U.S. News Law School Rankings

‘But we didn’t even have the biggest drop…’

2012 was a poor year for us with regard to our employment numbers and bar passage rates. We have begun to address these issues through stronger bar support and changes in our approach to the employment market, and have already seen improvements in both areas for the Class of 2013.

– Dean Nora Demleitner of Washington & Lee University School of Law, in comments made following news of the law school’s 17-spot decline in the U.S. News rankings, from No. 26 last year to No. 43 this year. Bob Morse, director of research at U.S. News, said W&L was “hit hard” by its lower employment rate.

The U.S. News 2015 Law School Rankings are out, and you know what that means. It’s time to allow students and alumni to weigh in on their law schools and their brand-new ranks.

As is customary, we’ll be posting a series of open threads, running through at least the top 100 law schools — but we’ll probably make it all the way through, right down to rank-not-published land. These posts offer you a chance to compare and contrast different schools, praise (or condemn) your alma mater, and talk trash about rival law schools.

Last year, we witnessed a rousing game of musical chairs among the nation’s top law schools, but this year, we’ve got a new #10 law school, and the Top 14 has been transformed into the Top 13 thanks to a tie at the bottom of the top.

Were there any other surprises this year? Let’s take a look…

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* The Coalition for Court Transparency sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, pleading that he allow cameras in the courtroom. Not sure how well this will go over, thanks to last month’s oral arguments interruption by a protestor. [Legal Times]

* Hot on the heels of the news that the firm posted its worst financial performance in six years, Bingham McCutcheon is leaking laterals. Morgan Lewis just poached four lawyers across three cities right out from under the firm’s nose. [Am Law Daily]

* Now that the U.S. News 2015 Law School Rankings are out, here’s Kyle McEntee of Law School Transparency to tell you what’s wrong with them, particularly, that not every school is the “best.” [Law.com]

* If you were a law school dean, we sincerely hope you’d just live with the consequences of an enrollment decline instead of lowering your admission standards to put more asses in seats. [National Law Journal]

* Nancy Grace must defend herself against a defamation suit filed by Michael Skakel. It’s almost fitting that she’d get sued over talking about someone allegedly masturbating in a tree. [Hollywood Reporter]

It’s the most important day of the year for law school deans. The U.S. News 2015 Law School Rankings are out, and absent salacious allegations about their behavior, law deans who do well according to U.S. News do well according to their bank accounts.

The big winner this year seems to be Duke Law School. As we mentioned earlier, they’ve cracked the top ten. Congratulations to the Harvard of the South.

Meanwhile, this seems to be the year U.S. News has fully committed to “ties.” Ties are great for law schools. How else can you have 60 schools claim to be “top 50 institutions”? U.S. News makes ties like kissing your sister… your really hot, adopted sister that your Dad would be all over if your Dad were Woody Allen.

So, who is #1? If you have to ask that question, you’ve clearly come to the wrong website and might want to rethink this whole “going to law school” thing until you’ve researched enough to get a freaking clue…

Please note the multiple UPDATES below.

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We hope that you’re ready, because it’s almost the most wonderful time of the year for law schools. That’s right, the 2015 U.S. News law school rankings will be published on March 11.

Law school deans must be very, very afraid. They don’t want to be dethroned from their lofty positions in the ivory tower if their respective law schools slip by a just a few slots. Law students, on the other hand, are at the ready to lord their law school’s potentially higher new ranking over their friends’ heads on Facebook. As for incoming law students, all bets are off — they’ll either be happy their school maintained its place or rose in the rankings, or be devastated if their school of choice had a subpar performance.

The rankings, controversial as they are, are still a pretty huge deal to everyone in the legal profession. Just like in years past, the rankings will inevitably be published online in the wee hours of the morning, but because rankings guru Bob Morse knows that the anticipation is killing us, he likely instructed the staff at U.S. News to give his adoring public a little teaser.

Are you ready to take a look at the new, top 10 highest-ranking law schools in the nation?

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As 2013 draws to a close, let’s look back at the 10 biggest stories in the legal profession over the past year. This is an annual tradition here at Above the Law, which we’ve done in 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009. We’ll fire up the old Google Analytics machine to get data on our most popular posts, based on pageviews, and share the results with you.

Before turning to specific stories, let’s look at the top general discussion topics here at ATL. For 2013, our most trafficked category page was Biglaw, which bumped Law Schools out of the top spot — a spot that Law Schools held from 2010 through 2012. Now that the word is out about the perils of getting a law degree, leading to plummeting applications, perhaps it’s time to move on from the “don’t go to law school” narrative.

After Biglaw and Law Schools, our third most-popular category page was, as usual, Bonuses. This wasn’t a terribly exciting year for bonuses — there were no spring bonuses, and Cravath and its many followers paid out the same bonuses as last year — but people still want to know the score.

Our fourth most-popular category page was small law firms. Small firms, including boutiques, are an area of increasing focus and readership for us — and also where many of the job opportunities are these days.

Moving on from the topic pages, what were the 10 most popular individual posts at Above the Law in 2013?

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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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Over the summer, the American Bar Assocation announced that it would stop collecting data on law school expenditures. Ignoring law school expenditures is (counterintuitively perhaps) an important legal education reform. Law schools should be spending, and charging, as little as possible. The fact that a law school spends a lot of money on its professors really doesn’t seem to have a great effect on the quality of legal education, especially if that quality is at all measured by job placement rates.

Of course, getting the ABA on board is only part of the battle. In June, we noted that the real prize is for U.S. News to stop rewarding law schools for spending as much as possible. A law school shouldn’t be able to improve its ranking by tricking out its library or giving its faculty fat raises in a market where law school tuition is far too high.

I had expected U.S. News to follow the ABA’s lead. Law schools might not be the most transparent institutions, but they generally try to avoid lying to the ABA (at least some of them do). But without an ABA check, there’s nothing to prevent schools from lying to U.S. News to inflate their expenditure figures in an attempt to game the rankings. Reasonable people can disagree about what factors should be important in a set of law school rankings, but I had assumed U.S. News would at least want their data to be tied to reality, instead of made-up statistics offered up by law schools without any independent auditing or fact-checking.

It turns out, I was wrong…

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Ed Note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today’s article comes from our friends at Blueprint LSAT Prep. Check out Blueprint’s new LSAT book, The Blueprint for LSAT Logic Games.

We’re familiar with the fact that the number of law school applicants is down. Indeed, quite a bit of metaphorical ink has been spilled on analyzing the ramifications of this trend on law school applications. For instance, the WSJ Law Blog recently ran a story analyzing the LSAT scores at top law schools. Somewhat surprisingly, the numbers were fairly consistent with previous years, despite fewer applicants. Above The Law followed up with the analysis of a few additional schools, though all were still T14 (with the exception of ATL’s favorite whipping boy, Cooley). And, of course, we here at Blueprint analyzed these changes and discussed how to use them to your advantage.

So the implications of the decrease in law school applicants have been fairly well documented for top law schools. However, only a small minority of law students will be applying to them, and an even smaller amount attending. This begs the question: What’s going on further down the law school chain?

Read more at the ATL Career Center…

Our readers love nothing better than law school rankings, so it was kind of the National Jurist to roll out its first-ever list of the Best Value private law schools. This new ranking comes in addition to its regular ranking of Best Value schools (which is usually dominated by public institutions of learning). These lists are usually released in alphabetical order, but this time, National Jurist assigned letter grades to each school due to a post-publication error. We’re off to a great start already.

The Best Value ranking typically takes into account the following criteria: tuition, cost of living, average student debt, the percentage of graduates employed nine months after graduation, and bar passage rates.

When the National Jurist created the Best Value rankings to “honor schools that took the cost of legal education seriously,” why choose to highlight private law schools at a time when tuition is higher than ever?

We’ll explore possible answers to that question, as well as reveal the rankings, after the jump…

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