Law Schools

The “No Child Left Behind” program and its rebranded successor “Race to the Top” have a certain appeal to them. Setting benchmarks improves the quality of most fields of human endeavor, why not education?

An enterprising bureaucrat can define success through standardized tests, preferably tests created by companies willing to make hefty campaign contributions.

But with the veterans/victims of these policies starting to trickle into law schools, there’s reason to fear that we’ve created a bunch of stupid future lawyers. Assuming there’s even a need for smart future lawyers any more….

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The new U.S. News law school rankings, which we’ve been covering extensively in these pages, contain all sorts of interesting tidbits about the ranked schools. For example, in each school profile there is an “employed at graduation” figure, which “represents the percentage of all graduates who had a full-time job lasting at least a year for which bar passage was required or a J.D. degree was an advantage.”

That seems like an important and useful piece of information to know if you’re going to pay or borrow a six-figure sum to attend law school. Comparing the employment rates of different schools would be an important part of one’s due diligence when selecting a school.

Among the top 14 or so-called “T14″ law schools, which one had the highest “employed at graduation” rate? The answer might surprise you….

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I’m not going to lie, these are quickly becoming my favorite columns to write every year.

For approximately 364 days a year, law school deans are free to tell us how great their schools are without being forced to provide any data to support their claims of being the best law school for whatever. But one day, each law school must confront the stark reality of their U.S. News law school ranking. They can disparage the rankings, get angry at the rankings, or boast about the rankings (if they’re lucky). But deans ignore the rankings at their own peril.

And so some deans are forced to address their schools’ poor rankings. They are free to spin things however they want, but for one day, they’re not operating in a vacuum. There is an objective fact that is just a little bit beyond their powers of self-reporting manipulation.

It’s a fun day….

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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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100% of kids who got into this box were in this box!

Earlier today, we talked about the brain drain as law schools have to compete for a dwindling pool of high-scoring applicants. In this market, hitting your targets for your entering class is a tricky business for deans of admission at our nation’s law schools.

It’s an issue of yield: law schools need to make offers to enough applicants to fill their seats, without becoming overwhelmed with matriculating students. If schools that are ranked higher than you start admitting applicants with slightly worse qualifications than usual, you end up with not enough students — and your yield rate (the percentage of students you make offers to that actually accept the offer) goes in the tank. Poor yield rates look bad, and make it harder to predict how many people you need to admit in the first place.

Man, if only there was a way you could know whether or not people would come to your school before you admitted them….

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Here’s a fun way of looking at the new U.S. News law school rankings that arrived last night: are the top-tier law schools getting dumber?

We’ve reported a lot on the declining number of applications to law school. And we’ve also talked about how the people who do better on the LSAT are more likely to not apply to law school (most likely because they have better options), while poor LSAT scorers are still eager to go to law school.

Maybe the LSAT really is an accurate test of logical reasoning skills.

Fewer applications overall but a higher share of them from people with poor LSAT scores should lead to a drop in the median LSAT score at top schools. As the smart people flee law school (“smart” as a measure of LSAT score, for whatever that’s worth), it should mean that better law schools have to grab more low-hanging LSAT fruit.

And that is what has in fact happened….

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We are often fascinated by what we have not yet experienced. I grew up within commuting distance of a lot of great colleges, and never imagined myself one for dorm life. So while high school classmates less enthused with their home situations eagerly availed themselves of the “college visit” experience, I sat it out completely — as in never visiting any school, even the one I ended up at. So “college visits,” at least in the abstract, are interesting to me.

Sure, I enjoyed getting the post-PSAT academic recruiting letters from schools far and wide, and may have daydreamed about attending the University of Hawaii on full scholarship. But it was all just daydreaming. In hindsight, my relative lack of interest in college selection was fine. (And don’t get me started on the sham that universal college education actually is.)

Other kids at my high (-achieving) school, especially those who had given a little more of themselves to meet all the necessary high school academic benchmarks, took the process a lot more seriously. Many were hell-bent on licking the Ivy, or at least landing in some “specialized program” like a BA-MD-MPH degree-fest. So they hit the road, and drove, and flew, and visited. In the end, everyone went to the best school they were able to get into anyway. But they had the experience — of listening to a photogenic upperclassman spout eloquently about the joys of trudging from dorm to library in a howling blizzard. Of visiting a lecture hall with 300 seats, where the first three rows were full with the eager beavers, and the last three full as well with the “learners by osmosis,” while the 150 seats in the middle were as empty as a pre-Strasburg Nationals game against the Marlins in late September. Of seeing the gleaming “rec center” where the students actually looked fit, and seemed to be enjoying permanent recess. In the end, it is all about providing fodder for the daydream: “I could be here, enjoying every minute.”

So what does this have to do with Biglaw? Or law in general?

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* If you hate the government and you hate lawyers more, then you’ll love this. In the past five years, the feds have awarded $3.3 billion to more than 4,700 vendors for legal work. [National Law Journal]

* A year and a half after he was nominated for a Federal Circuit judgeship, and more than a year after his hearing, the Senate finally decided to confirm Richard Taranto. How kind. [Blog of Legal Times]

* Pretty pretty please? Zvi Goffer and Michael Kimmelman would really really like it if the Second Circuit could overturn their insider trading convictions due to unfairness. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* The U.S. News law school rankings are often criticized, and here’s why: if survey respondents “were asked about Princeton Law School, it would appear in the top 20. But it doesn’t exist.” [Chronicle of Higher Education]

* Nevermind the fact that law school applications are down, but Northwestern Law is doing the “responsible thing” and reducing the size of its incoming class — and raising tuition by 3% to boot. [Wall Street Journal]

* Jason Rapert, the Arkansas senator who passed a fetal-heartbeat abortion ban in his state, says he “has no time” for anyone who says it’s unconstitutional. To paraphrase, ain’t nobody got time for that. [New York Times]

Law school deans, are you ready for your report card?

The U.S. News law school rankings are due out in a couple of hours. But Above the Law sources have given us a sneak peek at the Top 25, this time in order. And not just from anonymous sources. Mike Spivey of the Spivey Consulting Group claims he’s laid eyes on the list, confirmed what our tipsters reported, and has been tweeting about the thing for the past few hours.

Every year, law school deans and professors tells us how the rankings are flawed, and every year, we find out that prospective law students care more about the U.S. News law school rankings than any other factor.

But this year, U.S. News claims it will be taking into account the employment figures of recent graduates nine months after graduation. Is that going to be a big substantive change, or have law schools already mastered the art of self-reporting their own employment outcomes in a way that hides the truth?

Let’s take a look. These notes will be UNOFFICIAL until U.S. News confirms the news with their midnight publication, but we’re confident this is the new top 25.

UPDATE (10:10 p.m.): U.S. News just confirmed our report by moving up their publication schedule. These rankings are now OFFICIAL….

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Last week, we asked readers to submit possible captions for this photo:

Let’s have a look at what our readers came up with, and then vote on the finalists….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Caption Contest Finalists: The Man, The Myth, The Legend, The Law Dean”

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