The Law School Rankings Myth
Ahh, law school rankings, arguable the most important consideration that many students think of when applying to law school. If you haven’t heard, U.S News & World Report is the all mighty indicator of a law school’s quality, at least that’s what everyone is told. Law Schools themselves take the rankings very seriously, and compete heavily with each other to raise their rank. The all mighty T-14 list is found on this list as well. Many students who wouldn’t normally consider moving all the way to Ann Arbor, Michigan or Ithaca, New York, suddenly become excited at the idea simply because those two schools are in the T-14.
How important is the rankings list really? Does it really make a difference with employment whether you attend a Tier 1 or a Tier 3 school?
The rankings list is important, but….
No one is arguing that Ivy league law schools like Harvard and Yale are not top schools that can potentially rocket propel a young lawyers prospects, but U.S News ranks more than 200 law schools, and it ranks them into four tiers as well. This can have a decidedly negative impact on prospective law students that see the school they want to attend isn’t a Tier 1 school.
It’s simply not the case that your going to have that much more difficulty in finding a first job if you attend a lower ranked school versus a higher ranked school. You need to ignore the ranking consideration issue a bit and think about where you actually want to practice. Do you want to move back to your home town/state or do you want to move to another part of the country? You would literally be insane if you wanted to go back home to California to practice, but you attended a Law School on the East Coast (unless its Harvard or Yale).
The vast majority of employers are going to care more about your grades in law school than the school you went to. After your first job they care about your work experience, but for that first job they don’t have much more to go on than your grades.
A T-14 school can significantly change the game for you in a few ways. If you are interested in working in BigLaw, by far a T-14 school is the best route. There are BigLaw firms out there that hire only Ivy League grads. Many aren’t as picky, but the further outside the T-14 you go the closer to the top of your class you will need to be at. Even then, a top 10 percentile student at a low ranked law school doesn’t have good odds at making it into a BigLaw Firm for their first job.
Of course this calls into question whether or not you would really want to work at a BigLaw Firm even if you had the option. Sure, the pay is great, but BigLaw Firms have a reputation for burning through associates within two to three years because of the insane hours.
I became friends with one of the A.D.As at the District Attorneys Office and I asked him about these very same issues. He told me that he could have gone to a more “prestigious” law school and go on to BigLaw. He has several friends that work in a BigLaw firm now. “They are miserable, they don’t have time for their family, and they don’t have time to spend any of the money they make”.
I don’t tell you this to scare you, but if your eyeing attendance at a T-14 simply because of the opportunity for BigLaw, you should know what you’re probably getting into.
How Does U.S News Rank Law Schools Anyways?
You might be wandering how on earth U.S News ranks law schools in the first place. They use several variables. First is the Median LSAT score and GPA of the entering class. Entering Class is italicized, because some schools such as Georgetown cheat to some degree. Some law schools will accept really big numbers of transfer students to fill their class, but they don’t have to report transfer LSAT scores or GPA’s. U.S News reports that they also use bar passage rates and employment rates as well. Speaking of employment rates…
Are Law School Employment Numbers Accurate?
I wanted to mention Law School Employment data, because it’s important to the rankings system. The truth is that its inaccurate to say the least. Law Schools only report full time for the purposes of income, but include part time as part of the total number employed. This essentially means if you’re a grad that was unable to obtain full time employment, so you are working two part time jobs, your income isn’t going to be included in the statistics. Why? Well, a bunch of these would seriously drag down the median.
Another really important things to remember is that the legal field has a small percentage of recent grads working in that coveted $160k-$180k range, and then a ton more working for about $50k-$60k. Not a lot of new graduates work in between.
Finally, starting salary data is based only on self-reporting. Law schools aren’t going around breaking down doors, demanding that their alumni provide information about their salaries. From a psychological perspective how excited do you think an entry level BigLaw Associate is going to be to share his/her salary versus a guy that had to find part time work? Just remember, that its impossible to have 100% alumni participation in these statistics and the less likely participants aren’t the BigLaw Associates.
Checking out sites like Law School Transparency Project would be a good idea to get a better look at your school’s metrics. Law Schools also publish an annual employment report which is more detailed and breaks things down better than the general numbers that most people look at. Always take these reports with a grain of salt however.
There Are So Many More Important Considerations
I wanted to mention that while law school rankings can be important there are a dozen other considerations that you should be thinking about instead of just the ranking.
Your going to be spending three years of your life here. You should at least check if your going to like the area and the school itself.
Remember that the majority of attorneys practice in the same state that they attended law school. Some schools are considered “regional” and others are considered “national”, but the vast majority aren’t going to help with that first job far outside of its state.
While law school ranking should not necessarily be your number one consideration, its important to know what statistics do matter. I happen to think that Bar Passage Rates are a really good indicator of the school’s quality of education. If the school’s students can’t pass the Bar, something is wrong. Stay far, far away from schools that have had at any time in the past decade credibility issues with the A.B.A. I think I would have a heart attack if the law school I was spending tens of thousands of dollars with a year told me that they were being discredited.
Employment rates can be helpful to, but you need to specify J.D Required Full Time jobs. You don’t want a part time job ten months after graduation right? Or a job that doesn’t require a J.D? Full Time J.D Required is the only important employment metric you need to worry about.
That’s all folks, hope this article was helpful. I admit that I was like many of my peers in choosing the highest ranked school I could get into. Well, I had the option for Boston University which was slightly higher ranked. I’m a Southerner however, and I knew there was no chance of my survival once Winter arrived in Massachusetts. Once I attended law school however, I realized that by far the most important thing for any student is getting really good grades. The better the grades, the more open doors you have.