Last night, the WSJ Law Blog previewed a new set of law school rankings. Today, we have the full list from SuperLawyers. The magazine, in association with Minnesota Law & Politics and Washington Law & Politics, has ranked law schools based on the number of Super Lawyers they produce.
Is it a little self-serving for a magazine to rank law schools based on how many of the school’s graduates end up in its own magazine? Sure. It’s a little like US Weekly handing out Oscar nominations based on how many times a star has appeared on its cover.
But at least it is an attempt to rank schools based on graduate outcomes. The Super Lawyers Blog explains the rankings this way:
Most law school rankings look at things like bar passage rates, professor-to-student ratios and the number of books in the library, but they ignore the end product — the quality of lawyers produced. We think it’s like ranking football teams based on athletic facilities, player size and equipment without considering who wins the games.
In the real world — the world of clients and juries and judges — no one cares about your GPA or LSAT score. All that matters is how good and ethical a lawyer you are. That’s the focus of Super Lawyers.
Schools are ranked according to the total number of graduates named to the state and regional Super Lawyers lists in 2009. In the event of a tie between schools, the cumulative peer evaluation and research scores of graduates are used as tie-breakers.
They care about how “ethical” you are in the real world? Who knew?
Enough with the preamble. Let’s explore the cream of the crop, the Super Lawyers top 20, after the jump.
Here are the top 20 law schools according to Super Lawyers:
1. Harvard Law School
2. University of Michigan Law School
3. The University of Texas School of Law
4. University of Virginia School of Law
5. Georgetown University Law Center
6. New York University School of Law
7. Columbia Law School
8. University of Florida Levin College of Law
9. University of California Berkeley School of Law
10. Yale Law School
11. University of California Hastings College of the Law
12. The George Washington University Law School
13. Boston University School of Law
14. UCLA School of Law
15. University of Pennsylvania Law School
16. The University of Chicago The Law School
17. Boston College Law School
18. Northwestern University School of Law
19. Stanford Law School
20. University of Miami School of Law
That’s an interesting-looking list, isn’t it? You’ve got 12 of the traditional top 14 represented within the Super Lawyers top 20. Duke and Cornell, I don’t know what to tell you.
Why does Yale rank only 10th on this list? Probably because the Super Lawyer people didn’t look at Super Lawyers per number of graduates. Instead, the magazine decided to ignore class size altogether. Here’s their reasoning:
We recognize that schools with smaller graduating classes may be at a disadvantage in our ranking. We considered taking into account class size, but decided not to this year for several reasons: First, we found that class size was not as big a factor as you might think. There were very large schools that ranked low and small schools that ranked high on our list. The quality of graduates, not the size of the school, is what ultimately determines where schools land on our list.
Second, this first year we wanted to keep our methodology simple so that people could easily understand what we are doing. We reward schools that produce the greatest number of outstanding attorneys, period. Our approach is similar to the way baseball crowns a homerun king based on total homeruns without employing a weighted average based on plate appearances.
And finally, there is the practical problem of factoring in class size. The lawyers on our list graduated 10, 20 or 30 years ago. How do you accurately determine the graduation class sizes of nearly 200 schools through the years?
Fair enough, but Harvard Law School has been a diploma mill compared to Yale or Stanford over the past ten, twenty, or thirty years. The problem with the “home run” analogy is that every baseball team plays the same number of games, so theoretically every batter has a substantially similar opportunity to step up to the plate. Here, Harvard is playing nearly three times as many games as Yale plays. Yale is never going to compete on raw numbers (and, frankly, it doesn’t want to).
Super Lawyers has a very involved process for selecting its people. Perhaps some kind of “amount of Super Lawyers selected” over “amount of lawyers in the candidate pool” metric could be employed?
The list is valuable to the extent that becoming a Super Lawyer is as outcome-determinative as “winning a football game.” Reasonable people might disagree with that supposition. Even assuming Super Lawyers represent the top graduates at these schools, the outcomes of people at the very top might not have a lot to do with the expected value for the average student.
In this economy, prospective law students should be asking which law schools put them in the best position to get a job. Are you going to be better off coming out of the University of Florida Law School (ranked #8) or Stanford Law School (ranked #19)? And if Stanford makes you more employable, do you really care if UF produces more Super Lawyers?
Of course, do you really care which school has a bigger library? People don’t get jobs based on their LSAT scores. Rankings are always dicey, especially new ones. Moving towards a law school ranking based on the outcomes is at least a step in the right direction.
To access the full Super Lawyer list, click on the link below.
2010 Super Lawyers U.S. Law School Rankings [Super Lawyers]