These days, it seems like every media outlet that has any remote connection to the law is making an effort to dispel the allure of the esteemed U.S. News law school rankings. U.S. News encourages law school administrators to attempt to game the rankings, they say. The U.S. News rankings are too focused on the test scores of incoming students, they say. And while we agree that some of the U.S. News methodology could be changed for the better, others have only offered up absurdities in their alternative ranking systems.
National Jurist recently came out with its own set of rankings which measure much lauded criteria like the number of Super Lawyers each law school produces, and the quality of each law school’s faculty, as measured by the oft revered website, RateMyProfessors.com. And as with the glorious Cooley rankings, any traction that the new National Jurist rankings might have received went totally out the window when the powers that be at the magazine decided to rank Alabama higher than both Harvard and Yale. Come on, everyone knows that the only place ‘Bama should be ranked ahead of Harvard is on a football field!
As far as we’re concerned, this serves only as an exercise in how not to make a new rankings system….
If you show us the ability to be an attorney, we’ll give you the opportunity to be an attorney. It’s not like we let anybody in the door. We don’t. But we’re much more inclusive in our admissions policy than most law schools are.
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….
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….
This is the time of year, every year, where most of us pause and reflect a bit on the past year, the year ahead, and what really matters anyway (see, e.g., this guy). And with the horror and pain of last week still fresh, this need for reflection is bound to be more pronounced.
Many thoughtful people are urging serious reflection on the part of the legal industry about how to address its basic structural problems. Not to put too fine a point on it, but does anybody disbelieve that the industry — both its educational and professional wings — is facing a sort of existential crisis? As has been endlessly rehearsed here and elsewhere, the cost of legal education is, for most, completely, utterly out of whack with the potential ROI. And longstanding assumptions underlying the business model of law firms are being challenged by technological advances, commoditization, and the growth of LPOs.
One concept threading through any discussion of the legal industry is this nebulous thing called “prestige.” Generally speaking, lawyers as a group dislike uncertainty, and “prestige” serves as a sort of organizing principle, letting everyone know where they stand. For instance, the U.S. News “T14” shows no sign of ever being shaken up. And the Biglaw hive mind consistently orders firms in precise ways. The Vault rankings are remarkably stable from year to year, to such a degree unlikely to be attributable to some self-reinforcing cycle caused by the rankings themselves. An arbitrary and typical example: Schulte Roth, which came in at #77 overall in 2010, ranked 80, 77, 76, and 82 over the previous four years. Another: Alston & Bird, which came in at #55, ranked 57, 61, 59, and 57 over the same period.
But apart from its role as a social validator or organizer, this idea of “prestige” can be used as a dubious metric in driving some truly momentous decisions. Law students make hugely important career choices based on little else but the Vault and U.S. News rankings. Some law schools lie in order to game the U.S. News rankings. It is at least partially underlying Dewey & Leboeuf’s push to join the more rarefied ranks of the S&C’s and Cravath’s. (Meanwhile, the ATL commentariat goes beserk at the slightest whiff of “TTT” anywhere within its sights.)
After the jump, let’s hear from a couple disparate sources about the baleful effects of prestige-obsession on the legal industry, and then let’s have the Harvard guy defend it….
Hello, readers from George Washington University. You guys are having a bit of a day, aren’t you?
If you haven’t been following along with non-legal news, George Washington University was bathed in scandal this weekend. In the past couple of days, we’ve learned that the GW college had been inflating the grades of its incoming class when they reported statistics to U.S. News. GW had been saying that 78% of its 2011 incoming class ranked in the top 10% of their high school classes. Instead, the correct number is 58%.
While the college wipes the egg off of its face over that mess, the GW Law School will be reshuffling the deck chairs. Law school dean Paul Schiff Berman, who basically just got there, is leaving to head a different department in the university. Wait until you see what it is….
In early 2010, we reported that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas told law students at the University of Florida that he was displeased when he found out that his October Term 2008 clerks — who hailed from George Mason, Rutgers, George Washington, and Creighton law schools — were being referred to as “TTT” by the internet’s “self-proclaimed smart bloggers.” (And just as we did in 2010, we’ll again remind our readers that such a label didn’t come from Above the Law editors; we adore SCOTUS clerks, no matter their alma mater.)
On Friday, Justice Thomas again spoke to students at UF Law, and reiterated his prior thoughts on Ivy League bias in the hiring of The Elect. Though Thomas is a graduate of Yale Law School himself, he’s an equal opportunity justice in that he much prefers to choose his clerks from the ranks of the non-Ivies.
Let’s check out some additional thoughts from Justice Thomas on clerkship hiring, how he’d like his epitaph to be worded, and the most important decision the court has made since he was sworn in….
If you take the blue pill, you wake up in law school and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill — you keep reading Above the Law, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Apparently no one can be told what law school is. You have to make the mistake yourself.
The ability to learn from other people’s mistakes is a mark of intelligence, but it’s not a skill shared by your average prospective law student. Despite an internet full of information, they continue to make the same mistakes when it comes to choosing a law school.
The fact that prospective law students quickly learn the error of their ways when they become actual law students only seems to emphasize their failure. By January, I’ll start getting the first emails from 1Ls saying, “I wish I had read you before I decided to go to law school.” By springtime, people who shouldn’t have started in the first place will be asking me whether they should drop out. By the time people graduate, they’ll be experts on all the things they should’ve thought about before matriculating to law school.
Kaplan actually has a new study out that confirms this obvious reality….
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When Chintan Panchal decided to leave a global BigLaw partnership to start his own firm, he could only hope that he would face the high-quality problem of firm building that many had cautioned him about. Focused on the uncertainty surrounding of a new firm launch, he decided to tackle staffing needs, IT challenges, and financial planning requirements after he had built up his legal practice.
Panchal Associates LLP–a corporate/finance and outside general counsel boutique–was quickly off to a great start. Clients and matters were flying in the door, and Chintan soon had a team of lawyers and staff with a variety of operational needs. To continue building an excellent team and provide them with a competitive benefits package, to expand his physical presence to include a European practice and additional partners, and to scale his operations and IT capabilities to support this growing enterprise brought with it demands of time, money, and expertise. Chintan knew he needed help.
“With the assistance of NexFirm, we have upgraded the capabilities of our firm to meet, and in some cases exceed, the standards we were used to at our former BigLaw firms. Operationally, we can now attract and service clients we didn’t have the bandwidth to support in the past, and continue to build our team with the best and brightest legal talent in the industry,” said Chintan Panchal, adding “It has worked out quite well in our case; NexFirm is an essential partner for us.”
The holiday season is upon us, and yet again, you have no idea what to get for the fickle lawyer in your life. We’re here to help. Even if your bonus check hasn’t arrived yet, any one of the gifts we’ve highlighted here could be a worthy substitute until your employer decides to make it rain.
We’ve got an eclectic selection for you to choose from, so settle in by that stack of documents yet to be reviewed and dig in…
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