US News rankings

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 law schools that made up the bottom third of the traditional first tier. Alas, thanks to the way employment statistics are now weighed in the U.S. News methodology, some law schools were knocked off of their prestigious pedestals, and law students are calling for their deans’ heads now that they’ve descended downwards into previously uncharted territory: the traditional second tier.

Today, we’ll take a look at those law schools, as well as their new rankings rivals — the schools that have traditionally been known to dwell in this part of the U.S. News list. You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. Your next stop, the Second Tier Zone….

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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 law schools that ascended to the tippy-top of the rankings — the top 14 law schools. With the Harvard/Stanford tie, UC Berkeley’s dip, and the Georgetown v. Cornell switch-up, there was certainly a lot to talk about.

This time around, we’ll be taking a look at some additional top-tier law schools that sit just below the coveted “T14.” And much like the rousing game of musical chairs we saw play out among our nation’s most elite law schools, there were some pretty significant moves worth noting in this segment of the rankings as well….

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The new U.S. News law school rankings, which we’ve been covering extensively in these pages, contain all sorts of interesting tidbits about the ranked schools. For example, in each school profile there is an “employed at graduation” figure, which “represents the percentage of all graduates who had a full-time job lasting at least a year for which bar passage was required or a J.D. degree was an advantage.”

That seems like an important and useful piece of information to know if you’re going to pay or borrow a six-figure sum to attend law school. Comparing the employment rates of different schools would be an important part of one’s due diligence when selecting a school.

Among the top 14 or so-called “T14″ law schools, which one had the highest “employed at graduation” rate? The answer might surprise you….

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I’m not going to lie, these are quickly becoming my favorite columns to write every year.

For approximately 364 days a year, law school deans are free to tell us how great their schools are without being forced to provide any data to support their claims of being the best law school for whatever. But one day, each law school must confront the stark reality of their U.S. News law school ranking. They can disparage the rankings, get angry at the rankings, or boast about the rankings (if they’re lucky). But deans ignore the rankings at their own peril.

And so some deans are forced to address their schools’ poor rankings. They are free to spin things however they want, but for one day, they’re not operating in a vacuum. There is an objective fact that is just a little bit beyond their powers of self-reporting manipulation.

It’s a fun day….

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Here’s a fun way of looking at the new U.S. News law school rankings that arrived last night: are the top-tier law schools getting dumber?

We’ve reported a lot on the declining number of applications to law school. And we’ve also talked about how the people who do better on the LSAT are more likely to not apply to law school (most likely because they have better options), while poor LSAT scorers are still eager to go to law school.

Maybe the LSAT really is an accurate test of logical reasoning skills.

Fewer applications overall but a higher share of them from people with poor LSAT scores should lead to a drop in the median LSAT score at top schools. As the smart people flee law school (“smart” as a measure of LSAT score, for whatever that’s worth), it should mean that better law schools have to grab more low-hanging LSAT fruit.

And that is what has in fact happened….

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Paul Cravath does not approve of this post.

Light years away and in the distant future, perhaps some alien grad student in Defunct Planet Studies will stumble onto the ATL archives. He’ll conclude, not unreasonably, that the legal industry was a sort of oligopoly. That there were only a handful of firms: Skadden, Cravath, Latham, Quinn Emanuel, Tannebaum Weiss, and those few others that get such a disproportionate amount of our attention. And of course, there were only 14 real law schools.

This singular obsession with “prestige,” this mindset that the most elite firms and schools are the only worthy ones, is detached from the experiences of the vast majority of lawyers practicing at the 50,000 other firms and the students at the 180+ other law schools. Back in December, we had a little debate about the effect of prestige in the legal industry. In the spirit of the “prestige obsession is bad” side of that argument, we thought it would be worthwhile to see which firms and schools outside of the very top tiers are, according to insiders, great places to work or learn.

Over the course of 2012, we received close to 10,000 responses to our ATL Insider Survey, where lawyers rate their firms based on compensation, culture, morale, training, and culture, and students and alumni rate their schools based on academics, social life, clinical training, career services, and financial aid advising. Based on our survey, the most highly rated firms and schools also happened to among the most prestigious (e.g., Stanford, Davis Polk), but there is certainly not a correlation between prestige and insider rating.

After the jump, we’ll see which schools outside of the T14 and which firms outside the Vault 50 were rated the highest by their own people….

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It’s the last day of December, so it’s a good time to look back on the year that was. We’ll do what we’ve done for the past three years (wrap-up posts from 2009, 2010, and 2011 can be found here, here, and here) and identify the ten biggest stories of the past year as decided by you, our readers. With the help of Google Analytics, we’ve compiled a list of our top ten posts for 2012, based on traffic (as represented by pageviews).

By the way, for the third year in a row, the most popular category page on Above the Law was Law Schools. People have now been intensely focused on the declining value proposition of going to law school for as long as it takes to earn a Juris Doctor degree. Isn’t it time that we graduate from the current educational model?

The second and third most-popular categories on ATL in 2012 were Biglaw and Bonuses. Although this year brought us the largest law firm failure ever, nearly all other firms indiscriminately doled out offers to summer associates, and bonus season looked better for the first time in years. While the legal profession is still in transition, things are certainly looking up, and through the highs and the lows, we’ve been there to cover it all.

So what were the ten most popular individual posts at Above the Law in 2012? Let’s find out….

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Bob Morse

The main audience of the U.S. News Best Law Schools rankings is not meant to be law schools or law school deans—and the rankings should not be a management tool that law school administrators use as the basis for proving that their school is improving or declining. The rankings are produced primarily for prospective students as one tool to help them determine the relative merits between schools they are considering.

Bob Morse, rankings czar of U.S. News and World Report, commenting on a critique of the rankings found in Professor Brian Tamanaha’s book, Failing Law Schools (affiliate link). Professor Tamanaha argues that the U.S. News rankings fuel unhealthy competition between schools.

Illinois College of Law

Well, it’s not like the Penn State sanctions. But it’s not like the University of Illinois College of Law was covering up a Jerry Sandusky. The school was inflating the LSAT scores it reported to the American Bar Association.

Today the ABA fined Illinois Law $250,000. The ABA also censured the law school.

The Chicago Tribune reports that this is the first time the ABA has fined a law school for inaccurate consumer information. I guess that’s a step in the right direction. Still, considering the average salary for an Illinois College of Law full professor is $194,624, it’s hard to see the fine meaning very much to the school’s operations…

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A few years ago, at a conference hosted by Penn APALSA, I had the pleasure of meeting Dean Jim Chen of the University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law. He gave a luncheon keynote address that was deeply thoughtful and inspiring. Attendees of the conference were quite impressed.

Students and staff at U of L have also praised Dean Chen. And he does have achievements to crow about (besides, of course, his glittering résumé and impressive record of scholarship). In the most recent U.S. News law school rankings, the Brandeis School of Law climbed 11 spots (from 100 to 89).

When law schools fall in the rankings, their deans often follow. But U of L fared well in the latest rankings. So why is Dean Chen departing?

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