Law School Rankings, Law Schools, Rankings

Everything That Is Wrong With The Above the Law Law School Rankings

Yesterday, we released the inaugural ATL Top 50 Law School rankings. A lot of us here worked really hard on it. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud of the effort.

But I haven’t made my career based on liking things. I hate things. If anybody else released a new law school rankings, I’d be critical of it. There’s no reason I should give ATL special treatment.

No rankings are perfect — ours certainly aren’t — so we should talk about the problems. And I mean the real problems, not the stupid interview answer of, “I think my biggest weakness is that sometimes I try too damn hard.”

Let’s douse these new rankings in a cold shower of haterade….

There are a number of reasonable objections, many of which were voiced during the process of putting this list together. I’ll focus on five that have been pointed out the most since yesterday.

Could you people be any more freaking elitist?

The ATL rankings don’t just look at whether or not people get jobs coming out of school, we presume to tell you what constitutes a “quality” job, and then essentially double count it. It’s kind of hypocritical considering that a majority of the ATL staff had one of these so-called “quality jobs” at some point and gave it up. Essentially, if your law school places people at ATL (or say, media outlets), you get no love in the ATL rankings.

Honestly, if you want to work in public interest, or at a local, downmarket firm, or something, then the ATL rankings are not all that useful to you. You should probably just go to the cheapest law school you can find and do your best. If you want to help battered women, or help farmers with their estate planning, or start your own law firm, then the ATL rankings are not representative of your hopes and dreams.

There are a lot of people who don’t go to law school to make as much money as possible as they are fellated by models while sitting atop a prestige pedestal. And the ATL rankings don’t care about such people. If your law school really wants to charge people over $100K over three years and then place them in a $35K public interest job, that law school will not do super well in the rankings.

And what’s with these SCOTUS clerks? There are, what, 100 people in the entire country who go to law school because they want to work for the Supreme Court? And all those people know that they should go to Harvard, Yale, or Stanford already. We might as well have one “outcome” called “Number of Harvard, Yale, or Stanford diplomas issued.” If you have more than one, you get an extra 100 points.

Calling the ATL rankings elitist isn’t a criticism so much as it’s a description. Good thing Atticus Finch didn’t use these rankings to figure out which law school was the best for him.

I do not think “cost” means what you think it means.

IBR. LRAP. Scholarships. Rich parents. There are a lot of things that reduce the “cost” of going to law school far below the stated sticker price.

Look, the number we really wanted was the “average indebtedness upon graduation” for each class, but you can imagine how eager law schools were to share that information. Still, there were other possible proxies. Looking at “total financial aid awarded” is a stupid metric that schools always tout (as if “awarded” aid doesn’t have to be paid back).

In the absence of the information we wanted, you could argue that ATL shouldn’t have looked at cost factors at all. Why should BYU get a benefit of having a cheap sticker price when for all we know the indebtedness of their graduates is not significantly different than USC?

Maybe next year, we can judge law school cost in terms of Bitcoins.

Law professors say what?

Did you guys notice how the two things that law schools actually spend most of their money on were completely absent from the ATL rankings? There is no metric for buildings, and there is no metric for faculty. Given how much money law schools spend on these factors, the ATL rankings are a little bit like ranking sports cars based on gas efficiency while ignoring the engines.

Obviously, I think it’s entirely appropriate to disregard things like “faculty scholarship” when grading the law schools against each other, but here’s the thing that isn’t as easy to dismiss. Some people, arguably, go to law school for a quality education instead just to get employed. The ATL Top 50 would make no distinction if one law school employed the very best law professors that make the law “come alive,” while another school placed an audiobook of McCormick on Evidence at the front of the class and hired a teaching assistant to press play.

If you want to go to law school for the experience of the yada yada, then the ATL rankings probably aren’t for you. On the ATL rankings, well, we mentioned the bisque.

Funny how your BRAND NEW OMG rankings look a hell of a lot like the old, usual U.S. New Rankings.

I think this is a bit of an unfair critique, but I’ve made it when looking at other law school rankings. It’s a bit of a conundrum. If your rankings radically depart from U.S. News, then it makes your rankings look stupid and just wrong. Call it the Alabama problem. You can say that Alabama is a better law school than people think, but if you say people should go to Alabama instead of Yale, you get laughed at like you just said Fredo was the greatest Corleone.

On the other hand, if your rankings are too close to U.S. News… then what was the point of being all “different” than U.S. News?

I don’t know, I’ve been talking to a lot of NYU, Columbia, and Georgetown students who do NOT think the ATL rankings are just like U.S. News. In general there is much more variance from U.S. News once you get beyond the top 15 or 20 schools.

But here’s the thing: Yale is the best law school. Harvard and Stanford are the next best. Anything that tells you otherwise is just wrong. Every law school rankings should just start at number four.

All rankings, including this one, are stupid.

Rankings are the hobgoblins of little minds.

Honestly, if you want to go to law school and you pick Duke over UVA because Duke was ranked one spot better in the ATL rankings, somebody should go to your house and slap you until their hands hurts. There is an inherent stupidity in numerical rankings, namely that there is no real difference in schools lumped closely together.

Any 1-to-50 list of schools also basically ignores important regional differences. For instance, the two big schools in Wisconsin didn’t make our rankings. Does that mean you should just go to Minnesota Law School, which did make our ranking at #32? PROBABLY NOT IF YOU WANT TO WORK IN WISCONSIN!

Doing a ranking like this, it’s not exactly comparing apples to oranges, but it’s certainly not comparing apples to apples either. It’s more like taking a bunch of different fruits, mashing them into a juice, and then figuring out which juice gives you the longest lasting boner. We’re changing the fundamental nature of a thing into something else and then comparing the effects.

But what if you don’t want a boner? What if you want to live somewhere in the America that can only be seen with the aid of a glass-bottom plane?

And by playing along, ATL became somewhat part of the problem. I can want better rankings like Tom Cruise wants the truth, but deep down in places that I don’t want to talk about at parties, the existence of these rankings will probably ruin lives.

If the goal is to get law students to think more critically about where they go to law school, by putting it in list form, maybe all we did yesterday was weaken a country.


But, you know, click on the rankings anyway. Yay rankings. Next year will be even better!

Earlier: Above the Law Top 50 Law Schools

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