The Legal Beat
This Is Why The Rankings Matter
Posted on Wednesday March 13, 2019
It’s tempting to wonder why the U.S. News rankings even matter. Then you see Biglaw managing partners flirt with prison just to get their kids into school and it all seems to make some sense. Let’s tackle a few questions about the new rankings:
My personal opinion about law school rankings are that they mean very little without complete disclosure about exactly how the rankings are derived.
In addition to that, I also believe that for the most part (although I am sure there are some exceptions) the experience of going to law school is largely the same regardless of which law school you attend (most law students have a similar curriculum, read the same or very similar materials, experience good and not as good professors, have the same course load, feel the same pressure, experience the same sleepless nights, and will end up feeling crushed by the same or similar amount of overwhelming debt on completion). Just my 2 cents… not that it’s worth what I paid for it.
Context is hugely important. The Above the Law rankings are explicit about our methodology, focusing on outputs rather than inputs. But there’s a reason the U.S. News rankings still have purchase with their input-centric approach. Law school operates as one part education and one part prestige indicator. It’s there to rubber stamp the accomplishments that students already racked up before they showed up at the school’s door. The program is pretty much the same at Columbia as it is at Arizona Summit, but what it means to beat the curve at Columbia means a lot more than what it means to beat the curve at Arizona Summit.
This list is a complete joke! At least when it comes to Florida schools. St. Thomas and UF had the same July bar passage rates and yet UF is ranked 31st and STU Law dead last (192nd). Even worse, Nova had a 40 percent bar passage rate and yet, is ranked well above STU. How good is your school if they can’t prepare you to pass the bar? The list is very misleading.
Adorable but wrong. Being able to pass the bar should absolutely be considered. Still, passing the bar is not everything. Can a St. Thomas grad parlay their bar passage into the same opportunities a Florida grad can? St. Thomas boasts a 49 percent employment score while Florida sports a 75. This is why one school grossly outperforms the other. Even Nova gets a little over 5 percent more of its graduates employed than St. Thomas. If you’re looking for value in Florida, the argument is for Florida International, not St. Thomas.
What’s really frustrating about the law school ranking system is it seems to hold its importance 15 years into practice. While the rest of the world expects its workforce to provide proof of relevance with evidence of continued training and good work, Biglaw firms still want to know first where a candidate attended school 15 years ago instead of what the candidate has actually accomplished with that law degree. It’s absolute lunacy, and probably contributes in some material degree to the increasing irrelevancy of traditional law practice.
There’s a scene in Grosse Pointe Blank where a character at a high school reunion complains that members of the honors society have little stars on their nametags 10 years after the fact. It sucks, but it’s true in this profession. How else are we going to measure attorneys? At a certain point, a partner’s book of business will trump all other indicators and a Suffolk grad with $8 million in portables will always beat out a Chicago grad with a business plan and dreams. But until we’re comparing books, the only measure of a lawyer is how that attorney placed within the law school cohort. What school they got into and by extension what quality of students they excelled against.
This is why we have these rankings. They are not — by any stretch — perfect, but they provide a shorthand for employers when there isn’t much else out there. No doubt some student at a barely ranked school is a superstar. Some student at NYU is a complete failure whose family bought their way into law school by furnishing a lounge. But we can’t see that from afar. All we have as markers are schools until attorneys reach the level of professional maturity to have their own business.
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.