Kyle P. McEntee

Today, the National Law Journal released its list of the 100 most influential lawyers in America. The NLJ releases a similar list once every few years, and each time, the nation’s top lawyers — some from Biglaw, some from legal academia, some from the in-house world, and some from the trial and appellate bars — celebrate their success in creating real change in the industry. That said, the people named to this list are relatively well-known to the general Above the Law readership, but they won’t exactly be household names to laypeople.

Which legal eagles soared into the NLJ’s list this time around? Well, the NLJ selected their influential lawyers based on their political clout, legal results, media penetration, business credibility, and thought leadership. We’ve whittled the impressive list of 100 down to our own top 10.

So who made our cut?

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As we reach the end of the year, it’s time to step back and assess 2012 as it draws to a close. In the legal world, things have certainly changed from years past, but the one thing that remains constant is the focus on the state of our nation’s legal education. Something’s got to give, and while no one agrees exactly on what needs to change, many have influenced the way the discussion has developed with their insightful visions for the future.

At the end of the day, certain voices were more powerful than others. Whether through reducing class sizes or increasing the transparency of employment statistics, certain individuals have wrought substantial change in the way that law schools are currently operating — and have laid the groundwork for how law schools will be run in the future.

Whose words mattered most? Let’s take a look at this year’s most influential people in legal education….

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If there’s one thing that lawyers love more than arguing, it’s law school rankings. Whether you’re a prospective law student, a current law student, or a law school alumnus, you’re likely obsessed with the U.S. News law school rankings, the most well-known of all national law school rankings.

But come on, let’s be real with ourselves: members of the legal profession are unhealthily obsessed with rankings in general. From the rankings that seem to defy logic and common sense to the rankings that seem nonsensical at best, if they’re out there, we know that our loyal readers are going to salivate over them.

One major criticism of the U.S. News rankings of late is that prospective law students still place a far greater weight on these rankings than any other metric — which is quite foolish. That’s why we were excited to see that Law School Transparency recently released an alternative to the U.S. News law school rankings, based on factors that ought to be important to would-be law students: cost and employment outcomes.

Let’s check out the LST rankings alternative, and see what they’ve got to offer….

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As we noted in Morning Docket today, Law School Transparency (LST) wrote to all law schools accredited by the American Bar Association to request the NALP reports for the class of 2010. The NALP reports contain much more detail than that of the reports released by the ABA, such as information concerning part-time and temporary employment, as well as the number of graduates in jobs that do not require a law degree.

LST’s request was made on December 14, 2011. Two months later, LST has presented the results of that request, and the organization has made some significant strides since it first attempted to collect data back in July 2010. This time around, 34 law schools provided their NALP reports, either by sending them directly to LST, or posting them on their websites.

But which schools provided LST with the information? And which schools are still avoiding action?

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Kyle McEntee (left) and Patrick Lynch (right), co-founders of Law School Transparency (LST).

Late last year, plaintiffs’ lawyer David Anziska pledged to make 2012 “the year of law school litigation.” Anziska, who’s currently spearheading efforts to sue law schools over allegedly misleading employment statistics, told my colleague Staci Zaretsky that he and his team members “want to sue as many law schools as we can to bring them into the fray.”

That’s all well and good — for plaintiffs’ lawyers, and for news outlets like ours seeking juicy stories to cover. But there are other ways to achieve reform. So here’s another thought: Could 2012 instead be the year of law school transparency? Transparency achieved voluntarily, by law schools coming forward on their own to share comprehensive data about how their graduates are faring in the job market?

In the weeks since we wrote about the University of Chicago Law School providing very detailed employment data about its recent graduating classes, based on our interview with Dean Michael Schill, we’ve heard from deans, professors, alumni and students of other law schools, all with similar messages. They believe that their schools, like Chicago, are also transparent about graduate employment outcomes — and they want to be recognized for it.

This chorus of “me too!” messages raises a promising possibility: Is law school transparency becoming, for lack of a better word, “cool”? Will honesty about employment data become the hot new trend for U.S. legal education?

Perhaps. But there’s still a long way to go, as shown by a report issued this week by Law School Transparency….

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Back in June, when we spoke about the latest job data from NALP, it became clear that the class of 2010 — my graduating class — had some of the worst employment outcomes of the last 20 years. We knew this because of the way NALP categorized its data, differentiating between jobs that require and don’t require bar passage, and between full-time and part-time jobs.

But apparently the American Bar Association isn’t interested in helping people understand these outcomes on a school-by-school basis. The ABA doesn’t want you to know how schools fared in finding full-time legal employment for graduates of the class of 2010.

That’s right, the same folks who claimed just two short months ago that “no one could be more focused on the future of our next generation of lawyers than the ABA,” will now be removing those helpful job characteristics from the 2011 Annual Questionnaire….

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Above the Law’s 2010 Lawyer of the Year contest is now over. Thanks to everyone who nominated a lawyer; thanks to our finalists, for being such accomplished and interesting individuals; and thanks to all the voters, who picked our victor.

Here are ATL’s past Lawyers of the Year:

Two famous figures, and one anonymous one. A man, a woman, and an individual of unknown gender.

For 2010, who will join their distinguished ranks? Let’s find out….

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