Above the Law

2015 Law Firm Rankings

The basic premise underlying our unique approach to ranking schools: the "new normal" for the legal job market is no longer new, it's just normal. Going to law school no longer guarantees graduates a good job, or even just a job. Given the cost of law school, potential students should prioritize their future job prospects over all other factors in deciding whether and where to attend law school. The relative quality of schools is a function of how they deliver on the promise of gainful legal employment and other desirable results. So in addition to focusing exclusively on such outcomes, ours are the only rankings to incorporate the latest ABA employment data concerning the class of 2013.

Among these, which has a plausible prospect of paying off his student loans? A) Biglaw associate; B) Associate at small local firm; or C) Temp doc reviewer? If you answer "all of the above," there are more than a few law deans who would like to talk to you. In this market, some legal jobs are more equal than others. Our rankings stipulate that an employment outcome that allows a graduate to pay down debt is a “better” one.

We also acknowledge “prestige” plays an outsized role in the legal profession. Our methodology rewards schools for producing Supreme Court clerks and federal clerks because the market rewards people who get those jobs with money and prestige. Don't hate us, we're just the messengers.

We limit our list to 50 schools because there are only a certain number of schools that have real employment prospects outside of their particular region. We want to look at "national" schools, and we want to look at schools that have employment options for students who don't finish in the top five percent of their class. Prospective students always think they'll be in the top five percent of their class, and 95% of them are wrong every year. In any event, the fact that one school in Virginia is #98 and another in Texas is #113—in any rankings system—is not a useful piece of consumer information.

Enjoy the rankings. But please use them responsibly.


Let's put it simply:



Scales tipped toward OUTPUT

What happened last year?

Class of 2013 placement graph




KAPLAN ASKED: “What is most important to you when picking a law school to apply to?”

  • BEFORE LAW SCHOOL: One-third of pre-law students consider law school rankings to be the most important.*
  • AFTER: Only 17% of new law school graduates continued to believe that. (A greater number recommend focusing on school’s job placement rate.*)

Apparently, three years of law school may cause aspiring lawyers to change their priorities.

*Based on email surveys of Kaplan LSAT and Kaplan Bar Review students


Methodology

In 2014, we surveyed our audience about the most relevant factors that potential law students should consider in selecting a school. By a large margin, these were the top choices, along with the percentage of respondents classifying them as “highly relevant”:

  1. Employment data (85.43%)
  2. Large firm placement (54.54%)
  3. Federal clerkship placement (46.64%)
  4. Tuition/Cost – (40.73%)

In other words, you prioritize employment outcomes above all else in comparing law schools. We agree. Therefore, these are the components of our rankings methodology:

The Rankings See the 2013 rankings →

How do law schools fare when assessed using this outcome-based methodology?

2014 Rank School 2013 Rank Change Score
1 Yale Law School 1 0 87.45
2 Harvard Law School 3 1 86.59
3 Stanford Law School 2 1 85.76
4 Columbia Law School 8 4 77.7
5 University of Chicago Law School 4 1 77.05
6 NYU School of Law 10 4 76.69
7 Duke Law School 6 1 75.16
8 University of Pennsylvania Law School 5 3 74.43
9 University of Virginia Law School 7 2 73.89
10 University of Michigan Law School 12 2 69.56
11 Northwestern University School of Law 13 2 69.49
12 UC Berkeley School of Law 9 3 69.31
13 Cornell University Law School 11 2 68.76
14 Vanderbilt Law School 15 1 64.62
15 University of Texas at Austin School of Law 14 1 62.25
16 Georgetown University Law Center 16 0 59.37
17 University of Notre Dame Law School 18 1 54.99
18 University of Iowa College of Law 37 19 50.48
19 UCLA School of Law 17 2 50.19
20 University of Georgia Law School 19 1 49.61
21 Boston College Law School 21 0 49.51
22 University of New Mexico School of Law 26 4 48.68
23 University of North Carolina School of Law 24 1 48.58
24 BYU – J. Reuben Clark Law School 28 4 48.5
25 SMU Dedman School of Law 22 3 47.81
26 Washington University of St. Louis School of Law 25 1 47.08
27 University of Illinois College of Law 33 6 46.66
28 University of Alabama School of Law 27 1 46.43
29 George Washington University Law School 31 2 46.12
30 Boston University School of Law 23 7 44.65
31 Indiana University – Maurer School of Law (Bloomington) 40 9 44.63
32 University of Florida – Levin College of Law 44 12 44.5
33 University of Minnesota, Twin Cities 32 1 44.08
34 University of Houston Law Center 35 1 43.83
35 USC Gould School of Law 20 15 43.6
36 Emory University School of Law 29 7 43.14
37 Washington and Lee University School of Law 38 1 42.69
38 Ohio State – Moritz College of Law 46 8 41.69
39 William & Mary School of Law 34 5 41.53
40 Seton Hall Law School 36 4 41.16
41 University of Washington School of Law 41 0 40.31
42 UC Davis School of Law 45 3 39.75
43 Arizona State University – Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law 50 7 39.32
44 Temple University, James E. Beasley Law NR 39
45 Georgia State University College of Law 42 3 38.88
46 Wake Forest University School of Law 30 16 38.77
47 Case Western Reserve Law NR 38.33
48 Rutgers School of Law, Camden 43 5 38.12
49 University of Miami School of Law 49 0 37.26
50 Tulane University Law School 39 11 37.24



Some further notes on methodology


Employment score (30%)

We are staying out of all of the hairsplitting about the definitions of “J.D. Advantage” versus “J.D. Preferred,” or whether employment data should be captured at 9 or 10 months after graduation. Much of the debate around law school employment data strikes us as so much fiddling around the edges of a larger problem. Thus for the employment score, we only counted full-time, long-term jobs requiring bar passage (excluding solos and school-funded positions).

Quality jobs score (30%)

This measures the schools’ success at placing students on career paths that best enable them to pay off their student debts. We’ve combined placement with the country’s largest and best-paying law firms (using the National Law Journal’s “NLJ 250”) and the percentage of graduates embarking on federal judicial clerkships. These clerkships typically lead to a broader and enhanced range of employment opportunities.

SCOTUS clerk & Federal judgeship scores (7.5% each)

Though obviously applicable to very different stages of legal careers, these two categories represent the pinnacles of the profession. For the purposes of these rankings, we simply looked at a school's graduates as a percentage of (1) all U.S. Supreme Court clerks (since 2009) and (2) currently sitting Article III judges. Both scores are adjusted for the size of the school.

Education cost (15%)

Solid data on individual law student educational debt is hard to come by. Published averages exist, but the crucial number, the amount of non-dischargeable government funded or guaranteed educational loan debt, is not available. So as a proxy for indebtedness, we’ve scored schools based on total cost. For those schools placing a majority of their graduates into the local job market, we’ve adjusted the score for the cost of living in that market.

Alumni rating (10%)

This is the only non-public component of our rankings. Our ATL Insider Survey asks students and alumni to rate their schools in terms of academics, financial aid advising, career services advising, social life, and clinical training. For the purposes of the ATL Top 50, we only counted the alumni ratings, as that was more in keeping with our “outcomes only” approach.

We've scaled the scores by their respective weights (a perfect total score would be 100), to generate the "ATL Score."



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