Rankings

We hope that you’re ready, because it’s almost the most wonderful time of the year for law schools. That’s right, the 2015 U.S. News law school rankings will be published on March 11.

Law school deans must be very, very afraid. They don’t want to be dethroned from their lofty positions in the ivory tower if their respective law schools slip by a just a few slots. Law students, on the other hand, are at the ready to lord their law school’s potentially higher new ranking over their friends’ heads on Facebook. As for incoming law students, all bets are off — they’ll either be happy their school maintained its place or rose in the rankings, or be devastated if their school of choice had a subpar performance.

The rankings, controversial as they are, are still a pretty huge deal to everyone in the legal profession. Just like in years past, the rankings will inevitably be published online in the wee hours of the morning, but because rankings guru Bob Morse knows that the anticipation is killing us, he likely instructed the staff at U.S. News to give his adoring public a little teaser.

Are you ready to take a look at the new, top 10 highest-ranking law schools in the nation?

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It’s always a little jarring when someone uses a big news event to bore down deeper into their own bizarre area of interest. Take, for instance, the Newtown massacre. While most news organizations were digging deep into the social, psychological, and political ramifications of the horror, ESPN reported on what it all meant to Jimmie Johnson. Or Rick Pitino’s stance on gun control. A White Sox relief pitcher made a trip to Newtown, and ESPN was there. Now, I don’t begrudge ESPN’s attempt to report the massacre through the prism of sports. The combination of seemingly disparate news elements sometimes yields interesting insights. But sometimes it just yields one more story about stock car racing. So it goes.

Now that all of the introductories are dispensed with, we can get to the question that’s been nagging all of you for an entire week. Or more!

What does the recent unpleasantness in Ukraine have to do with law firm rankings? And which Biglaw firms have the best presence in Ukraine? I’m glad you asked…

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‘Congratulations. You’re still in the running towards becoming America’s next top law review.’

Replace the gorgeous, leggy models with bespectacled, Bluebook-wielding law students. Replace the photo shoots with cite checks. Replace Tyra Banks with a law librarian.

Voilà! You’ve replaced America’s Next Top Model with something far more fabulous: America’s Next Top Law Review.

And yes, there is a new top law review. Harvard Law Review, which has dominated the leading set of rankings for the past seven years, has been dethroned. To quote Dani from Cycle 6 of ANTM, “Shut yo mouth and say it ain’t true!”

Oh, but it is true. They’re all beautiful — or at least impeccably Bluebooked — but only one girl has what it takes. Who is the nation’s new #1 law journal?

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Having a job is so awesome!

For almost a decade, the National Law Journal has published a list of the best law schools to go to if you want to work in Biglaw after graduation. As we noted last year, “through the lens of this annual report, we can see some of the changes that have happened in a profession that’s been in transition ever since the Great Recession.” With the rise and fall of some of Biglaw’s largest firms, the hiring scene for would-be entry-level associates has ebbed and flowed.

The legal profession, while still in recovery, shows some signs of life in its sluggish attempts to return to its glory days. Each year, we hear news of marginal improvement in the job market, and we squeal with glee over single percentage point upticks. For example, in 2013, the percentage of law school graduates who landed associate jobs was up two points from where it was in 2012 — and this increase represents the highest hiring percentage since 2010. Hooray! Exciting news! Lawgasms for everyone!

Which law schools led the pack in this pseudo-revival of normalcy? Let’s find out….

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For the past few years, law schools have been in a state of crisis, and it’s getting worse. Prospective students just aren’t as interested as they used to be in borrowing up to six figures of government Monopoly money in the hope of surviving the post-graduation gauntlet of legal employment. At last count, applicants were down 11.1 percent from this time last year, and national 1L enrollment is down 24 percent from where it was in 2010.

Unable to keep up with the changing times and put asses in seats, law schools are doing anything they can to cut costs — up to and including laying off faculty and staff. Amid hefty declines in enrollment, some schools seem to be struggling.

But which law schools have suffered most? Even though law is a profession obsessed with rankings, this is one list your school probably doesn’t want to be on…

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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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