Rankings

In this age of plummeting law school applications, many deans must make difficult choices. They must sacrifice one of two things they love dearly: tuition dollars or their U.S. News ranking. It’s the legal academy’s version of Sophie’s Choice.

As fewer people apply to law school, deans have basically two options: they can shrink the size of the entering class, which reduces tuition revenue, or they can keep the size of the entering class the same, which results in credential dilution — a student body with lower LSAT scores and GPAs. Credential dilution can lead to a tumble in the closely watched U.S. News rankings, which can further reduce applications, setting in motion a vicious cycle.

So far, most schools seem to have opted for shrinkage. Most deans would prefer to be able to claim that they are taking a “stand for quality,” as Dean Patrick Hobbs of Seton Hall recently stated.

(Yes, we recently covered one exception. But to paraphrase Chinatown, “Forget it, Jake — it’s Cooley.”)

Interestingly enough, however, one top law school seems to be going in the other direction. It’s actually increasing the size of its incoming class over last year, even if doing so might lead to credential dilution….

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The results of the annual American Lawyer midlevel associate survey are out, and it looks like people have been taking happy pills. We thought things were going well last year, but this time around, it’s all lollipops and double rainbows for third-, fourth-, and fifth-year associates. According to Am Law, these happy campers gave their firms the highest composite scores the publication had seen in almost 10 years.

These associates have good reason to be happy. They’ve secured and maintained jobs at elite firms while entry-level hiring has been swirling down the drain. Spring bonuses have come and gone, but they’ve managed to stick it out. They’ve seen the rise and fall of Biglaw empires. They’ve seen the worst of the profession’s worst, and still, they’ve survived it all. They have the right to be happy.

Of course, not everyone is as thrilled. For the first time, American Lawyer measured gender differences in question responses, and women are markedly less satisfied with their jobs than their male colleagues. Considering how difficult is is to gain entry to the Biglaw boys’ club, who could blame them?

Enough idle chatter, let’s delve into the details of the survey and discuss the results…

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We’ve got to hand it to the television and film industries, because they’ve done a wonderful job of glamorizing professions that are otherwise dull and often lacking when it comes to the beauty of its practitioners. Teenagers who wants to be doctors or lawyers when they grow up have seen those professional roles played out a million times on TV, and they look so, so cool.

We hate to break it to you, but these shows and movies often leave out the most difficult and trying parts of elite careers. Going to law school isn’t as “fun” as Elle Woods makes it look in Legally Blonde. Supply-room sexual romps à la Grey’s Anatomy aren’t part and parcel of a career as a doctor. There’s a reason why they don’t show you all of the time spent researching and writing motions that goes into trying a case on Law & Order.

If you still think these are dream jobs, then you haven’t been paying attention to anything that’s been going on in the world, especially if you want to be a lawyer…

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For the past three years, Baker & McKenzie has taken the top spot in the American Lawyer’s Global 100, the magazine’s ranking of the 100 highest-grossing law firms in the world. With 74 offices in 46 counties, the firm has a presence in almost as many countries as Starbucks (which is in 50 different countries around the globe).

Baker saw its financial metrics rise like bread in the last fiscal year. Gross revenue grew by 4.6 percent to $2.42 billion; net income rose by an even larger amount, 9.1 percent, to $862 million; and profits per equity partner increased by 10.1 percent, hitting $1.2 million.

But this strong performance wasn’t enough to keep Baker at #1. Who is the new top dog?

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Or perhaps a little of both.

Lifting the hood on Wachtell Lipton is an interesting endeavor. An in-depth look at the inner workings of America’s superfirm would appeal to legal professionals and the business world alike.

But a custom repackaging of glowing reviews from associates does not a useful profile make. This Business Insider review of working at Wachtell reads like a brochure. Everything is sunshine and lollipops at 51 West 52nd Street. Double rainbows sprout from Marty Lipton’s every orifice.

While I’m sure everyone loves their handsome compensation packages, there has to be more dirt out there to balance out the sort of comments these insiders offer…

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If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. We’ve talked extensively about the outsized power the U.S. New rankings have on higher education. Normally we talk about it in the context of law schools, but they’re just as important in college admissions.

Now, there’s a going to be a new challenger to U.S. News: The President of the United States. And yes, in a battle between USN and POTUS, I think POTUS is the clear underdog.

Today, Obama will unveil various proposals he hopes will drive down the cost of college tuition, a problem that his administration has been shockingly silent on. The centerpiece of his proposal is a new college rankings system that will rate schools on “tuition, graduation rates, debt and earnings of graduates, and the percentage of lower-income students who attend,” according to the New York Times.

Eventually, Obama hopes to tie these Obama Rankings to federal financial aid: schools that perform well will have a larger pool of federal money to dole out to students, while schools that perform poorly will have less money to play with.

Does this sound like a good idea? Would you like to see Obama apply it to law schools?

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TV Guide released its annual list of television salaries and, once again, the top spot belongs to Judge Judy.

Someone needs to resolve the nation’s disputes over dogs taking dumps in the neighbor’s lawn. We need her on that wall.

America’s most trusted jurist has the highest-rated show in syndication, so a hefty salary isn’t really surprising.

What is surprising is just how much Judge Judy blows away the competition in the salary market. A-List TV personalities on flagship network programs are begging for table scraps compared to her haul.

Meanwhile, another TV jurist has slipped off the highest paid list…

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Being a legal academic is probably a lot of fun. You can act like a complete jerk with zero repercussions. Your job is pretty safe so long as you don’t work at a sinking law school. And you can write the most ridiculous tripe and pass it off as research.

Have you ever wondered which law school has the most cited academics?

No? Well, here you go anyway.

Using Brian Leiter’s patented “Scholarly Impact Score,” here are the top 10 law schools in terms of cited academics….

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‘Dammit, this is even worse than Touro! Argh!’

Charleston doesn’t have the best reputation, but they’re not on a level with Charlotte School of Law, Florida Coastal, or Phoenix. Those are thought of as the bottom of the bottom.

– An anonymous third-year student from Charleston School of Law, lamenting the fact that he’ll have to answer questions about the quality of his legal education during interviews now that InfiLaw has become affiliated with his alma mater.

(InfiLaw already owns the three for-profit law schools mentioned above, and may soon add Charleston Law to its roster. Students and alumni are very unhappy.)

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the value of a law degree, and whether or not it’s actually worth a million dollars, degrees from some law schools are obviously worth more than others. Let’s be real for a moment here: If you’re taking out six figures of debt just for the privilege of attending, your starting salary damn well better be somewhere near the same amount, otherwise you’re going to be underwater for most of, if not all of, your adult life after law school.

Living with debt is scary, and if you want to have a better chance of being able to comfortably do all of the things you thought you’d be able to after getting a law degree, things like owning a home and having a child, you need to choose your law school wisely. You can start evaluating your options — or giving yourself a pat on the back — by checking out the latest U.S. News rankings for the 10 law schools with the biggest return on investment.

Which schools made the list? Not all of them are in the T14, so you may be surprised…

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