May 1, 2013

Above the Law produces a "Top 50 Law School Rankings."

"The basic premise underlying the ATL approach to ranking schools: the economics of the legal job market are so out of balance that it is proper to consider some legal jobs as more equal than others."
In other words, a position as an associate with a large firm is a “better” employment outcome than becoming a temp doc reviewer or even an associate with a small local firm. That might seem crassly elitist, but then again only the Biglaw associate has a plausible prospect of paying off his student loans.

In addition to placing a higher premium on “quality” (i.e., lucrative) job outcomes, we also acknowledge that “prestige” plays an out-sized role in the legal profession. We can all agree that Supreme Court clerkships and federal judgeships are among the most “prestigious” gigs to be had. Our methodology rewards schools for producing both.
Take that for what it's worth. Back when I was in law school, turning away from big law firms was what the best people did. But there are different ways of being elitist, and I certainly agree with the proposition that people who pay law school tuition and put themselves through the grind of law school are doing it with the goal of getting an excellent (or at least a good) career in law.

In that light, the big red banner in the middle of the page over there says a lot: "44% of 2012 graduates did not secure a job in the law!" Now, there were 46,364 of these graduates, and 56% of them did find long-term employment in jobs that require admittance to the bar, so that's actually a lot of jobs. Any given student is betting on himself, so how bad are those odds? Of course, many of the people who get the jobs end up hating them. So there's that.

You've got to decide for yourself. Don't just bumble into law school because it's an obvious thing to do to get on a career track if you're reasonably smart and can't think of anywhere else to go. That was never a good idea. It's just a worse idea now than it used to be.

31 comments:

David Davenport said...

If one is a law student or a recent grad or maybe not so recent grad, and you're a bit strapped financially, Obama is trying to help:

Obamaphone coupon dispensed with grocery purchase 28 April 13 ( money purchase, no food stamps)

Patrick said...

I think the "outcome" approach rather than the "inputs" makes a good deal of sense. Acknowledging that most prospective law students won't want to venture too far beyond the top 50, I'd be curious to see the rest of their list, especially how UW was rated.

Patrick said...

6 Big Ten schools, not bad. I am surprised that the UW isn't there. Good school, relatively inexpensive, wonder where they went bad in this ranking?

The Drill SGT said...

I knew before reading the link that UW had not made this Top 50 link, because there was no reference in the post.

The Drill SGT said...

Three of the UC Law schools made the list.

Cal and UCLA no surprise
Davis and not Hastings

and of course Irvine, not even close...

mccullough said...

The government should not guarantee any law school loans.

There are way too many lawyers as it is.

Problem solved.

KJE said...

McCullough for the win.

Larry J said...

I see most of the legal profession as parasites on the US economy. Lawyers aren't completely useless (even parasites have their ecological niche) but most contribute little of value to society. Anything that decreases the production of parasites is, in my view, a good thing.

CWJ said...

Patrick. I counted 7. The only one's missing of the old big 10 were Purdue, MSU, and Wis.

Patrick said...

CWJ - you're right. I missed Iowa.

Richard Dolan said...

"Back when I was in law school, turning away from big law firms was what the best people did."

Evidently, the turning away took a while even for the 'best people.' The 'big firms' were where most of the class of the top schools ended up, but where relatively few stayed. Between 3-5 years was the typical stint. That set-up worked for the young lawyers (a big firm offered a well paid version of hands-on, post-graduate training) and also for the firms (their structure required armies of young attorneys but also required most of the kids to move on, preferably between the 5th and 10th year out).

You may not have stayed long at Sullivan & Cromwell but I suspect you learned quite a bit (not much of it academic either) while you were there.

CWJ said...

Actually, if we go back in time far enough, we can count Chicago as well. So that's 8 from the old big ten.

My understanding is that MSU occupies Chicago's spot in the conference so no loss there (from a law school standpoint).

sean said...

Prof. Althouse's statement about the "best" students seems highly unlikely. I don't have the energy to dig up the names of the law review editors from her graduating class, but I'd be pretty sure that most of them ended up in biglaw as their first "real" job, although some of them may have done a clerkship first.

Mary Martha said...

Many members of my family (14) have law degrees. Yes family meals are just as much argumentative fun as you imagine.

Only one person in my family works for a law firm.

Getting a law degree and then using it in business is almost the family tradition at this point. I decided to skip a step and just get an MBA (I am the rebel).

I joked with a cousin who is in investment banking how he 'wasted' his money on a law degree. His response was that with his degree he almost always can 'Win' a meeting. Either he points out that something is illegal, or he has the skills to 'outreason' those who may disagree with them.

Revenant said...

I don't think 56% of the college graduates I know are working in a field related to their major.

raf said...

The only one's missing of the old big 10 were Purdue, MSU, and Wis

Purdue does not emphasize parasitical pursuits. The state's law school is at Indiana U.

ironrailsironweights said...

In that light, the big red banner in the middle of the page over there says a lot: "44% of 2012 graduates did not secure a job in the law!" Now, there were 46,364 of these graduates, and 56% of them did find long-term employment in jobs that require admittance to the bar, so that's actually a lot of jobs. Any given student is betting on himself, so how bad are those odds?

If you found out you had a disease with a 44% death rate, you'd say those were very bad odds indeed.

Peter

ken in sc said...

My step-daughter, I have known her since she was 11 years old, made it in just the right time. She is now a partner in a definitely Biglaw firm. I am so proud of her.

Mark O said...

I'm sorry, but this is a massive generalization: "only the Biglaw associate has a plausible prospect of paying off his student loans."

There are many in Big Law who wash out because it is no longer about merit; it is about clients. Big firms are now profit centers with joint marketing agreement.

Lawyers not in big law can find and keep lucrative clients and do as well or better than those who toil shortly at Cravath.

On the other hand, Duke did well in the list.

ndspinelli said...

UW needs to cut the old, dead, wood from their faculty to get in the top 50.

Patrick said...

There are many in Big Law who wash out because it is no longer about merit; it is about clients. Big firms are now profit centers with joint marketing agreement.

This is absolutely true, although for the business of law (as opposed to the practice of law), the concept of "merit" needs to include the ability to find and retain clients. Some folks are really good at one, but not so good at the other. The best lawyers in the world aren't worth much if they can't find clients.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Let's say you want to practice law in Portland, Oregon or Omaha, Nebraska.

Why not go to Willamette or Creighton?

jimbino said...

Stanford puts Contracts, Torts, Con and Property Law online, there will be no reason whatsoever to attend law school, unless you want to become a legal drone.

somefeller said...

Althouse says:Back when I was in law school, turning away from big law firms was what the best people did.

Do you mean they didn't go to Biglaw at all or they went to Biglaw and left after they got what they wanted from it (namely, good job experience and money)? If the former, times changed long ago and as others have said here, I'm not really sure that was ever true. If the latter, that's still a common and smart move. And I agree completely with the last paragraph of the post.

Mark O says:I'm sorry, but this is a massive generalization: "only the Biglaw associate has a plausible prospect of paying off his student loans."

I think they are focusing on the short term, not over the course of a long career, and on those with big debt burdens. In that context, Biglaw is the prime goal. But once again, that also shows how high debt limits one's choices.

Good to see three Texas law schools on the list. The legal job market in Texas slowed down like everywhere else in the past several years, but not as bad as elsewhere and Texas Biglaw is doing well.

Ann Althouse said...

I mean it was the ethos of the time that going into a big firm was not one one should do. People did it, but with some shame.

Chip S. said...

People did it, but with some shame.

I sense the origins of modern liberalism in this little bit of putative psychohistory: A bunch of privileged schmucks unwilling to forego the trappings of affluence, but maintaining their '60s posturing by yammering irrationally about "social justice" for the rest of their lives.

Beldar said...

Our hostess wrote, "Back when I was in law school, turning away from big law firms was what the best people did."

I'm curious what "best" means in this context. Best grades?

If so, I'm unpersuaded that that's been true, of the top graduates at nationally prestigious law schools, at any time in the last sixty years, including during the 1960s. My subjective impression (concededly from a few years later and from a different law school in a different part of the country) is, in fact, exactly the opposite.

There is always a demand for top-tier talent -- as measured by grades, anyway -- at firms of the sort now known as BigLaw (but then known simply as the most able firms in the country), whether in New York or elsewhere. You can confirm that simply by skimming the credentials of the partnership classes of those firms -- including, starting in the 1970s, female partners -- who almost without exception were drawn from the top students (as measured by grades) from the top schools (as measured by broad consensus before there was such a thing as a USN&WR ranking; but the top 25 then looks pretty much like it does now).

There are many, many more alternatives to BigLaw and, more broadly, traditional private for-fee for-profit law practice today than there were in the 1960s or 1970s. There are more kinds of jobs, including relatively well-paying jobs, today for which a JD degree is an arguable qualification. In today's market, leaving a post-graduation judicial clerkship to punch your ticket at DoJ or Brookings or whatever is no impediment to becoming an equity partner, someday, at a BigLaw firm.

It is true that there's an indisputable supply glut in the current market (see generally G. Reynolds, "The Higher Education Bubble"). But unless "best" is defined in some way other than objective performance as measured (as objectively as possible) by grades, I'm not buying that "the best people" have ever "turned away" from "big law firms."

Beldar said...

Here's one set of data points from my personal history: Every single member of the Texas Law Review 1979-1980 third-year editorial board went (post-judicial clerkship) to what would now be considered a BigLaw firm.

leslyn said...

"Back when I was in law school, turning away from big law firms was what the best people did." Didn't know people still used terms like "the best people." But there are different ways of being elitist.

Larry J said...

Mary Martha said...

I joked with a cousin who is in investment banking how he 'wasted' his money on a law degree. His response was that with his degree he almost always can 'Win' a meeting. Either he points out that something is illegal, or he has the skills to 'outreason' those who may disagree with them


There are many people who can out argue, out shout, out bully and "out reason" others while still being completely wrong.

El Pollo Real said...

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Lawyers