These days, when someone announces that they’re going to law school, there’s a cacophony of groans from law school graduates pleading, nay, begging that the prospective law student do something else with their lives. “There aren’t any jobs!” they shout. “You’ll be drowning in debt!” they scream. Some people listen and don’t enroll, but others forge ahead to become future members of the exponentially growing army of law school naysayers.
But what if we told you that there’s some evidence that the jobs are coming back? What if we told you that there are some law schools that have seen more than 20 percent improvement in their employment rates?
If you think we’re crazy, keep reading, because we’ve got some hard data for you…
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.
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….
Before 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?
* Stan Stallworth, the Sidley partner accused of sexual assault, has hired a prominent criminal defense attorney to represent him in the case while the firm stands by its man. [Am Law Daily]
* Wall Street regulators are considering approval of a formidable version of the Volcker Rule that would ban banks from proprietary trading. Voting occurs later today. [DealBook / New York Times]
* Skadden Arps has asked a judge to toss an FLSA lawsuit filed against the firm by one of its document reviewers. Aww, silly contract attorney — there’s no way you’re getting overtime pay. [Law360 (sub. req.)]
* Weil Gotshal is still leaking like a sieve. This time, Bruce Colbath, a partner from the firm’s New York office, defected to the Antitrust and Trade Regulation practice group at Sheppard Mullin. [Market Wired]
* Lawyerly Lairs, China Edition: Raymond Li, chair of the Greater China practice at Paul Hastings, just purchased a townhouse for about $95 million — and paid “mostly in cash,” homie. [Wall Street Journal]
* They’re extremely tardy to the party, but if the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar gets its way, law schools will be subject to random audits of their employment stats. [ABA Journal]
* It’s a tough job that “can really beat you down,” but an organization called Gideon’s Promise just made it a whole lot easier for law students to secure jobs as public defenders in the South. [National Law Journal]
And like any business that suddenly finds itself with fewer customers, law schools are looking to entice new students to apply. Because — and it’s always important to remember this — law schools are businesses, at least as much as they are academic institutions.
Will they take a hint from used car salesmen, setting up whacky, inflatable, arm-flailing tube men to draw the eye of passing motorists?
Or possibly Red Lobster, offering shrimp AND lobster with any J.D.?
Or, more likely, will they try to improve their job numbers while offering larger scholarships?
If Socrates was a law professor today, he’d be telling prospective law students not to believe what the blogs say about hemlock.
One expects legal academics to use the Socratic method for teaching students. But when it comes to the subject of going to law school, many of them are engaged in pure sophistry. I think many of them felt insulated from the effects of the recession when only recent law school graduates faced challenging job prospects and non-dischargeable debt loads. But now that law school applications have dropped off, professors are starting to see the barbarians at the gate. For God’s sakes, junior faculty are getting layoff notices, and the ABA just voted to consider dropping tenure as a requirement for accredited law schools. Professors must know that this system of high tuition and no jobs for graduates can’t go on forever.
And so some of them are fighting back. No, not with real reform. But by doing what professors do best: making theoretical arguments largely detached from the realities on the ground. They’re on a public relations campaign of lip flapping, as if the entire crisis in legal education is a media fantasy. For my money, this concerted effort by law school types to fight the war in the press started with Lawrence Mitchell, but we’ve since seen too many bad studies and bad arguments to count.
Today’s entry isn’t even all that bad. This professor spends a large part of his paper detailing the decline of Biglaw hiring that is unlikely to come back any time soon. But at the end, he tries to sound a note of hope — a misleading note of hope — that once again seems to encourage students to go to law school without fully grasping the depths of the problem in the market for legal education…
One of the biggest pieces of actual change coming out of the ABA annual meeting last week was the decision to move the reporting of employment statistics from nine months after graduation to ten months after graduation.
Think about that. We are living through a crisis in legal education. Tuition is skyrocketing, people can’t get jobs, law school applications are cratering. And here the regulating body for American legal education has responded by changing the reporting date for entry-level employment from February 15th to March 15th.
If you think that is a colossally dumb waste of everybody’s time, think about how much time and effort went into all the reports and debates leading up to this change. I mean, this is what the ABA has been fiddling with while legal education burns.
Moving the deadline seems like a classic ABA-type decision that doesn’t actually help anybody achieve anything. But, I can’t even get that angry about it because it’s such a waste of time….
Plaintiffs and the class are now stuck with a law degree they did not bargain for. That degree cannot be resold or transferred like real estate. It will never be recalled or repaired like a carburetor. And, unlike almost any other product, the debt associated with a degree from TJSL cannot even be discharged in bankruptcy.
Just yesterday, the latest batch of starry-eyed dreamers sat for the LSAT (although the number of these hopeful 0Ls seems to be in freefall). As they wait for the scores to come in, these aspiring JDs will no doubt be doing their research and narrowing down where to apply. Law school applicants have no shortage of resources at their disposal to help them in making their decisions and navigating the process: from U.S. News to Princeton Review, from Anna Ivey to Top Law Schools. But we all know that there is no decision-making tool as beloved as a ranked list. People love rankings — such time and energy savers! We suspect more application and matriculation decisions are made by perusing rankings than will ever be admitted to.
Regular readers of this site might recall that a little while back we published our inaugural ATL Top 50 Law Schools ranking. We are proud that we, rather than burying our methodology in the footnotes or an obscure appendix, prefaced our rankings release with a detailed discussion about the choices we made in devising our methodology.
Whatever the subject matter, anyone looking to rate or rank anything has to make some choices between three basic methodological approaches:
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