ATL Top 50 Law Schools

Recently, a solo practitioner somewhere in the Midwest posted on Facebook about her “incredible” annoyance at the fact that the ATL Law School Rankings do not count solos (and therefore her) as part of a school’s “employment score.”1

That’s unremarkable, of course. We don’t expect or intend that our approach will please everybody. Anyway, the resultant comment thread was, for the most part, a thoughtful discussion of the pros and cons of excluding solo practitioners in evaluating a particular law school school class’s employment outcomes. Again, all of this is unremarkable, and — especially considering the ATL rankings were published back in April — hardly worth noting now. But one particular commenter really, seriously disliked the ATL rankings methodology. Before you say “so what?” (or “me too”), consider the commenter is indisputably one of the most influential law school deans in the country. Not only that, this dean made a “suggestion” in the course of the discussion that, if it were adopted, would be a game changer for how law schools would share employment data….


1 It must be noted that the solo did not read or did not understand our methodology in the first place. Our employment scores measure the most recent class ten months after graduation. She only recently began her practice. Prior to that she worked for a couple years as a public defender, a job that would have been counted under our formula.

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* When you think of professions likely to be menaced by armed maniacs, you don’t think of veterinarians. You’d be wrong. [Legal Juice]

* Robert Ambrogi talks with Bryan Garner about the latest edition of Black’s Law Dictionary, including the fact that three new terms coined by David Lat made this edition. Let’s start the campaign for Appellageddon and SCOTocaplypse for next time around! [Robert Ambrogi's LawSites]

* The ABA has appointed an all-star panel to study law school financing. By “all-star” they mean “all the people responsible for the status quo.” That’s how you do “reform,” guys. [Lawyers, Guns & Money]

* A photo essay of people breaking the stupid laws on the books in various states. [The Phoblographer]

* Law professors making a difference in the real world. Specifically, pushing the anti-smoking message. [PR Log]

* A Seattle attorney pleads to 5 counts of third-degree rape to avoid trial over attacks on a series of massage therapists. He says he’s just a sex addict. The government says he was “kicking in doors, and pulling knives on them.” That sounds pretty extreme for a sex addiction. [Seattle Times]

* Check out Elie talking about the ATL Top 50 Rankings, after the jump… [Mimesis Law]

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Since we released the ATL Top 50 Law Schools last week, we’ve received a fair amount of feedback and criticism regarding our approach to ranking schools. As noted (again and again), our methodology considers “outcomes” only — the idea being that, in this dismal legal job market, that’s all that truly matters. Our rankings formula weighs six outcomes; these three below were the most disputed:

Supreme Court Clerks. This is simply the number of SCOTUS clerks produced by the school over the last five years, adjusted for the schools’ size. By far, this is the most heavily criticized aspect of our methodology. “Preposterous!” “Irrelevant!” “Reflective of some weird fetish on the part of one of your editors!” And so on. To which we say, sure, SCOTUS clerkships are irrelevant in assessing the vast majority of schools. Properly considered, this component is a sort of “extra credit question” that helps make fine distinctions among a few top schools.

Federal Judgeships. The number of sitting Article III judges who are alumni of the school, adjusted for size. Some complain that this is a lagging indicator that tells us something about graduates from 25 years ago but little about today’s students’ prospects. Besides, aren’t these appointments just a function of the appointees’ connections? True enough, but this is certainly an indicator of the enduring strength and scope of a school’s graduate network — surely a worthwhile consideration. Connections matter.

Quality Jobs Score. The percentage of students securing jobs at the nation’s largest law firms combined with those landing federal clerkships. The principal criticism with this metric is that it fails to include some categories of desirable job outcomes, including so-called “JD Advantage” jobs and certain public interest/government positions. However, parsing out the “good” jobs from the rest is the problem. Whenever we could, we used the most straightforward, obtainable, and well-defined data points, with the goal of a “quality jobs score” as a reasonable proxy for quality jobs generally.

Read on for a look at which schools rated best in each of the above categories, as well as on Employment Score and Lowest Cost. We’ll also look at some of the biggest gainers and losers in the ATL 50, plus significant differences between our rankings and U.S. News….

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ATL Law School Rankings 2014Before taking on the massive commitment and expense of a law school education, prospective students need to do some serious homework. But let’s face it: not everyone will. The prospect of analyzing the available data is sufficiently great that many won’t bother.

In spite of concerns that rankings “facilitate laziness” or “pervert incentives,” we can agree that rankings aren’t going to disappear any time soon. People will still demand guidance, preferably in the form of easy-to-understand lists. For our part, ATL will continue to produce our own version of law school rankings. (We are releasing the 2014 rankings next Tuesday. You can register to see a live broadcast here.)

Last week we surveyed our readers for their views on what would be the most relevant elements of a law school rankings methodology. What did the readers have to say?

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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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As all sentient beings are aware, we have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad legal job market. According to NALP data, the industry is down 50,000 jobs since 2008 and there is no reason to believe they will ever reappear. If you ignore school-funded positions (5% of the total number of jobs), this market is worse than its previous low point of 1993-1994. In light of these grim economic realities, we feel that potential law students should prioritize their future job prospects over other factors in deciding whether to attend law school. To put it mildly, inputs- (LSATs, GPAs, per capita spending, etc.) and reputational survey-based law school rankings schemes have proved unsatisfactory. Hence our release last week of the ATL Top 50 Law Schools, which is based on nothing but outcomes.

(Although he probably disapproves of all rankings, it must be said that the legal world owes a great debt to Kyle McEntee and his colleagues at Law School Transparency. LST has forced us all to look at the publicly available employment data, submitted by the schools to the ABA, in a more meaningful way. Like all good ideas, it seems obvious in retrospect.)

We received a ton of feedback and comments regarding our rankings and our methodology, much of it thoughtful and substantive. (Our very own Elie Mystal weighed in with this takedown the day after we published.) Quite a few recurrent criticisms emerged from the comments. Of course there’s no perfect dataset or methodology. At best, rankings are a useful simulacrum and just one of many tools available to 0Ls for researching and comparing schools.

What follows are the most common criticisms of the ATL Top 50 Law Firms rankings….

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Yesterday, we released the inaugural ATL Top 50 Law School rankings. A lot of us here worked really hard on it. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud of the effort.

But I haven’t made my career based on liking things. I hate things. If anybody else released a new law school rankings, I’d be critical of it. There’s no reason I should give ATL special treatment.

No rankings are perfect — ours certainly aren’t — so we should talk about the problems. And I mean the real problems, not the stupid interview answer of, “I think my biggest weakness is that sometimes I try too damn hard.”

Let’s douse these new rankings in a cold shower of haterade….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Everything That Is Wrong With The Above the Law Law School Rankings”

We present the inaugural ATL Top 50 Law School Rankings. Our rankings methodology is based purely on outcomes, especially on the schools’ success in placing its graduates into quality, real attorney jobs.

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