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Rank Not Lest Ye Be Ranked
March 26, 2008 9:52 AM   Subscribe

Vault.com has created its own ranking of the top US law schools. Vault's blog post about it is here. Above the Law, a popular legal blog, commented here. It leaked the 2009 US News rankings here.

An article discussing the US News rankings, here. (For a general sense of what the issues are).

A legal blog responds with some ideas as to how rankings can be improved, here.

A law professor pleads with bloggers to refrain from publishing the US News rankings here.
posted by prefpara (34 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting, but I'm not sure who this really helps. Few are going to attend Boalt over Yale as a result, because graduates of the latter will continue to be the more valued among employers...
posted by shivohum at 9:55 AM on March 26, 2008


More:

http://www.leiterrankings.com/

http://www.cooley.edu/rankings/
posted by prefpara at 10:02 AM on March 26, 2008


U. of Chicago 7th place?!??! There will be riots in the streets. This aggression will not stand!
posted by bluejayk at 10:24 AM on March 26, 2008


GULC at 17?! Oh yes, there will be blood.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:25 AM on March 26, 2008


Your favorite law school sucks?
posted by spiderwire at 10:31 AM on March 26, 2008


This is a nice first post, prefpara.
posted by lunit at 10:31 AM on March 26, 2008


No, no, GULC dropping out of the 17th, that would cause panic and rioting in the streets, perhaps martial law and UN intervention. They're still 14th, so I'm predicting only civil disorder and mild looting.

Oh, and leiter is a pompous hypocritical ratings-whore.
posted by bluejayk at 10:31 AM on March 26, 2008


bluejayk, they're 14th in the U.S. News rankings, 17th by Vault.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:44 AM on March 26, 2008


So there appears to be no good law school in the mountain time zone.
posted by hexxed at 10:46 AM on March 26, 2008


Ha! This is great. I won't comment on the veracity of any of these rankings - but I do know that when I look at lawyer resumes, my idea of a good law school runs counter to that of U.S. News. I'm always looking for schools that have a reputation for producing practical thinkers who play well with others, and that aren't afraid to play in the dirt. Yale, Harvard, Columbia, et al do not impress.

I also know that lawyers do get hired based solely on their alma mater, especially if the law firm needs to build some sort of (Wall) street cred.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:07 AM on March 26, 2008


I get spammed by vault.com periodically for feedback on a company I worked for many years ago, which has since been in and out of bankruptcy. There is absolutely no way anything I say now could be of any value whatsoever in determining the quality of that company as a current employer. But that doesn't seem to stop the spam from vault.com, and it makes me question the value of any rankings they may do.
posted by chipr at 11:21 AM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Once again Washington University in St. Louis is horribly over-ranked by U.S. News. Look at the percentage of graduates employed at graduation: Wash U sticks out like a sore thumb.

I much prefer Vault's methodology. Ultimately it all comes down to getting a good job. Most of U.S. News's criteria (e.g., peer assessment, selectivity, student/faculty ratio) are weak secondary markers at best.

Bitter? Oh hell yes.
posted by jedicus at 11:27 AM on March 26, 2008


I wish that the law schools in my region would also be ranked according to their propensity for producing law graduates who insist on inserting the phrase "in regards to" into every possible paragraph as my red pen drains of ink and I of hope.
posted by applemeat at 12:54 PM on March 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


Interesting, but I'm not sure who this really helps. Few are going to attend Boalt over Yale as a result, because graduates of the latter will continue to be the more valued among employers...

According to Vault, the reason their rankings are different than US News is that they only asked employers, rather than weighing the opinions of Harvard and Yale professors as US News does. Harvard and Yale are the more valued in academia. They are not the most valued among employers.

(And Vault gave me a huge bump, so I'm going with their assessment.)
posted by The World Famous at 12:55 PM on March 26, 2008


One thing that occurs to me is that Vault merely asked these people which law schools produce the better employees. They did not ask them which law school graduates they pursued most vigorously in hiring. Since competence is only one of several factors in play, I suspect these rankings don't really show us as much as they seem to in terms of which graduates are more likely to get hired.
posted by prefpara at 12:59 PM on March 26, 2008


I suspect these rankings don't really show us as much as they seem to in terms of which graduates are more likely to get hired.

Maybe someone should look at the websites of the top 100 law firms in the country and make a chart of what schools the associates came from, as well as a list of what schools the partners came from. No need to ask anyone's opinion on that -- just find out who hired whom.
posted by The World Famous at 1:05 PM on March 26, 2008


One thing that occurs to me is that Vault merely asked these people which law schools produce the better employees. They did not ask them which law school graduates they pursued most vigorously in hiring.

If certain schools produced better employees, would they not be the schools that are recruited the most heavily?

Sorry if that is a stupid question, but I can't read that statement without my head trying to eat itself.
posted by Talanvor at 1:27 PM on March 26, 2008


Talanvor:

Employers hire people from schools because of how it looks to their clients - not just because of how good the employees will be. More people from Harvard legitimize the $500 or whatever an hour - whereas University of Michigan, ok, but not so much.


Also - its awesome to rank how corporate America thinks of law schools, because none of us graduates go on to do public interest law or anything like that.
posted by goneill at 1:39 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Talanvor, that would certainly be true if law firms only wanted to maximize efficiency. However, they have other aims. First of all, prestige matters. Clients want to be represented by lawyers who graduated from Harvard, Stanford, Yale, etc. Vault ranks the University of Michigan's Ann Arbor Law School second. I'm sure you can easily conceive of clients who would far prefer the Yale graduate to the U Mich graduate, whatever their actual value may be. Second, connections matter. Firms want to maintain good relationships with the "top" law schools, and they want employees who will be part of their network of graduates.

Other factors that probably influence this: the work done by young associates at big firms is, generally, monkey work that anyone can do. After 3-5 years, something like 90% of the young associates will have left their big firms for less soul-crushing pastures. If you're going to have someone indexing paper for three years, you might as well rub up against some prestige while you're at it. Competence, or lack of it, will not be as large a factor in hiring as it would be for smaller firms.

Finally, none of the law schools on the Vault list are absolutely shockingly terrible. So we're talking about fairly granular distinctions between smart people. And, of course, all of this ranking is highly subjective and context-dependent.

This was some of what I had in mind when I said that there probably wasn't a strong connection between what Vault found and whom firms actually hire.
posted by prefpara at 1:47 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


So there appears to be no good law school in the mountain time zone.
posted by hexxed at 1:46 PM on March 26


You're surprized by this?
posted by Pollomacho at 1:52 PM on March 26, 2008


I'm surprised IU Bloomington made such a big showing in the Vault list. Generally though, the whole ranking thing is going to forever be a fight about either upholding or tearing down the status quo.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:13 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Now if they do this for medical schools, all hell will break loose.
posted by ruwan at 2:21 PM on March 26, 2008


Thank you for the responses, prefpara and goneill. I suppose the high cost of admission to prestigous schools such as Yale has to justify itself somehow.

Of course I say this knowing that I have zero probability of ever attending an Ivy League school, so there's that.
posted by Talanvor at 3:31 PM on March 26, 2008


whereas University of Michigan, ok, but not so much.

False.
posted by kosem at 5:36 PM on March 26, 2008


Why are you Americans so obsessed with school rankings?

Has anyone looked at whether a student who goes to a more highly ranked school does better in life than if they had not?
posted by sien at 6:03 PM on March 26, 2008


Has anyone looked at whether a student who goes to a more highly ranked school does better in life than if they had not?

Yes, lots of people have. There is, of course, a problem when it comes to defining "does better in life."
posted by The World Famous at 6:16 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


TWF: Can you point links to papers on the issue? I'm not snarking - I'm really curious.

( As an aside Australia has similar sorts of games to US school rankings with private high schools - and there is little research on whether going to a private high school actually leads to be improved income, longer life etc ).

As to better life, you can go through and define it in some way. i.e. longer life expectancy, greater earnings, etc. Then you can try and look and see if someone starting from the same baseline (i.e. parental education, income, school results) goes better if they go to Harvard Law as opposed to University of Maryland Law.
posted by sien at 6:31 PM on March 26, 2008


The Vault rankings themselves include statistics on employment post-graduation, etc. There are lots of resources for average starting salaries from the various schools. I don't think anyone seriously questions that it is far easier to get a high-paying legal job for a Yale Law grad at the middle of her class than for a Santa Clara Law grad at the middle of her class.
posted by The World Famous at 6:39 PM on March 26, 2008


TWF: No. But that isn't the question.

Would someone who graduated at the top of Santa Clara law, who might have graduated at the middle of Yale, do better? Also what would the effect be of Yale's fee's against the fees of Santa Clara in future? Would there be a difference between a Stanford grad and a U of Wisconsin in earnings after 10 years if other factors were allowed for?

The important, and admittedly difficult thing to work out is, does a given student get a real advantage from accruing sizable debt by going to a more highly ranked school? Is there a point at which the rankings difference is irrelevant (i.e +-10 places of each other on a few rankings makes no difference ).

i.e. How valuable are the rankings?
posted by sien at 9:09 PM on March 26, 2008


I really wish people would only look at the rankings as a way to help them pick the schools they've already gotten into, to help determine which school is right for them. Otherwise, for example, the 93% of people who apply to Yale law but are rejected have reason to end up angry and bitter about having to settle for Harvard (or Michigan, or Boalt, etc.) when most students would kill to attend those schools. It's an unfortunate truth that the legal profession creates enough anger and bitterness for most -- why start before you're even a 1L?
posted by strike3 at 9:16 PM on March 26, 2008


Our law school had a slot drop last year (we're a top 25-ish school) and there was all kinds of fallout. Since the drop was largely attributed to an admissions snafu, where way more students were admitted than in most years (so it looked like we were a lot less selective), it wasn't all that surprising that we bounced back this year. Of course, there wasn't a lot of rejoicing this year; we've still got 22 slots to jump before we knock of Yale.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:07 AM on March 27, 2008


Personally, I couldn't agree more with strike3...although I suspect that there is still another way of making sense of the inevitable rankings rancor. Perhaps those people angry and bitter about "settling" for a top 5 school instead of Yale are just following an innate, claw-to-the-top spirit that will serve them well in the impersonal pressure cooker of Big Law. I'd like to think so, for their sake...and also my own.

That said, I love my career as an attorney. If I had my life to live over, I would absolutely do it again. My work is both intellectually and financially rewarding and I (honestly) look forward to Monday mornings. For what it's worth, I went to a top 60th ranked law school.
posted by applemeat at 8:21 AM on March 27, 2008


Damn, my alma mater is dropping like a rock in the US News rankings.
posted by amro at 9:11 AM on March 27, 2008


Would someone who graduated at the top of Santa Clara law, who might have graduated at the middle of Yale, do better?

No.

Also what would the effect be of Yale's fee's against the fees of Santa Clara in future?

Yale Law's tuition is $44,000 a year. Santa Clara's is $35,250. A Yale Law degree, in strictly earnings potential terms, is worth far more than a mere $30,000 difference from a Santa Clara Law degree.

Would there be a difference between a Stanford grad and a U of Wisconsin in earnings after 10 years if other factors were allowed for?

If the bottom line of earnings is what's important to the two grads, yes, there would be.

does a given student get a real advantage from accruing sizable debt by going to a more highly ranked school?

No. The wise choice is to go to a less-expensive, but still highly ranked school, such as University of Texas - Austin. Someone who graduates at the top of their class from University of Virginia can get exactly the same jobs as someone who graduates at the top of their class from Harvard, Yale, etc. It is, therefore, a good idea for a Virginia resident who has the choice to go to UVA instead of Yale, if all they care about is jobs and money. If they care about having the Yale badge for life, then maybe Yale is worth the extra cash. A lot of people who choose Yale do it for that reason, I think.

i.e. How valuable are the rankings?

Quite. And I think the Vault rankings are likely to become more valuable than the USNews rankings if they become well-known.

But rankings matter a lot less to people who are out of law school and currently working, including the ones making hiring decisions. They tend to favor the top 3 or 4 schools. But, in my experience, hiring partners who went to schools in the top 4 or 5 often have no idea of the rankings of any schools below about the top 7. I have heard some of them express surprise that a top 100 school that they have heard of was not ranked higher than a top 25 school that is located outside their geographic area. Hiring partners tend to favor the school they went to, the prominent schools they know well (i.e. the top 5 or 6 in the country), and regional schools they are familiar with. If they have experience with an outstanding associate who went to a law school, that tends to weigh more heavily than rankings.

And I believe that the practice of hiring associates from schools that will impress clients really only applies to those schools that the clients will instantly recognize as prominent, which is basically the top 5 USNews schools. People familiar with my school and its graduates typically have a high opinion, and assume it is ranked higher than it is, while those unfamiliar with it from those kinds of experiences usually have never thought twice about it and have no idea where it is ranked. That said, I really do like to see my school rise in the rankings, and I would be somewhat distraught if it plummeted. And part of the reason that I like the Vault rankings is that my school is ranked much higher there than in the USNews rankings, which I always thought unfairly weighed irrelevant factors.
posted by The World Famous at 10:39 AM on March 27, 2008


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