U.S. News Law School Rankings

Just as the Egyptians marked the passage of time by the flooding of the Nile Delta, Above the Law can mark time by the release of the annual law school rankings by U.S. News. Or, more precisely, to the deluge of “get off my lawn” complaints from crusty old deans complaining that the rankings are useless and should be entirely ignored. Unless their school made a significant leap. Culling the public statements of these “butthurt deans” is such a joyous task we’ve labeled it a parade.

They proclaim that the rankings are “not accurate” and unreliable because they constantly shift and that students can receive an excellent education regardless of a dismal ranking. Every time a law school drops, a Communications grad toiling in an administrative office gets his wings.

Some people work really hard explaining how no ranking of this kind could have any value. After all, no one gets as worked up about the rankings for undergraduate institutions. Or B-schools, or even med schools. Isn’t that proof that all these rankings are arbitrary?

Well, it turns out you really, really, should be paying attention to law school rankings, and here’s the evidence to prove it….

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If you’re still searching for a law school to call your home for the next three years, then it would be wise to try to get one where you’ll be surrounded by the best of the best, academically speaking. If possible, you’ll want to attend a law school that’s located at the tippy top of the U.S. News law school rankings — one where those applying have high GPAs and even higher LSAT scores.

For those new to the law school game, the schools with the very best applicants are generally located in the Top 14 of the U.S. News rankings (and in the Above the Law rankings, too).

But which of those schools has the highest median LSAT scores? As it turns out, U.S. News has a handy dandy list, but not all law schools in the T14 are on this list. Why? Let’s check it out…

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* Human Rights Watch wants to “stop killer robots” from being used as cops. In case that was really weighing on your mind. [PC World]

* A profile and Q&A with Twitter’s foremost jurist, Justice Don Willett of Texas. He indulges us with answers longer than 140 characters. [Coverage Opinions]

* The Berkeley bird beheader gets four years probation and service to an animal shelter. And you just know some bird is going to try and start something with him on the first day. [Associated Press via San Diego Union-Times]

* Instead of announcing a new dean, Louisville has given a three-year extension to its interim dean to keep holding the “interim” title. What’s going on? Could one of the commenters be right: that the school doesn’t want to take on a new salary because they expect the school to fold? [The Faculty Lounge]

* The Drake Law service dog lawsuit is over. [Des Moines Register]

* Today is the last day to enter the New York’s Funniest Professional Competition! [Manhattan Comedy School / Gotham Comedy Club]

* Internet collegiality alert: Internet Tax Lawyers blog blatantly rips off another blogger. For shame. [Law and More]

* Comparing the U.S. News peer ranking with which faculty’s academic writing really gets read. [Tax Prof Blog]

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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Rankings make this justice sad.

I really don’t like this categorization of schools as first, second, and third-tier. The U.S. News and World Report rankings of law schools are an abomination. The legal profession and the country would be better off if they were eliminated.

– Justice Samuel Alito, cringing at the very mention of law school rankings in comments recently published in the American Spectator’s wide-ranging interview with the Supreme Court justice. Justice Alito also thinks law schools place “too much emphasis” on the LSAT.

ATL Law School Rankings 2014Before 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?

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Law deans from schools that did poorly in the U.S. News law school rankings can’t stop making excuses for their schools.

Most of the excuses are comical, but none of them bother me quite like the “diversity argument.” The diversity argument claims that a school’s low ranking is somehow because of the school’s commitment to diversity.

If it were a good argument, it would be an offensive one to make. People who do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do shouldn’t go around begging for thanks and praise for doing the right thing. But suggesting that diversity is somehow antithetical to a strong U.S. News ranking isn’t even a good argument to begin with…

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Last week, the U.S. News Law School Rankings dropped. Prospective law students care about U.S. News more than prospective crack dealers care about baking soda. But for the third year in a row, law schools in California underperformed in the rankings.

Law deans in California want to do something about this. No, they don’t want to improve their schools so they produce lawyers who can better service the needs of California’s high-tech market. Don’t be ridiculous. Instead, they want U.S. News to tweak its methodology to mask the general weakness of the California employment market from prospective students.

I’m not joking, this is how deans think…

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Welcome back to our series of open threads on the latest batch of U.S. News law school rankings. Last time, readers weighed in on the schools that filled out the middle of the traditional first tier (ahh, the good old days when there were more than two). There were some rather significant moves worth noting in that group, like those of William & Mary and the University of Washington. Also worth noting are the schools that disappeared from that list, and now we’ll get to talk about them.

This time around, we’ll be taking a look at the law schools at the bottom of the top 50, the schools that some would argue belong in the traditional “second tier” (no, not the dreaded “rank not published” or “RNP” tier).

These schools might not be at the top, but some of them charge like they’re the cream of the crop…

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* Valerie Ford Jacob, leader of Fried Frank since 2003, is stepping down from her post prior to her official 2015 departure date. At least she’s leaving on a high note, with the firm’s highest profits per partner ever. Yay. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* Ralph Lerner, the ex-Sidley Austin partner who billed extra car charges to his clients, claims he went into work on weekends to do work for free to make up for it. Aww, how nice of him. [Am Law Daily]

* When we first covered this in January, it was just a rumor, but now it’s officially set in stone. The deed is done: Buchanan Ingersoll is picking up Tampa firm Fowler White Boggs. [Pittsburgh Business Times]

* Many New York law schools moved in the recent U.S. News rankings, but not necessarily in the right direction. Four out of 15 schools moved up; the rest stayed the same or slipped. [New York Law Journal]

* Would you like damages with that? McDonald’s corporate and its franchisees are facing lawsuits filed by employees over their allegedly “stolen wages.” Class actions have been filed in three states. [Bloomberg]

* Want to know what’s happening at Attorney@Blog today? Check out our Twitter feed! [Attorney@Blog]

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