Above the Law

The ATL Top 50 Law School Rankings 2013

Why would we limit the list to only 50 schools? Well, there are only a certain number of schools whose graduates are realistically in the running for the best jobs and clerkships. Only a certain number of schools are even arguably "national" schools. Though there is bound to be something arbitrary about any designated cutoff, we had to make a judgment call. In any event, the fact that one law school is #98 and another is #113—in any rankings system—is not a useful piece of consumer information.

The basic premise underlying the ATL approach to ranking schools: the economics of the legal job market are so out of balance that it is proper to consider some legal jobs as more equal than others. In other words, a position as an associate with a large firm is a “better” employment outcome than becoming a temp doc reviewer or even an associate with a small local firm. That might seem crassly elitist, but then again only the Biglaw associate has a plausible prospect of paying off his student loans.

In addition to placing a higher premium on “quality” (i.e., lucrative) job outcomes, we also acknowledge that “prestige” plays an out-sized role in the legal profession. We can all agree that Supreme Court clerkships and federal judgeships are among the most “prestigious” gigs to be had. Our methodology rewards schools for producing both.

Now more than ever, potential law students should prioritize their future job prospects over all other factors in deciding whether to attend law school. So the relative quality of law schools is best viewed through the prism of how they deliver on the promise of gainful legal employment. The bottom line is that we have a terrible legal job market. Of the 60,000 legal sector jobs lost in 2008-9, only 10,000 have come back. So the industry is down 50,000 jobs 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 1993-4. The time has come for a law school ranking that relies on nothing but employment outcomes.

Let's put it simply:

Scales tipped toward OUTPUT
Lawyers walking out of law school

What happened last year?

Class of 2012 placement graph

We believe that the ATL Top 50 gives prospective law students a way to analyze schools using metrics that actually matter.


When we surveyed our audience about what are 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 (90.3%)
  2. Large firm placement (54.42%)
  3. Federal clerkship placement (49.07%)
  4. Tuition/Cost – (37.27%)

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

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

Rank School Score
Most SCOTUS Clerks Most Federal Clerks
Yale Law 85.87
2 Stanford Law 85.73
3 Harvard Law School 84.46
4 University of Chicago Law 80.34
Best Employment Score Best Quality Jobs
University of Pennsylvania Law 79.94
6 Duke Law 75.67
7 University of Virginia Law 73.46
8 Columbia Law 71.96
9 University of California, Berkeley 71.37
10 New York University 70.85
11 Cornell Law School 68.82
12 University of Michigan 68.64
13 Northwestern Law 68.35
14 University of Texas at Austin 60.67
15 Vanderbilt Law 60.14
16 Georgetown Law 55.30
17 University of California, Los Angeles 52.42
18 University of Notre Dame Law 51.80
19 University of Georgia Law 51.52
20 University of Southern California, Gould 51.36
21 Boston College Law 51.22
22 Southern Methodist University, Dedman Law 50.76
23 Boston University Law 50.17
24 University of North Carolina Law 49.09
25 Washington University of St. Louis Law 47.83
26 University of New Mexico School of Law 46.52
27 University of Alabama Law 46.43
Lowest Cost
BYU - J Reuben Clark 46.40
29 Emory Law 46.36
30 Wake Forest University Law 46.28
31 George Washington Law 45.26
32 University of Minnesota, Twin Cities 45.10
33 University of Illinois Law 44.98
34 William & Mary Law 44.64
35 University of Houston Law Center 43.19
36 Seton Hall Law 42.15
37 University of Iowa Law 42.05
38 Washington and Lee Law 41.78
39 Tulane Law 41.76
40 Indiana University Maurer School of Law 41.58
41 University of Washington 41.22
42 Georgia State Law 40.33
43 Rutgers Law, Camden 40.08
44 University of Florida Levin College of Law 39.61
45 University of California, Davis 39.30
46 Ohio State University, Moritz Law 39.00
47 Saint Louis University Law 38.33
48 Fordham Law 37.02
49 University of Miami Law 36.90
50 Arizona State University, Sandra Day O'Connor 36.83

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 2008) 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."