To rank is human. It gives us a way to take detailed and potentially overwhelming information and reduce it to a simple, digestible list. The widely read law blog Above the Law treated us with another sample of these earthly delights recently, with their The ATL Top 50 Law Schools. Showing the good sense that US News lacks, they chose yesterday to further break down their rankings, showing us how the top schools would rank for the individual data points employed in their rankings. Brian Leiter, rankings guru and U Chicago law professor, would surely approve of this step towards transparency.
ATL has culled information about the top 50 schools to rank the top 5 in the following categories: quality of job placement (clerkships and biglaw placement), employment score (full-time, long-term jobs requiring bar passage, excluding solos and school-funded positions), cost (cheapest, adjusted for regional cost of living), adjusted percentage of U.S. Supreme Court clerks, and adjusted percentage of sitting federal judges.
This list, though obviously limited in scope, provides a nice antidote to US News and World Report by pulling out rather than hiding the specific factors that are being ranked. Though the USNWR clearly ranks other factors, it appears first and foremost as a ranking of student quality (undergrad GPA and LSAT scores) and reputation, making it arguably responsible for feedback loop whereby the top schools have little threat to their preeminent position.
ATL is instead ranking by some of the factors that arguably should draw students to elite law schools- the ability of those schools to provide excellent outcomes for students (i.e. real, full time jobs). Also, applause goes to ATL for highlighting rather than hiding their methodology. However, let me just add that I don’t think any one should be picking schools based on the percentage of sitting federal judges. To the extent this has any use, its as a proxy for reputation. The overwhelming odds are that you yourself will never be such a judge, and your chances going forward are probably substantially similar at any top 10 or so law school. Also, major discrepancies there between the top schools are probably a product of self-selection more than anything else.
But without further ado lets take a peek at the winners in couple categories. Schools are listed with their position in the overall ATL ranking contained in parentheses next to the school:
Employment Score (full-time, long-term jobs requiring bar passage, excluding solos and school-funded positions):
1. Penn (overall ATL ranking: 5)
2. Stanford (2)
3. Chicago (4)
4. UC Berkeley (9)
5. Columbia (8)
Penn is a bit of a surprise here, as is Harvard and Yale’s absence. Before making intelligent comment, I would have to look at the data. My guess is that little separates these top schools, and that Harvard and Yale might be hurt by a propensity of their students to strike out on their own endeavors rather than submit to the tyrannies of big law (or at least delay biglaw for clerkships). Now might be an appropriate time for me to apologize to U Chicago for doing the same and potentially hurting them in such rankings. At any rate, the proper way to read this list from a reductionist standpoint is that you will probably have a relatively smooth sail to a job if you choose any of the above schools, so bon voyage!
Quality Jobs Score (percentage of 2012 graduates placed in federal clerkships and the largest 250 law firms):
1. Stanford (2)
2. Penn (5)
3. Chicago (4)
4. Harvard (3)
5. Yale (1)
Here we see that Penn slid a little, so perhaps its graduates are faring ever so slightly better in the job market overall than in the most elite segment. Still, they are clearly a powerhouse. Columbia’s absence is salient, but I bet they are hiding in the 6 spot. Note that Yale and Harvard have popped on to this list now in case you were worried that their graduates were suffering some how. Trust me, they are not. Chicago is happily ensconced in the middle of both these rankings, so it may be a good place to hedge your bets.
Remember that when you are ranking the top schools like this, these schools are all absolutely dominant when measured by these metrics against law schools much further down the list. On this note, I would encourage ATL to publish a more heavily annotated break down that delves further in to the top 50 of their master ranking.
As law school consumers, I encourage you to never let rankings do the thinking for you.