Reputation

We’re still a few months out from seeing the latest edition of the U.S. News law school rankings — and the Above the Law Top 50 law school rankings — so in the meantime, we thought we’d have a little chat about the (sometimes extreme) mismatches some law schools have between their reputation and rank.

U.S. News measures reputation through peer assessment from law deans and tenured faculty on a scale from marginal to outstanding, and this score accounts for 25 percent of a law school’s overall ranking. It’s nice to know that what other people think about your law school is still more important than its job placement success (currently weighted at 20 percent).

So which law schools are doing better than their reputations suggest, and which ones aren’t living up to the hype? We’ve got the details on some of the best hidden gems and worst secret offenders for you…

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Would you rather be a great lawyer or be perceived as being a great lawyer?

For many people, I think the answer to that question varies over time: At age 30, you’d rather be a great lawyer. At age 60, you’d rather be perceived as being a great lawyer.

Why?

Because, over time, your reputation may come to track reality. If you’re perceived as great when you’re 30, but you’re actually no good, that truth may out over time. As you age, your reputation may catch up with you.

By the time you’re 60, your professional horizon will have shortened, and it’s less likely that the world will unearth your incompetence. If you’re perceived as being a great lawyer when you’re 60, you may well make it to retirement unscathed.

What of law firms? Would you rather that your firm be great or be perceived as being great?

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“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

– William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 2

Society has hated lawyers since the dawn of time. The law is a profession that often gets little respect, in part because the bad tends to overshadow the good. After all, you’re far more likely to hear about the lawyer who allegedly masturbated on a coworker’s dress or the lawyer who billed a client for sex or the lawyer who drunkenly tossed her panties at the police than the lawyer who zealously represented a client.

As if the Rodney Dangerfields of the professional world weren’t reviled enough, Americans have stepped forward to slap lawyers in the face yet again. Please, take your law degree and wipe your ass with it, because in the court of public opinion, you’ve contributed nothing to society…

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Some people love the U.S. News law school rankings, and some people (read: law school deans who fear for the safety of their jobs) hate them. Those that love them often perform well and rise to the top of the list every year, while those who hate them manage to find a new way to nitpick the rankings methodology every year.

Considering the state of the legal economy for entry-level lawyers, some would argue that the most relevant factors an ideal law school ranking should look at are employment outcomes. Others, however, still cling to the days of yore, where the quality of both students and faculty took top billing in the hearts and minds of those in the legal profession.

Today, we’ve got a ranking for those of you who still believe inputs are more important than outputs when it comes to ranking law schools. We’re going to be taking a look at the most overrated and underrated law schools in terms of median LSAT scores and peer assessment scores. Let’s have a gander….

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Spirit Airlines is a cheap airline. They advertise a “$9 fare club.” They advertise a lot. Their goal appears to be to let everyone know, to create the reputation, that they are the low cost alternative to other airlines – just like you want everyone to know you are the “aggressive” alternative to all other “aggressive” lawyers out there that will “fight” for their clients (free consultations and payment plans available of course as well.). In fact, when you Google “Spirit Airlines,” you get this:

“Spirit Airlines – cheap tickets, cheap flights, discount airfare, cheap … ”

I’ve never flown Spirit, and I don’t know if anyone has actually flown anywhere for $9, but I do know that I’ve never heard anything good about this airline. They call themselves “cheap,” while others say they’re “bad.” They do make a ton of money, which should bring a smile to the growing number of cheap and bad lawyers out there….

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The newest U.S. News law school rankings are out. The timing is not ideal for us here at Above the Law, since we just launched our latest Law School March Madness contest with seeding based on last year’s now superseded rankings. But as law school deans well know, you don’t control U.S News; U.S. News controls you.

As previously announced by rankings guru Bob Morse over at his blog, Morse Code, the new law school rankings were scheduled to be published online tomorrow, Tuesday, March 13. But just like last year and the year before last, they arrived a few hours early. Oh joy!

There’s a surprising amount of movement among the top law schools. And there are some interesting tidbits from elsewhere within the rankings. Let’s take a look, shall we?

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Ah, nothing brings around the lawyers of today like the talk of money. One of the most popular Google searches by law students and lawyers is “how to make money as a lawyer.” I rarely see searches for “how to cross examine the expert witness,” or “building a reputation, one case at a time.”

It’s all about the cash.

So here it is, here’s your red meat:

Charging “what everyone else charges” is for losers.

Good clients know you get what you pay for. Cheap, annoying, time-sucking, Bar-complaint-filing clients try to own someone for nothing. If you want the same clients everyone else has, charge the same legal fees. You can be Wal-Mart, or you can be Saks. More people shop at Wal-Mart, but people looking for quality shop at Saks, and they know the difference. They go in, they see something they want, and pay for it (without a payment plan). (And don’t tell me “credit cards are payment plans.” The seller gets the full amount, the buyer makes payments to the bank.) Saks doesn’t have “low prices,” and customers aren’t going there for low prices. They’re looking for quality. Price is secondary….

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