Prospective Law Students

Don Draper would be impressed with this one.

A law school that perennially gets the bottom-tier/unranked tag from U.S. News and has never been ranked by the ATL Top 50 — indeed, a strong contender in this year’s Worst Law School bracket — is billing itself to prospective students as a bona fide peer of schools like Duke, Northwestern, and even Yale.

You know what it takes to sell underachieving law schools? It takes brass balls.

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‘Should I go to law school? Nah, I don’t want to be poor.’

Last year, there was such a substantial national decline [in law school applicants], and a lot of law school deans said, “It’s got to be the bottom of the market, right?” People assume there has to be an uptick, because there’ll be a recovery and students will see an opportunity to get into better schools. But then a year goes by and there’s an additional decline. I will say this: The preliminary data I’ve seen on the students who have taken the LSAT this year suggests that we’re not seeing a big recovery — let’s put it that way.

– Dean Daniel B. Rodriguez of Northwestern Law, in an interview where he discussed the problems that law schools face in the post-recession world.

Last week, LSAC agreed to pay $7.73 million in penalties and damages to some students who applied for special accommodations on the LSAT and to reform some of its allegedly discriminatory practices. Elie wrote about the story in a post entitled “The LSAT Can’t Discriminate Against the Disabled: So, Time For Everybody To Get ADD.”

I agree with some of LSAC’s past policies and am happy to see others, like the flagging of score reports, go. I think that it’s hard, though, to contribute much to this conversation by worrying about people faking their way through an ADD exam . . . without knowing what an “ADD exam” means in this setting. It’s hard to move the issue forward by insisting that LSAC discourage abuse without being unfair. . . without knowing what LSAC has done in the past and why.

I’ve worked as a clinician administering many of the tests used to assess learning disabilities and difficulties, and I’ve helped individuals whose tests show they need intervention. (My favorite may be the Woodcock – Johnson Battery, just because of its name.) I currently use cognitive science to study how people best learn in law school. I may not be an authority like Dick Woodcock, but you could do a lot worse than me on a legal blog. So, I’d like to fill out the picture in the LSAC story a bit more….

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As we previously mentioned, LSAC and the Department of Justice have entered into a consent decree over LSAC’s alleged discrimination against disabled people. LSAC agreed to pay $7.73 million to settle the claims against it, and to make policy changes. Most notably, LSAC will no longer denote when a person has received extra time on the LSAT.

That is great news for disabled people who want to be treated with fundamental fairness when taking this important test and applying for law school. It’s also great news for anybody who can fake their way through an ADHD exam and wants a little more time than everybody else…

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As we’ve discussed before, law schools have handled the declining interest in law school in a couple of ways. One method is to just admit fewer people. Another response involves lowering entrance standards so you can admit the same (or even greater) number of students as you did when times are good.

Both strategies are temporary solutions to a long-term problem, but the latter method is particularly short-sighted. Turning your law school into a place that admits everybody who can scrawl their mark on a FAFSA form is not a sustainable answer to the crisis in legal education.

It would appear that one law school searching for a new dean is trying to grapple with that problem….

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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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While prospective law students are making their final decisions on where to drop their deposits, some of them have much more than their future legal careers on their minds. Neatly tucked away in our top search terms today — just above people erroneously clicking through hoping to find pornography on a legal website — is perhaps one of the most absurd questions we’ve ever seen.

Screw career outcomes and starting salaries! Prospective law students want to know which prestigious law school will help them get the most tail. Keep reading, because we’ve got an answer for you…

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File this one under #firstworldproblems. Today we have a guy who got into the University of Chicago Law School and Duke Law School, and he’s getting money from both.

But he’s getting a little more money from Duke… which is about as close as you’ll ever get Duke to admitting that it’s not “the Harvard of the South” because Harvard wouldn’t give you a dime to draw you away from the UofC (no offense, Brian Leiter).

So what should this guy do, other than be happy and email ATL about his good fortune? Well, you probably need a little more information…

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Lat here. Tomorrow is a big day. First, April 15 is Tax Day; we hope that you’ve filed your return — and that you haven’t been taken advantage of. Second, it’s the deposit deadline at various law schools. We hope that you’ve made up your mind — and that you haven’t been taken advantage of.

Just kidding. Here at Above the Law, where we are sometimes critical of the value proposition of legal education, I’m the designated defender of law schools. I write stories with titles like In Defense Of Going To Law School and Go To Law School: What Else Are You Going To Do With Yourself? I also compile and disseminate law school success stories. We are not uniformly opposed to law school here at ATL; we just want people to make informed decisions.

Helping people make informed decisions is the goal of our popular column called The Decision. We field queries from prospective law students choosing between different schools, offer them advice, and ask ATL readers to weigh in as well.

Now, on to today’s scenarios. We’ve titled them “Jersey Boys” and “The Book of Mormon,” for reasons that will soon become apparent….

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It’s time to answer the age old question: how useless are political science majors?

Actually the question is what undergraduate majors provide the best credentials to a law school admissions officer deciding how to best game the U.S. News rankings create a mutually rewarding academic environment. Political science majors don’t look so hot as a category. Even philosophy majors do better than poli-sci students on the LSAT. I guess realizing that law school is the only marketable skill they’ll be able to get since Slavoj Žižek already has “being paid to spout off about ‘The Real’ while dressed as a homeless man” locked up is a powerful incentive to study.

Professor Derek Muller of Pepperdine Law took the time to crunch the numbers for the 2013 incoming class and arranged the findings into a handy chart.

So how did your major fare?

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