Brian Dalton

Brian is a graduate of Middlebury College and Fordham Law. He joined Breaking Media in October 2011 after spending seven years at Vault.com, most recently as Director of Research and Consulting. Before that, he was, among other things, an associate at a Manhattan law firm, a French teacher in Brooklyn, a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali, and a security guard at a waterslide park in Albuquerque, NM.

Posts by Brian Dalton

Which one of these is not like the others? The CPA exam, the GRE, the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination, the Series 7 exam, the Test of English as a Foreign Language, the GMAT, the Dental Admission Test, and the LSAT. All of these exams are administered by computer except the LSAT.

Why the peculiar persistence — in 2013 — of the No. 2 pencil for LSAT takers? Last week, in partnership with our friends at Blueprint, we surveyed current LSAT prep students on their views and preferences regarding test-taking technology.

There were strongly held opinions in both the traditionalist and high-tech camps. Here are the results….

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According to vast anecdotal evidence, deep in the heart of many or most bored and frustrated Biglaw midlevels lies the dream of someday landing a plum in-house gig. The kind of job which offers reasonable and predictable hours and a decent (albeit smaller) paycheck. The kind of job where “billable hours” are someone else’s problem and there’s only one client to report to.

Going in-house is also an opportunity to become a stakeholder in a business, rather than just a “hired gun” advisor. Living that dream is our very own Inside Straight columnist Mark Herrmann, VP and Chief Litigation Counsel of Aon plc, the world’s largest insurance broker. Mark is also a former partner at Jones Day, and the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law (affiliate link). There are few with a broader perspective and deeper insight into the practice of law both in both firm and in-house contexts.

On June 12th, Above the Law will be hosting a cocktail reception at an undisclosed location in Chicago where Mark will be our guest of honor. Staci Zaretsky will be playing the role of James Lipton, and will conduct an interview with Mark to kick off the evening. Afterwards, drinking. We would like to crowdsource at least a portion of Staci’s interview with Mark, so after the jump, please leave a question for Mark in comments. We’ll select the best ones and Staci will pose them to Mark on June 12th….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Ask Mark Herrmann Anything, LIVE in Chicago”

UPDATE: Based on reader feedback, we’ve added information for Pieper Bar Review and Marino Bar Review.

Congratulations 3Ls! The grind of law school exams is over, or soon will be. Now you get to study for the bar exam — which, for some reason, law school didn’t really prepare you for.

Most newly minted J.D.s will be heading straight from law school classes into bar exam prep classes. We assume you all have been pitched all year by bar prep companies touting their costs, features, and success rates. With everyone claiming to have the secret to passing the bar exam, how to choose?

Since the last time we visited this question, bar exam prep courses have proliferated, offering a range of prices, technological formats, and philosophies.

As we here at ATL are all about service journalism, we’ve distilled the information about the major bar prep providers into a handy guide. For those of you mulling over which course best fits your needs, the crucial analyzing variables are cost, format, guarantees, discounts, and pass rate. Nobody want to have to take the bar exam more than once, so this is a serious investment decision. After the jump, check out an “apples to apples” look at the major prep companies…

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As all sentient beings are aware, we have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad legal job market. According to NALP data, the industry is down 50,000 jobs since 2008 and there is no reason to believe they will ever reappear. If you ignore school-funded positions (5% of the total number of jobs), this market is worse than its previous low point of 1993-1994. In light of these grim economic realities, we feel that potential law students should prioritize their future job prospects over other factors in deciding whether to attend law school. To put it mildly, inputs- (LSATs, GPAs, per capita spending, etc.) and reputational survey-based law school rankings schemes have proved unsatisfactory. Hence our release last week of the ATL Top 50 Law Schools, which is based on nothing but outcomes.

(Although he probably disapproves of all rankings, it must be said that the legal world owes a great debt to Kyle McEntee and his colleagues at Law School Transparency. LST has forced us all to look at the publicly available employment data, submitted by the schools to the ABA, in a more meaningful way. Like all good ideas, it seems obvious in retrospect.)

We received a ton of feedback and comments regarding our rankings and our methodology, much of it thoughtful and substantive. (Our very own Elie Mystal weighed in with this takedown the day after we published.) Quite a few recurrent criticisms emerged from the comments. Of course there’s no perfect dataset or methodology. At best, rankings are a useful simulacrum and just one of many tools available to 0Ls for researching and comparing schools.

What follows are the most common criticisms of the ATL Top 50 Law Firms rankings….

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This is the fourth in a series of posts looking at how law schools in specific markets stack up based on the results of our ATL Insider Survey. As we’ve often noted, very few law schools are truly national institutions. Typically, the majority of graduates don’t stray too far from their alma maters, so the strongest network will be local, for local jobs. It’s to your advantage to go to school where you want to practice, sometimes even more so than going to a higher-ranked school.

In recent weeks, we’ve looked at our survey results pertaining to Chicago, Boston, and New York-area law schools. We examined how current law students rate their schools in terms of academics, career counseling, financial aid advising, practical/clinical training, and social life.

Today, we turn to our broadest geographic region yet: the South (the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia, Florida, and Louisiana). Read on to see how schools in the region compare….

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This is the third in a series of posts looking at how law schools in specific markets stack up based on the results of our ATL Insider Survey. Very few law schools are truly national institutions. Typically, the majority of graduates don’t stray too far from their alma maters, so the strongest network will be local, for local jobs. It’s to your advantage to go to school where you want to practice, sometimes even more so than going to a higher-ranked school.

In recent weeks, we’ve looked at our survey results pertaining to Boston and New York-area law schools. We examined how current law students rate their schools in terms of academics, career counseling, financial aid advising, practical/clinical training, and social life.

Today we turn to Chicago. Which school was highest rated by its current students in all but one category?

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Last week, we asked for your thoughts on what an improved, more relevant approach to law school rankings would look like. This request was of course prompted by U.S. News’s revisions to its rankings methodology, which now applies different weights to different employment outcomes, giving full credit only to full-time jobs where “bar passage is required or a J.D. gives them an advantage.” U.S. News is of course bowing to the realities of the horrific legal job market and the spreading realization that, for many if not most, pursuing a J.D. makes little economic sense.

Yet U.S. News’s revamped methodology feels like a half-measure at best, as employment outcomes make up less than 20% of the rankings formula. Compare this to the 40% of the score based on “quality assessment” surveys of practicing lawyers, judges, and law school faculty and administrators. Shouldn’t those numbers be reversed?

In any event, last week about 500 of you weighed in with your opinions on which criteria should matter and which should not when it comes to ranking law schools. The results are after the jump….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “What Would a More Relevant Law School Ranking Look Like? You Told Us”

As some of you may have heard, U.S. News & World Report, which used to be a magazine found in dentists’ offices, released its annual law school rankings last week. This event sparked even more than the usual amount of angst and hysteria among law deans and students. Well, then again, this is already the 9th post on ATL concerning this set of rankings, so maybe we’re not helping. Some deans’ heads have rolled already, and angry student petitions are calling for more blood. (Do these reactions among law students run one way though? The anger sparked by a drop in rankings does not necessarily mean an inverse spike in happiness when a school climbs up, as this great pairing of gifs from someone at Chicago Law illustrates.)

Anyway, much of the heightened attention is due to the revisions U.S. News made to their rankings methodology, which now applies different weights to different employment outcomes, giving full weight only to full-time jobs where “bar passage is required or a J.D. gives them an advantage.” Whatever that last bit means. And they won’t tell us exactly how “part-time” and other categories of employment outcomes factor in. But it is at least an acknowledgement on their part of the perception that, as Staci said yesterday, “all anyone cares about are employment statistics.” (We’ll get back to whether that’s strictly true.) Then again, if employment outcomes make up only 14% of your ranking formula for a professional school, you’re doing it wrong. What would a better, more relevant rankings methodology even look like?

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Law schools, properly understood, ought to be viewed as regional vocational schools. You will have to pass the bar exam for the state in which you want to practice, and a law school in that state, in theory at least, is more likely to prepare you for the specific content on the state bar. Typically, the majority of alumni don’t stray too far, so the strongest network will be local, for local jobs. It’s to your advantage to go to school where you want to practice, sometimes even more so than going to a higher-ranked school.

With this in mind, last week we looked at our ATL Insider Survey results pertaining to New York City-area law schools. We examined how current law students rate their schools in terms of academics, career counseling, financial aid advising, practical/clinical training, and social life.

Today we turn to Boston. The results of our survey might surprise you….

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Apologies to the Saul Steinberg Foundation.

New York City is the logical starting point for this occasional series highlighting law schools in specific locales. New Yorkers’ self-regard is bloated enough to believe they are at the Center of the Universe and that everything that happens there is naturally interesting to everyone, everywhere. The ATL Insider Survey asks, among other things, current law students to rate how their schools are doing in terms of academics, career counseling, financial aid advising, practical/clinical training, and social life.

After the jump, check out how the students at Columbia, NYU, NYLS, Hofstra, Fordham, St. John’s, CUNY, Seton Hall, Rutgers-Newark, and Brooklyn rate their institutions. Somehow we don’t have sufficient survey responses from Pace or Touro….

UPDATE (5:45 p.m.): Apologies to Cardozo Law School. You were mistakenly left out of the initial version of this post and we have revised it to include you.

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