Rankings

A lot of ink is spilled over whether or not law schools are failing to produce “practice ready” lawyers. What does it mean to be practice ready? There really isn’t a great definition. I mean, do we want law students to walk out prepared to run their own firms? Argue before the Supreme Court? Draft a credit-default swap agreement from memory? Serve as a bankruptcy trustee? How much practical know-how should we demand our law schools instill?

That doesn’t really matter, “practice ready” looks great on a bumper sticker.

For my money, the phrase means lawyers prepared enough not to drool on their desks when a partner (or supervisor or judge) starts showing them the way they want their young lawyers to practice law. Because make no mistake, lawyers are always practice unready in the eyes of their employers until they do the job exactly the employers’ way. This is why clinics serve an important role in law schools. Not that 6 months of being a glorified paralegal builds a wealth of practical legal know-how, but because 6 months of trying to figure out how to deploy what you do happen to know to satisfy a demanding legal boss is the soul of being a junior lawyer.

To that end, there’s a new ranking of the top clinical programs in law schools with some surprising (or not, depending on your point of view) results….

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Law firms have been in a “slow growth” phase ever since the nation began its recovery from the Great Recession. As we mentioned when we discussed the 2013 Am Law 100, “success now comes in the form of single-digit returns with regard to key financial metrics,” with Biglaw gains described as “modest” and “spotty” across the board.

Big-name lateral hires can sometimes bring in enough positive publicity and fanfare to make even the sickest of firms seem like the very picture of health and vitality. According to the latest American Lawyer Lateral Report, those lateral moves can be likened to a peacock’s tail: they offer “no advantage” for a firm’s ultimate survival, and may hinder the firm in the future. It happened at Dewey, and it can happen at other firms if they’re not careful. If only partners’ attentions weren’t so easily grabbed by the promise of higher profits.

So if this growing reliance on lateral hiring is truly capable of destabilizing law firms, wouldn’t you like to know which firms did the most lateral hiring over the past year? We’ve got the details for you….

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Each year, U.S. News and World Report comes out with a ranking of the 100 best jobs in the nation, based on important factors like the number of expected openings, advancement opportunities, career fulfillment, and salary expectations. With criteria like that, it makes sense that each year, the job of “Lawyer” sinks lower and lower in the rankings.

For example, in 2013, U.S. News ranked Lawyer as No. 35 on its 100 Best Jobs ranking, and as No. 4 on its ranking of the “5 Dream Jobs That Aren’t So Dreamy.” Just one year later, in 2014, Lawyer isn’t even ranked in the top 50 of the U.S. News list. Being a lawyer is now a second-tier career. How embarrassing.

What’s even more embarrassing? The list of jobs that are supposedly better than being a lawyer. Why did you spend all of that money on a law degree when you could’ve just gone to beauty school?

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Each year in January, Fortune releases its list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. As in years past, a few law firms have managed to sneak their way onto a list that includes employers like Google, the Mayo Clinic, and Goldman Sachs. With companies like that on the list, we still wonder if the people at Fortune have any idea what they’re talking about, because there’s just no way a law firm could be on a similar level.

We try to cover this list every year (click here for our posts in 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007). In 2013, only five law firms made the list: Alston & Bird (#23), Perkins Coie (#33), Baker Donelson (#45), Arnold & Porter (#62), and Bingham McCutchen (#82).

This year, six law firms made the list. Which six firms had pay that was high enough, perks that were good enough, and environments that were nurturing enough to make the cut? Let’s take a look…

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He’s great at servicing clients.

Which Biglaw firms are the best? Which Biglaw firms are the best in terms of providing quality client service? Those are two very different questions. Just because a particular law firm is classified as being one of the best does not mean it isn’t chock full of arrogant a-holes (there’s actually a ranking for that). On the other hand, just because a law firm is overflowing with arrogant a-holes does not mean that it isn’t one of the best. It can be a fairly complicated equation, and general counsel are often forced to pick the perfect sweet spot when choosing outside counsel for litigation matters.

How does your firm stack up against the others, and how can you increase the likelihood that yours will be chosen to represent some of the biggest brands in the business? Being rated as one of the “absolute best” by general counsel in terms of client service will certainly give your firm a fighting chance.

Did your firm make this year’s ranking of the Client Service 30? Take a look and find out…

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Nothing illustrates the way religion can warp the normal function of rational thought quite like the National Jurist’s “most devout law schools” rankings. If you are a person of faith, that’s fine. Mazel tov. And if you want to find new and exciting ways to mingle your religious beliefs with our secular laws, that’s fine too. I mean, I’ll do what I can to oppose you, but in America we must be comfortable with difference.

But picking a law school based on its piety seems pretty dumb. For one thing, law schools should be teaching, you know, laws and stuff. What you do with that knowledge is your own choice, but it seems to me that people should want the best education they can get, and then apply that education to the causes and issues that move them. Why go to Regent Law if you can go to Vanderbilt Law and then advocate for your theocracy from a position of greater strength?

The second problem is that picking a law school because it has some kind of “mission” beyond helping you become a good and employed lawyer seems like a path to pain. But that will become obvious as we actually look at the National Jurist’s list.

In any event, onward Christian lawyers…

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Last week, we looked at which Biglaw firms were the highest rated in 2013 by their own lawyers, according to the ATL Insider Survey. As we noted, we’ve amassed in excess of 15,500 responses to our survey from practicing lawyers and law students. The information from our survey provides our readers with a deep resource for comparing and evaluating schools and firms, particularly in the form of our Law Firm and Law School Directories.

Today, we continue to milk the “it’s a New Year/here’s a list” format and present 2013’s highest-rated law schools. Please note this is not to be confused with the ATL Law School Rankings, which assess schools based on a range of employment outcomes (and which are coming out later this year). These ratings are a pure function of how schools were rated by current students in the areas of academics, financial aid advising, career services, practical/clinical training, and social life.

More clues that these are not the ATL Law School Rankings: Northeastern beats Northwestern, while Yale and Harvard do not even make the cut…

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Ronan Farrow: a former Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree turned contest judge.

Since 2012, the list-loving folks at Forbes have been publishing “30 Under 30″ compilations for various fields of endeavor. The 2014 lists just came out, and they include, of course, a 30 Under 30 for law and public policy. We noted the news in yesterday’s Non-Sequiturs.

Such lists generate great traffic, but they also exhibit a somewhat arbitrary character that can be criticized, even mocked. The New Yorker, for example, took inspiration from Forbes to create 3 Under 3: Entrepreneurs, Intellectuals, Toddlers.

A list of notable legal eagles under 30 presents additional problems. Unlike, say, sports or the arts, where people over 30 might already be “over the hill,” law doesn’t lend itself to super-young prodigies. As Miguel Morales of Forbes points out in introducing the list, “It’s never easy for FORBES staffers to sniff out the 30 best and brightest Millennials making an impact on their fields. In law and public policy, where most people are barely out of law school by 30, let alone blazing trails in their fields, the task sometimes felt farcical.”

Whether it’s farcical or not, we know you want to see the list. Let’s have a peek, shall we?

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As 2013 draws to a close, let’s look back at the 10 biggest stories in the legal profession over the past year. This is an annual tradition here at Above the Law, which we’ve done in 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009. We’ll fire up the old Google Analytics machine to get data on our most popular posts, based on pageviews, and share the results with you.

Before turning to specific stories, let’s look at the top general discussion topics here at ATL. For 2013, our most trafficked category page was Biglaw, which bumped Law Schools out of the top spot — a spot that Law Schools held from 2010 through 2012. Now that the word is out about the perils of getting a law degree, leading to plummeting applications, perhaps it’s time to move on from the “don’t go to law school” narrative.

After Biglaw and Law Schools, our third most-popular category page was, as usual, Bonuses. This wasn’t a terribly exciting year for bonuses — there were no spring bonuses, and Cravath and its many followers paid out the same bonuses as last year — but people still want to know the score.

Our fourth most-popular category page was small law firms. Small firms, including boutiques, are an area of increasing focus and readership for us — and also where many of the job opportunities are these days.

Moving on from the topic pages, what were the 10 most popular individual posts at Above the Law in 2013?

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In the two years that we’ve been conducting our ATL Insider Survey, we’ve amassed in excess of 15,500 responses from practicing lawyers and law students. These results have provided us with unique insights into what people really think about their employers and schools. We believe our survey information furnishes our readers with a deep resource for comparing and evaluating these organizations, whether in the form of our Law Firm and Law School Directories, or in posts that take a deeper look at such factors as practice area, compensation, or geographic location. Many thanks to those thousands of readers who have shared their experiences.

Obviously, one subject that the ATL readership is passionate about is the world of Biglaw. Whether it’s to assess a potential employer, or to simply see how one’s firm compares to its peers, apparently there’s no end to the appetite for insider information. So as this year winds down, we’ll end on a happy note and have a look at which Biglaw firms are rated most highly by their own employees…

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