejected at the T14 it's not like he can change anything now). If he hits the median he'll have a good shot at biglaw, and depending on what market he's targeting his job opportunities at his 15-19 might be the same in that particular market as they would be coming from a T14. However it's just not accurate to say he "won't be any worse off." One can debate just how big the gap is (some think it's large, others think it's small), but there is a gap.
3.31.2006 3:13pm
jpmirabeau (mail):
It's unclear to me whether B Leiter's rankings do more harm than good.

Forget about Time and Newsweek. Why isn't The Economist in this game!?!

This USNEWS monopoly has a tainty skank about it.
3.31.2006 3:13pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
My school over the last 4 years. 76, 99, 69, 77. The rankings are a joke. But, go the the list of who has the lowest debt upon graduation, we are near the bottom at about $33,000. I'll take that tradeoff anyday.
3.31.2006 3:20pm
Los Angeles 0L:
Interestingly enough, Penn, UChicago, and Harvard still haven't gotten around to rejecting me. But I am 99.9999% sure its just a matter of time and/or mail delivery :(
3.31.2006 3:32pm
NCCU3LE:

Also from my very limited experience, there's a reason why a school is fourth tier, and I wouldn't want some of those grads to water my plants while gone for the week.


I imagine I am not the only reader here who attends a "fourth tier" law school. I don't think this necessarily means I will make a worse lawyer than anyone else in law school, whether they're at Yale or anywhere else.

If your point is that employers may be more or less receptive to students based on rankings, you should say that instead of tarring all of us with the "incompetent" brush. Do differences exist? Sure they do. But there are plenty of us (particularly those like myself who can only do law school part-time) who attend those schools because they are the only chance we have to become lawyers. We love thinking about, writing about and arguing about the law just as much as anyone else. Please keep this in mind when posting especially since so far as I can recall, no one has called you a snob for being at a "first tier" school.
3.31.2006 3:32pm
Guest2 (mail):
Anthony -- No matter where you go (except maybe Yale), getting better grades will increase your opportunities. A degree from one of the top three, however, will enable you to get an excellent firm job even if you're in the bottom half of the class. As you go down the list from 4 to 14, that becomes less and less true. I can't say where exactly the worry about grades/don't worry about grades line should be drawn, but I've seen nothing in my experience to indicate that it's as far down as no. 14.
3.31.2006 3:35pm
Los Angeles 0L:
Guest2 -- From what I have read on the internet, there is a big (i.e. noticeable with casual observation) drop between #14 GULC and #15 UCLA or UT Austin..

On a side note, I feel it's somewhat depressing that my first contribution to this site is on this topic... :P
3.31.2006 3:43pm
Anthony (mail) (www):
Guest2, I'm well aware that grades impact opportunities no matter where you go. The question is what the bare minimum opportunities are for people at the very bottom of the class. At the Top 14, those people still have a very good shot at biglaw, assuming decent personality / decent interviewer / no history of academic misconduct / etc.

Empirical studies, OCI data, salary surveys, and personal experiences support this observation. Obviously these measurement devices have their limits -- salary info, for instance, doesn't take into account that different regions have different "market" salaries for biglaw, so schools like UVA that send a lot of grads to lower salaried markets out of self selection don't look too hot compared to other schools; however, even with these biases a clear pattern emerges that sets those 14 schools apart from everyone else.

Like I said above, one can debate whether the gap is very large or very small, whether there even is a gap between the T14 and Regional School X in Market Y, and whether the increased cost / less desirable location / etc. of a T14 school justifies taking a T14 over a non-T14. However, there definitely is a gap in national placement.

It is true that Top 14 may seem like a rather arbitrary number ("Why not Top 5 or Top 10 or Top 15 or Top 20?"). The fact that such a broad consensus has emerged around the Top 14 figure despite 14 not being a multiple of 5 in and of itself says a lot -- like it or not, there is a difference between Georgetown and UCLA, and it's not really appropriate to put those schools in the same group for the sake of having a "Top 15."
3.31.2006 3:54pm
Guest2 (mail):
Los Angeles 0L -- That may be true. I'm basing my opinion on the applicants we see. As I mentioned above, I'm at a mid-sized firm. We tend to get the leftovers from the alpha-male firms. Since we very rarely see applicants from top 5 schools but see quite a few from the nice meaty part of curve at schools 6-14, my conclusion is that the alpha males are taking everybody who's interested from the top 5 but just skimming the top of schools 6-14.
3.31.2006 3:55pm
JCD:
I think that drop is overstated. If you look at the Peer Assessment and Lawyer Assessment scores, Texas scores higher than some of the schools in the Top 14. It's hard to say Texas is significantly worse than those schools when the name carries just as well. The main reason for Texas being 15 is the LSAT scores, and there isn't exactly much that can be done about that since most of the student body comes from in-state. It really just depends on if someone is interested in working in Texas. If so, I think UT is equal to the middle T14.
3.31.2006 4:02pm
Anthony (mail) (www):

Since we very rarely see applicants from top 5 schools but see quite a few from the nice meaty part of curve at schools 6-14, my conclusion is that the alpha males are taking everybody who's interested from the top 5 but just skimming the top of schools 6-14.


I think you're correct on this point, though the internet consensus is that the difference is after the top 6 (Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, Chicago, NYU, not necessarily in that order) and not the top 5 (regional self selection or even class size might account for what you've observed at your firm though). Empirical studies don't really support this claim for all schools in the HYSCCN group for law firm placement, but the schools that do (slightly) worse than expected in law firm placement more than make up for it in clerkship and academia placement, so I guess that classification is also appropriate. However given that the 7-14 group continues to place very well in biglaw even at the bottom of the class (they just go to less regarded firms) I don't think it's really appropriate to have the cutoff at the Top 6.
3.31.2006 4:04pm
KMAJ (mail):
I read all this, and no one talks about average salary after graduation as a factor, is that an important consideration ? How much of a role does one's undergraduate degree play in post law school evaluations ?

The reasons I ask is my son is graduating magna cum laude with a five year degree in mechanical engineering and is going to law school at Chicago-Kent this fall specializing in IP law, he thought it went well with his engineering degree. He wants to stay in the midwest, preferably in the Chicago area. Good choice ? Bad choice ?
3.31.2006 4:07pm
jgshapiro (mail):
Where did the idea of the top 14 come from? Why 14 and not 10 or 15 or 20? After recruiting in 3 major firms and 10 years out of law school, I have never heard anyone outside this blog make the cut at 14 or even refer to the "top 14."

Also, I have to disagree with Guest2 -- grades matter less than schools. If you end up in the third quartile of your class at U.C. Hastings, say, you are still better off than being in the first quartile at neighboring Golden Gate University Law School. Many firms won't even look at you if you went somewhere like GGULS, even if you were the validictorian. Likewise, you are better off in the bottom of your class at Boalt than at the top at Hastings.

Part of that is because of how your school looks on the firm resume - where clients will see Boalt or Hastings or GGULS as your alma mater, but not know your grades there. Part of it is that it is hard to know what it means to be the validictorian or to get higher grades at a low-tier school: what was your competition like? And part is just prejudice in favor of factors that favor the people doing the interviewing. The latter probably went to better schools (whatever their grades) and see 'success' or 'talent' as emulating their own path.

But whatever the reasons, you would be crazy to pick a lower-ranked school on the ground that you thought you would do better there. The benefit of graduating cum laude from a lower-ranked school is not worth the cost of the lost interviews.

The principal value of a law degree is the credential, and its worth - fairly or unfairly - depends on perception more than anything else.
3.31.2006 4:15pm
Anthony (mail) (www):

If you look at the Peer Assessment and Lawyer Assessment scores, Texas scores higher than some of the schools in the Top 14. It's hard to say Texas is significantly worse than those schools when the name carries just as well. The main reason for Texas being 15 is the LSAT scores, and there isn't exactly much that can be done about that since most of the student body comes from in-state. It really just depends on if someone is interested in working in Texas. If so, I think UT is equal to the middle T14.


To repeat what I said above, the Top 14 concept has nothing to do with U.S. News rank. If Texas raised its LSAT median and became #14 in U.S. News and Georgetown dropped to #15, Texas would not be a Top 14 school, while Georgetown would remain in the top 14. The top 14 is all about national employment placement, and while Texas might have a higher "U.S. News academic and practitioner reputation ranking" than a couple of Top 14 schools, for whatever reason that higher reputation / name recognition / whatever you want to call it does not translate into Texas grads having the same employment opportunities nationally as Georgetown students.

Does that mean people shouldn't go to Texas, or that Texas grads can't get good jobs, or that Texas grads can't get work outside of the state of Texas, or that Texas isn't a good school, or that Texas doesn't have a better faculty than some T14s, or that in-state tuition at Texas isn't better from a cost/benefit standpoint than some T14s? Of course not! There are Texas grads who end up working at Cravath, Texas grads who clerk for the Supreme Court, and so on. However, the average student will, all else equal, have better employment prospects coming out of a Top 14.

Maybe this will change in the future -- maybe every biglaw hiring partner will read Leiter's blog, see the light, and double the number of associates they hire from Texas because Texas is so great. However, as things stand right now, and as they have stood for the past several years, there is a gap. You might say it's a small gap, but it's there, and the evidence supports its existence.

And besides, Vanderbilt has a stronger case for being considered "top 14 equivalent" than Texas, since it places better than Texas in multiple key regions.
3.31.2006 4:16pm
Anthony (mail) (www):

I read all this, and no one talks about average salary after graduation as a factor, is that an important consideration ?


People don't talk about starting salaries because salaries at the top firms in a given region are standardized, e.g. virtually all top New York firms pay $125k (well, 145k now after this year's raises), Philadelphia firms pay $115k (maybe more now since NY went up?), and so on. Once you get past the elite firms salaries tend to go down substantially. If you look at U.S. News you'll see that many schools have the same median salaries (last year for example I think 29 schools were tied for a median salary of 125k) -- in order to differentiate between schools, and to account for student self selection, it's generally better to discuss firm quality instead of salary.


How much of a role does one's undergraduate degree play in post law school evaluations ?


No real consensus on this, though there's plenty of anecdotal evidence showing that a more prestigious undergraduate background can help, if only at the margins. Your son's engineering degree should be a major boost if he wants to do patent law, though.


The reasons I ask is my son is graduating magna cum laude with a five year degree in mechanical engineering and is going to law school at Chicago-Kent this fall specializing in IP law, he thought it went well with his engineering degree. He wants to stay in the midwest, preferably in the Chicago area. Good choice ? Bad choice ?


Whether this was a good idea depends on what his other options were and where he wants to work after he graduates.
3.31.2006 4:28pm
jurisprude:
I find that one of the best ways to make people pay attention to what you're saying is to put it in boldface. But maybe that's just me.
3.31.2006 4:28pm
LS Guest:
I agree with Anthony. The focus for potential law students should be on what opportunities exist for students toward the bottom of their class.

The fact is that the bottom third of the class comprises a lot of students. For whatever reason, you might end up there. I recommend choosing a law school on the assumption that you will end up in that bottom third. What opportunities exist? Is it your dream to work in a big firm, to litigate in a big firm? Do you want to practice in another part of the country? If you have poor grades outside the top 14, without great contacts or incredible luck it's not going to happen. That doesn't mean you can't get a great legal education and rewarding job at a 15-30 school, but you should be realistic about your opportunities.
3.31.2006 4:29pm
Guest2 (mail):
If you end up in the third quartile of your class at U.C. Hastings, say, you are still better off than being in the first quartile at neighboring Golden Gate University Law School. Many firms won't even look at you if you went somewhere like GGULS, even if you were the validictorian. Likewise, you are better off in the bottom of your class at Boalt than at the top at Hastings.

All I can say is that my own experience is different. As for branding, being able to put "summa cum laude" and "law review" on the website next to someone's head shot goes a long way to counterbalance a less-respected school name.

However, I do agree with this:

[W]hatever the reasons, you would be crazy to pick a lower-ranked school on the ground that you thought you would do better there.

Before you go, there's just no way to know how well you'll do.
3.31.2006 4:30pm
josh:
as a u of c grad, i place little credence in these rankings, not b/c i think u of c is necessarily better than the schools placed above it, but b/c it has been ranked #6 for as long as i can remember. despite the regular ebb and flow at the school, it never moves.
3.31.2006 4:47pm
Aultimer:

Enoch wrote:I guess my question is where the "first tier" ends. Some seem to think there is "1-10 and then all the rest", then others say 1-15 is all that matters... but why not 1-20? Where is the cutoff, and why?


It's highly dependent on the person making the determination and the competition. At the grossest level, Yale, Harvard and Stanford are #1. The rest of the USNWR top 10, plus top tier schools that: are geographically near, admitted the favored progeny of, or otherwise endeared themselves to, the decisionmaker are the rest of the top "10". That means the top 10 is bigger in NY and DC and different than it is in Chicago.

You'll know what those schools are if you can engage a member of the legal community in casual conversation and drop the name of your school. Their top "10" will garner a pleasant reaction (unless the conversation takes place riding in your Bentley or Lear, or at your club, in which case you can safely have attended GMU for non-patent purposes).
3.31.2006 5:03pm
Moses Malone:
This sounds a lot like locker room cock-waving to me. When did this place turn into xoxohth?
3.31.2006 5:06pm
BU2L (mail):
Ditto Moses. Threads like this one are the reason I dont go to lawschooldiscussion anymore.
3.31.2006 5:39pm
KMAJ (mail):
Thanks Anthony. He looked at USNR rankings for IP law in the Chicago area, the top one's were DePaul and Chicago-Kent, I think 10 &11, if I remember right. So those were his top two choices, got accepted at both. Both had good IP law curriculum. He looked at starting median salary after law school and percent passing the Illinois bar after graduation and Kent's was considerably higher in both, so he chose Chicago-Kent.
3.31.2006 5:59pm
BU2L (mail):
Can anyone explain this apparent aberration? Cardozo seems to have a very solid entering class, a top IP program and a very good faculty. Why are they second tier again? Most of the Cardozo kids I met seem much smarter than their counterparts from similarly ranked schools.
3.31.2006 6:36pm
Porkchop (mail):
Perhaps things have changed in the past quarter-century, but when I was in law school, very few students had a clue what kind of law they wanted to practice. There were a few who wanted to do deals on Wall Street, and a few technical types who knew that intellectual property was it (and they did work for the PTO during the day for the most part). Some were sure that they were the next Darrow/Bailey trial lawyer whiz. The bulk of us didn't have a clue; what we wanted was a job.

I think a whole bunch of you are getting ahead of yourselves in planning your careers. If anyone had told me when I graduated that I'd be doing what I am today, I would have laughed at them. But, you know what? It's a pretty nice situation I blundered into -- you just never know. Find a good law school or a city you want to live in and study hard. Go watch some trials at the local courthouse. Get a summer job, or even a parttime one with a local firm. Go find out what lawyers actually do. Most of you probably don't actually know.

The name of your law school matters only when it comes to getting interviews. Do you really want to work for a firm that "would never consider a graduate of law school X" even if you went to a school that they will hire from? I went to a well-known law school and worked for a prestigious, large, nationally-recognized firm for nearly ten years. After the first year, no one even remembers what law school you attended. What they care about is your performance.

I'm not saying that, if you have an offer of admission to a prestigious school, you should turn it down. I am saying that not getting such an offer is not the end of the world. Law students ans would-be law students are infamous for obsessiveness. Don't let it run, let alone ruin, your life.
3.31.2006 8:17pm
jgshapiro (mail):
Before you go, there's just no way to know how well you'll do.

Well, you can guess that you will do better at a lower-ranked school than a higher ranked school, on the theory that the students will be better students the higher you go in rank. Yes, you can offset grade-inflation against that, but looking at class rank, I would guess that the same student would do better at a lower-ranked school than a higher ranked school almost all of the time.
3.31.2006 8:24pm
JLR (mail) (www):
It appears that most of the comments here are focusing on which law schools are best at placing a graduate at a Top 100 National Law Firm (aka "BigLaw") and/or a clerkship with a "feeder judge" in a U.S. Court of Appeals.

Let's say someone is interested in teaching in a philosophy or political science department. It isn't clear to me how the law schools' records in placing graduates in "BigLaw," or even the records in placing graduates in clerkships with "feeder judges," would necessarily be relevant to the applicant's choosing a law school to attend.

Also, let's say an applicant knows roughly which region he/she wants to practice law in. If, for monetary reasons, for familial reasons, or for whatever reason, one would prefer a school that places very well in that region over another school that has national reach, it is unclear to me why someone should accrue massive amounts of debt and/or create other hardships for oneself just to seek a brass ring.
3.31.2006 10:09pm
Mobius (mail):
I have always wondered why law schools hate the US News rankings but continue to rank students? Is the number 10 student really any different than the number 25 student? Does rank really mean anything if the class of students are extremely smart and all are capable of producing exceptional work? What about a class that is subpar? Does the forced curve system really break out who knows the law and who doesn't?
3.31.2006 10:11pm
BU2L (mail):
Mobius, most law schools actually don't rank students, except at the very top. At BU, only the top 3 students are ranked, and no one in the bottom 2/3rds even knows what percentile range they are in. The top 3rd is broken up into something like, top 5%, 10%, 25% and, well, 33% (or something).
3.31.2006 10:19pm
Anthony (mail) (www):

Let's say someone is interested in teaching in a philosophy or political science department.


If your goal is teaching in a philosophy or political science department, why not just get a PhD in philosophy or political science instead of going to law school? Sounds like paying $150k for a JD is a very bad investment, unless you already earned a PhD in one of those fields and couldn't get hired anywhere (and even then it's unclear whether the JD is worth it if you don't want to teach at a law school).


It isn't clear to me how the law schools' records in placing graduates in "BigLaw," or even the records in placing graduates in clerkships with "feeder judges," would necessarily be relevant to the applicant's choosing a law school to attend.


How many JD applicants do you think aspire to teach in a philosophy or political science department after graduation? 1 out of every 5,000? 10,000? 50,000? It's obviously a very tiny number (hell, the # of JD applicants who want to go into *any* form of academia, including legal academia, is pretty small).

The overwhelming majority of students want to work at firms and/or clerk for judges immediately after graduation -- that's why 90+% of students at law schools where employment is not an issue are working at firms or clerking for judges. Obviously not every student wants to clerk or go to a firm, but it's pretty clear that most students do, so when it comes time for prospective students to decide on a school it makes sense to advise them to consider a school's record at placing grads in biglaw and clerkships. If the prospective student is one of those very rare students who doesn't want to be a lawyer and just wants to teach in a philosophy department after graduation, he can go gather the relevant research on his own.


Also, let's say an applicant knows roughly which region he/she wants to practice law in. If, for monetary reasons, for familial reasons, or for whatever reason, one would prefer a school that places very well in that region over another school that has national reach, it is unclear to me why someone should accrue massive amounts of debt and/or create other hardships for oneself just to seek a brass ring.


Correct, and people make this sort of trade off every single year. The thing is, you have to acknowledge that it's a trade off -- you're giving up one thing (better national employment prospects) in exchange for something else that you value more (lower debt, not having to move, ability to study part-time, whatever).

The problems arise when people think they're not giving anything up at all ("Fordham not only gave me a big scholarship, but my career opportunities coming out of Fordham will be exactly the same as they would be coming out of Georgetown, if not better, because Fordham dominates the NYC legal market!").


I have always wondered why law schools hate the US News rankings but continue to rank students?


Most top schools don't rank their students. At worst a place like Georgetown might release one or two general rank cutoff ("Top 25% in Section 6 is a 3.XX GPA"). Ironically, the type of ranking you describe happens most often at low ranked schools.
3.31.2006 10:43pm
JLR (mail) (www):
Re Anthony's 3.31.06 10:43 pm comment,

I agree that a person, when deciding on which law school to attend, is engaging in tradeoffs. There's no such thing as a free lunch.

Re teaching in a philosophy or political science department -- I agree with your point that such JD applicants would be in the extreme minority in terms of the entire JD applicant pool across all law schools. It would seem to me that as a result, it is likely that such JD candidates will be motivated enough and savvy enough to seek out information on their own to determine which law school would be best for their career prospects in academia. (And yes, presumably the vast majority of such candidates would already have a PhD or be pursuing some form of a joint JD/PhD program.)

I should point out that it is quite likely that, for financial aid reasons (whether need-based, merit-based, or some combination of the two), such people who wish to enter academia may in fact pay as little as (virtually) nothing in tuition. But once again, this goes back to a case-by-case analysis of individual circumstances -- and the need for case-by-case analysis in such specialized conditions is, as you point out, of paramount importance.

It appears then that what is of importance is for a law school applicant to understand (at least to some degree) what he/she wants in terms of career aims, and then be able to access sound information so he/she can make good choices. This appears to me to be perfectly prudent.
3.31.2006 11:44pm
JLR (mail) (www):
Addendum: I do not mean to imply that all or most JD candidates interested in academia would pay as little as (virtually) nothing in tuition. It obviously would depend on one's financial need, as well as the amount of merit aid that may or may not be extended to the accepted applicant.

Encouraging people to make good choices and smart tradeoffs is what is important. Thanks.
3.31.2006 11:51pm
nn (mail):
The original point made in the post has gotten lost in the comments: Why aren't there more competing rankings from major MSM outlets? I would think that a system of ranking that was not capricious and whose weights were not so changeable from year to year by (for example) the Wall Street Journal would be powerful competition for USNews? Yet the market doesn't seem to supply it. Is it simply that producing a college or law school ranking is a natural monopoly and US News got there first? Or is this a good example of how weak competition is among the "big" MSM outlets which constitute an oligopoly as well. Apparently alternate rankings (Leiter's law school and undergrad rankings or the revealed-preference college rankings) don't have a high enough presence (read: poor marketing) to make an impact on the general public. So only Newsweek, Time, the WSJ, the Economist or something similar would have the clout to make an alternate ranking scheme that would be competitive.
4.1.2006 10:11am
Guest2 (mail):
In case any prospective law students are (still) reading this thread, I want to repeat one piece of advice:

If you're accepted at Yale, Stanford, or Harvard, don't overanalyze the situation. JUST GO! Turning down one of their law degrees would almost be like turning down an offer from god to have the power to fly or travel back in time.
4.1.2006 11:10am
Guest 3.14:
While I'm sure nobody's reading anymore, I feel compelled to add that the problem arises when people mutate Mr. Ciolli's reasonable point---going to a lower-ranked law school involves a trade-off between number and quality of emloyment opportunities at the higher-ranked school vs. other factors at the lower-ranked school---into the far less sensible point that no reasonable person would or should actually make such a trade-off.

Fortunately, Mr. Ciolli himself never makes this mistake in this thread; the closest he comes is "a student is generally much better off choosing Georgetown over George Washington," which is appropriately qualified, I suppose. But the question remains, "better off" with respect to what?

The answer, it seems to me, is he's better off with respect to national employment prospects. Which is all well and good if he doesn't know where he wants to be. But if he knows he wants to be in DC, for example, then he's likely to not see a significant difference between GULC and GWU.

Another example was given comparing Georgetown and Fordham. I agree that it's a mistake to think that because Fordham places as well in NYC as Georgetown does, that a student who choose Fordham over Georgetown is not making a trade-off. However, if the student wants to work in NYC, then the loss of national employment prospects in DC or Chicago represents a very low-cost tradeoff, so the student has indeed "come out ahead" by taking the scholarship at Fordham, thereby reducing his debt, while still being in good stead in his market of choice.

Moreover, let's recall that even though we can measure employment prospects directly (rather than via proxies), we're defining the quality of employment prospects based on the prestige or quality of the law firms . . . which are themselves determined by reputation and rank, which takes us right back to an inherently subjective stratification that may or may not correlate with the interests of all, most or even many students. That is to say, the low acceptance rate at HLS of Finnegan Henderson callbacks and job offers may or may not reflect a judgment that Finnegan Henderson is insufficiently prestigious, and it's dangerous to assume that the reason for the low yield is because IP students at HLS prefer big litigation firms on the basis of these numbers alone. And even if this were the case at HLS, that doesn't necessarily carry over to GMU and GWU, which, as noted, has certain attributes that will tend to attract the IP-minded.

In other words, the fact that "90%+ of the students at law schools where employment is not an issue are working at big firms or clerking for judges" (paraphrase from memory) ought NOT be interpreted to mean that the "vast majority" of students want these jobs. It means the vast majority of students AT THOSE SCHOOLS want these jobs. They quite likely have been led to believe that they need to attend the schools "where employment is not an issue" in order to get such jobs.

But "the vast majority" of law students are NOT at schools where "employment is not an issue." Thus it's highly suspect to use the employment preferences of the students at the schools whose primary attribute is their national placement with big, prestigious firms as a proxy for the employment preferences of law students everywhere, especially at those schools where the students know going in that they won't have the opportunities that are available to the Top 14, and choose to enroll anyway.

Sure, those students have made a trade-off. But if they place no value on that which they have given away, and palce great value on that which they receive in exchange, I fail to see the problem. In particular, that means IP students at GMU get the jobs they want, which happen not to coincide with the jobs students at HLS want. Seems to me everybody's happy.

It's just not reasonable to assume that every law student (or even the vast majority) WANTS biglaw.
4.3.2006 6:00pm