Rankings

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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We’re still a few months out from seeing the latest edition of the U.S. News law school rankings — and the Above the Law Top 50 law school rankings — so in the meantime, we thought we’d have a little chat about the (sometimes extreme) mismatches some law schools have between their reputation and rank.

U.S. News measures reputation through peer assessment from law deans and tenured faculty on a scale from marginal to outstanding, and this score accounts for 25 percent of a law school’s overall ranking. It’s nice to know that what other people think about your law school is still more important than its job placement success (currently weighted at 20 percent).

So which law schools are doing better than their reputations suggest, and which ones aren’t living up to the hype? We’ve got the details on some of the best hidden gems and worst secret offenders for you…

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Since 2008, Crain’s New York Business has produced a list of the Best Places to Work in New York City. Each year, a few law firms sneak onto the list, much like the situation with Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list.

This year, seven law firms made Crain’s list, while only four made Fortune’s list, as of January 2012. Just two firms overlap between Crain’s and Fortune’s lists.

Which ones are considered tops in the city that never sleeps? Let’s find out…

Please note the UPDATE to this post below.

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It really does get better — and better, and better — for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.

This past June, the Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), resulting in more-equal treatment of gay and lesbian couples for purposes of federal benefits. Around the country, 15 states and the District of Columbia now issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which bans workplace discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, is closer than ever to passage, having already made it through the Senate by a comfortable margin (64-32, reflecting bipartisan support).

Meanwhile, in the private sector, employers are becoming more and more welcoming of LGBT individuals. That’s the top-line finding of the Human Rights Campaign’s latest Corporate Equality Index — in which law firms are particularly well-represented….

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In an era when “disruption” is celebrated, the world of large law firms is one of the last redoubts of conventional wisdom. For a uniquely rule- and precedent-bound profession, this makes sense. Biglaw’s conventional wisdom has the added virtue of being reliable. For example, we can count on Cravath taking the lead — at least chronologically — on bonuses, and for DLA Piper to have the most random Third developing-world offices.

Another reflection of conventional wisdom is the way in which Biglaw lends itself to — and revels in — superlatives and rankings. There tends to be a generally acknowledged and perennially dominant player (or a few) in most practice areas: Wachtell Lipton for M&A, Weil Gotshal for Chapter 11 work, Patton Boggs for lobbying, and so forth. There’s no doubt that many worthy firms get overlooked.

Last year we took a look at which firms’ practice groups were considered “underrated” by peers in the field. Among the notable 2012 nominees: Cahill for corporate law, Arnold & Porter in litigation, and Proskauer for its bankruptcy and tax practices.

We wondered whether the same practice groups were still considered by practitioners to be unfairly underrated. Or are there other firms deserving more recognition?

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This coming Friday, it is the inalienable right of all Americans to sleep off their hangovers, or riot at Walmart, or do anything at all rather than work for The Man. But Biglaw is a different country. As illustrated by Elie’s decision matrix, the “choice” of whether to work on this sacred day is, for the denizens of the law firm world, fraught with other pressures and expectations. We all know that Biglaw careers demand a Faustian bargain: in return for their fat paychecks (and bonuses?), lawyers are expected to work grueling, unpredictable hours. This time of year, that reality is brought into sharp relief: the “holiday season,” with those “family obligations” and so forth, is something that occurs elsewhere.

But law firm billable expectations are not homogeneous. There are significant differences across practice areas, seniority levels, and, of course, individual firms. So how do the various practices, employment statuses, and firms stack up?

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