Rankings

Does your law school ROI look like this?

* Victoria Espinel, chief IP counsel to the White House (better known as the “copyright czar”), has stepped down. A tech or trade company will snap her up in 3… 2… [Corporate Counsel]

* Child custody train wreck alert: Baby Veronica of SCOTUS fame was in the news after her father was arrested for refusing to return his child to her adoptive parents. [ABC News]

* Rather than watching people pump gas, BP is watching people pump out lawsuits against the company at a rather alarming rate as a result of its 2010 oil spill. [Businessweek]

* Cynthia Brim, the Illinois judge who was reelected despite the fact that she was legally insane, finally had a complaint filed against her by the state’s judicial board for being just a little bit too kooky for court. [Chicago Tribune]

* Your degree might not be worth a million dollars, but if you went to one of these schools, you probably got a good bank for your buck. We’ll have more on this later. [The Short List / U.S. News & World Report]

* The fight over attorneys’ fees in the antitrust lawsuits filed against BARBRI continues rage on, and class members still haven’t received a penny — which is all they’d really get, anyway. [National Law Journal]

* Congratulations to Newark Mayor and Yale Law alumnus Cory Booker! Last night, he handily won the New Jersey Democratic primary election for the late U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg’s seat. [CBS News]

We last spoke about the best law firms for women (in terms of power and pay) in June, and back then, we noted that every few months, a new list or ranking system appears. We were right, because about two months have passed, and now there’s another “best of” list for female attorneys to pore over.

Today, Working Mother and Flex-Time Lawyers released their annual list of the 50 Best Law Firms for Women. These law firms are considered pioneers in the field when it comes to “attracting, retaining and promoting women lawyers.” These law firms stand out as “family friendly” workplaces, while at the same time ensuring that women shine in their equity partnership ranks.

These law firms are places you might want to work for. Which ones made this year’s cut?

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We’ve just entered August, so you know what that means: the start of on-campus interviewing season. If you’re a law student researching firms or a lawyer involved in your firm’s recruiting efforts, check out Above the Law’s law firm directory, where law firms get letter grades in different categories. Law firms might look alike on the surface, but there are very real differences between them, as our grading system reflects.

For example, law firms diverge when it comes to diversity. While every firm gives lip service to diversity, some firms have the goods to back up their claims, while others do not.

Let’s check out the latest diversity rankings, from two different news outlets, to see which firms are truly diverse….

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For many law schools, the bidding process for the upcoming on-campus interview season closed yesterday. In bidding, schools quite reasonably advise students to select potential employers that align with their aspirations and geographic preferences. For example, the section of the Duke Law web site devoted to OCI admonishes students to “thoroughly research” potential employers and to “focus only on employers in whom you are genuinely interested and that match your career goals.” Presumably, one career goal shared by all law school graduates is to eventually be free of debt. As previously and repeatedly noted, for most, a Biglaw associate position is the only employment outcome which gives the graduate a plausible prospect of paying off his student loans.

So what shapes student perception of large law firms and drives the decision of the law student in prioritizing their OCI bids? No doubt there are unique versions of received wisdom that get passed from generation to generation of students at every school. And of course there are plenty of media entities measuring firms against one another: revenues (AmLaw), “prestige” (Vault), practice area prowess (Chambers) and so on. This being the time of year where Biglaw careers are just starting to be built, we thought it would be interesting to look at how students themselves rate law firms. Which firms are the law student favorites?

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GCs did very well for themselves last year.

At our recent Seattle event with in-house counsel — by the way, thanks to all the attendees and to Recommind, our sponsor — I asked the panelists about what they most enjoy about in-house practice. Christi Muoneke of DocuSign and Brad Toney of Classmates Media both discussed the satisfaction they get from working for a single client on interesting issues that call for both legal and business judgment.

Of course, there are many other good things about working as an in-house lawyer (which is why in-house posts are so coveted). Liberation from the billable hour is one big advantage. Healthy pay packages are another.

At junior levels, Biglaw associates who go in-house might take a pay cut (although not necessarily). But many of the top dogs of the in-house world earn amounts that far outstrip average partner pay.

Let’s take a closer look at Corporate Counsel’s recently released rankings of the nation’s best-paid general counsel. Some GCs enjoy pay packages that make Biglaw partners look like paupers….

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Believe it or not, Biglaw isn’t all about prestige, especially when looking at the legal profession through the lens of the “new normal.” These days, in a supposedly post-recession world, working at a large firm is an aspirational stepping stone on the way to a debt-free life. Associates willingly offer their wrists for Biglaw’s golden handcuffs in the hope of some day being able to escape them for happier pastures.

But for prospective Biglaw employees who have an embarrassment of riches available to them (i.e., offers from multiple firms), wouldn’t it be nice to be able to choose the firm where you’ll have the best quality of life? Or any life at all? Such a thing does exist within the hallowed halls of large law firms, and there’s even a ranking to prove it.

Hot on the heels of its prestige rankings (which still matter to the people who care so very deeply about just how impressive they are), Vault has released its annual quality of life rankings. Sure, some firms may be more prestigious than others, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good places to work.

After a major shake-up in the rankings, which firms made Vault’s top ten this year?

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Does the amount of money a law school spends necessarily have an effect on the quality of its legal education?

Here at Above the Law, we say no. Our Law School Rankings take a look at the outcomes law schools provide for their graduates, not the inputs law schools cast into the pot.

But U.S. News still looks at many input factors in evaluating law schools. One of the most notorious factors U.S. News cares about is faculty resources. U.S. News rewards schools for spending a lot of money on the faculty per admitted student. You can kind of see the thought process there: good schools hire good professors and good professors command higher salaries.

Unfortunately, this U.S. News factor creates perverse incentives. Schools with unreasonably high tuition are rewarded for overpaying faculty, at the expense of the debt burden loaded upon their students and recent graduates. Ranking one school better than another because it engages in profligate spending is a cruel joke in this economy.

We don’t know if U.S. News will stop this madness, but yesterday the American Bar Association decided to stop asking schools to report the figure…

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* Sorry ladies, but Seth Meyers is now engaged. To a lawyer of all people. Alexi Ashe of AC Investment Management graduated from Southwestern University School of Law and previously worked at the King’s County District Attorney’s Office, Human Rights First, and the Somaly Mam Foundation. [Gawker]

* A D.C. law firm is giving away its law library. An unscrupulous law school could bolster its U.S. News ranking because they count the number of volumes in law libraries even though no one has used a bound legal reporter in a decade. [Constitutional Daily]

* “But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? And does it rise to the level of nuisance?” Just one gem over on this Tumblr. [Shakespeare Takes the Bar Exam]

* The Ohio Supreme Court may hear a speeding ticket case because there are no more pressing issues in Ohio. [USA Today]

* Pharrell is suing will.i.am because the latter seems to think he owns a trademark in every sentence with “I am” in it. And Pharrell quotes from noted legal authority Dr. Seuss. [Jezebel]

* Does Dwight Howard’s decision to sign with the Rockets highlight how state taxes pose a hidden threat to league parity? [TaxProf Blog]

* Still hankering for Supreme Court discussion? Here’s a thorough roundtable examination of the previous term. [Construction Magazine]

* Have a good legal-themed short fiction idea? Enter the ABA Journal’s Ross Writing Contest and you could win $3,000. [ABA Journal]

For prospective law students, the promise of merit-based scholarship money amid a broken legal market seems like an incredible deal. So what if there aren’t any jobs? You’re going to go to law school at a significantly discounted rate, or maybe even for free, so you won’t be at any real loss.

Or will you?

What law schools don’t like to tell you with regard to these frequently conditional scholarships is just how difficult it can be to keep them. When you’re banking the terms of your financial future on a law school grading curve, things can get a little tricky. Some might even describe the situation as a big racket. Thankfully, the ABA has started keeping tabs on these programs, and now there’s a wealth of information available on retention rates for scholarships of this kind.

So out of the 140 schools offering conditional scholarships, which ones are most likely to take back your law school funny money? Let’s find out…

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It’s tough times over at U.S. News. After shedding nearly all pretense of being a news outlet, U.S. News threw all its eggs in the “telling people where to go to school” basket.

U.S. News enjoyed a virtual monopoly for years before someone came along and created a better law school ranking system. The crux of the ATL Top 50 ranking is focusing on post-graduation results rather than LSAT/GPA inputs.

Now U.S. News seems to be considering a new post-graduation component, but it doesn’t seem all that scientific…

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