TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron
Pepperdine University School of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Friday, June 20, 2014

Brophy: Law School Rankings: Median LSAT, Full-Time J.D. Required Jobs, and Law Review Citations

Alfred L. Brophy (North Carolina), Ranking Law Schools with Lsats, Employment Outcomes, and Law Review Citations:

This paper returns to the perennially favorite topic of ranking law schools. Where U.S. News & World Report includes a wide variety of factors – some of which are criticized as irrelevant to what prospective students care about (or should care about) -- this paper looks to three variables. They are median LSAT score of entering students, which seeks to capture the quality of the student body; the percentage of the graduating students who are employed at 9 months following graduation at full-time, JD required jobs; and the number of citations to each school’s main law review. This paper rank orders each of those variables, then averages those ranks to obtain a new ranking; then it compares those new rankings to the U.S. News & World Report rankings.


Alfred L. Brophy (North Carolina):  Ranking Law Schools Based on LSAT, Employment Outcome, and Citations

Law School Rankings, Legal Education | Permalink


But if you don't take into account the cost of attending you're not really ranking it from a student's perspective.

Posted by: michael livingston | Jun 20, 2014 4:26:25 AM

Why do citations even appear in rankings? Who honestly cares about them besides the navel-gazing faculty? Have any students chosen a law school because the faculty were widely cited? I highly doubt more than a handful who aspired to academic careers would answer in the affirmative.

Students care about the strength of their peers and their employment outcomes. That is what matters in a professional school.

Law school should be about the students, NOT the faculty. Recognizing this would be the first step in fixing our problem.

Posted by: Todd | Jun 20, 2014 4:30:36 AM

Todd --to clarify, the "citations" are not to how often the faculty of that school were cited -- instead, it is how often the lead law review of that school was cited, regardless of who publishes in that law review.

Posted by: Andy Patterson | Jun 20, 2014 6:05:31 AM

School funded jobs should not be counted in employment -- thus GWU, W&M, and Emory are severely over ranked, both here and in US News.

Posted by: Jkl | Jun 20, 2014 6:09:19 AM

Prof. Brophy, like many writers on the subject, quite rightly criticizes the USN&WL ranking factors. He then proposes three factors that he suggest prospective students care, or should care about. These factors are: 1) median LSAT scores; 2) full-time, J.D.-required employment at nine months following graduation; and 3) numbers of citations to each school’s main law review. Oh my.

The first factor seems reasonable, though not unimpeachable. The quality of the law school’s student body is important. A prospective student probably–but not always–wants to be in a quality peer group. On the other hand, in regional markets, high class standing in a school with a student body of more moderate quality can be an advantage. And, if we’re really serious, there are lot more J.D.-required jobs in regional markets, composed of small- to medium-sized firms that hire from local and regional law schools, than white-shoe jobs that pay $160k. Median LSAT is a reasonable, though oft-overstated, proxy for determining the quality of the student body. So maybe the question becomes one of whether the prospective student realistically expects to be a top-half student in a highly-ranked school, or a top-5% student in a second-tier school. Which class position is more likely to get the student a decent job, assuming the student does not view herself as an academic top-1%er?

Full-time, J.D.-required employment at nine months is a pretty good indicator for most prospective law students. I have not seen any surveys, but I think it likely that most prospective law students today seek a J.D. for a J.D.-required job. Perhaps a significant minority wants the degree to enhance some other goal–a J.D.-preferred job, or a to use as a business degree (quite common before the expansion and acceptance of the MBA). But if we can agree that the purpose of law school is to educate/train practicing lawyers, this criterion is pretty good.

Prof. Brophy’s third factor is a laugher. It clashes with the second factor, because law review articles produced by today’s legal academy have little or nothing to do with the practice of law. Neither judges nor lawyers ever read the vast majority of these publications, especially the publications from the top tier schools, which for the last two or or three decades have concerned themselves almost exclusively with “empirical” legal research. How many times a law school’s main law review is cited–by other academics–has literally nothing to do with J.D.-required or J.D.-preferred employment after law school.

Bottom line: I think Prof. Brophy needs to replace the third factor and take a more nuanced look at the first.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Jun 20, 2014 6:34:24 AM

One has to be suspicious of a methodology that places the author's law school alma mater at the top of the list, 3.5 spots higher than its US News ranking.

Posted by: Just Curious | Jun 20, 2014 7:15:01 AM

I posted on this point over at the faculty lounge – but I am apparently persona non grata over there and my comments are routinely blocked.

The core problem with current law school ratings is that they are designed to try to straddle audiences, so that they incorporate information of limited or little relevance to their users.

So to take the example of someone contemplating going to law school (and their friends and family advising them.) In the vast majority of such applicants, what they are interested in is a rewarding career as a practicing lawyer. What they want from the law school is an answer to the question, will it provide an entrée to such a career? Brophy’s rankings move away from answering that question by introducing the question of citations – journal citations in other law journals in particular.

By contrast legal academics are interested in the academic prestige of the institution. Despite the complaints of law students and indeed practitioners, this is not an irrational interest on their part – academic prestige translates to more than just psychic benefits. A professor at a more prestigious institution will find it easier to lateral with tenure between schools, likely will be better paid, will probably find more easy acceptance of publications, may be better placed to seek a judgeship, role in public administration or deanship. Academic’s interest in “academic prestige” makes sense to academics.

So what factors should be part of ranking a law school so that incoming students can judge whether it is what they are looking for? The most basic question is whether the graduates have legal careers – and the 9 month employment rate in JD-required jobs, excluding solos and law school funded positions is probably a key metric. While many professors argue that some employment happens after 9 months, the 9-month employment rate is a good proxy for all hiring. The second set of criteria that is probably important is the 10 and 20 year practitioner rate, that is the ration of graduates who are practicing law 10 and 20 years after graduation. The next criteria is cost of attendance against median and modal salaries and if possible by quartile at 9 months (excluding judicial clerks).

Posted by: MacK | Jun 20, 2014 8:43:02 AM

"Students care about the strength of their peers and their employment outcomes."

I agree those are things prospective students *should* care about. However, what they more often care about is perceived prestige, whether measured by US News rankings or otherwise. And that prestige is driven by academic reputation, for which legal scholarship (whether published by a school's faculty or other scholars' work published in a school's flagship law review) is a proxy.

If prospective students stop choosing law schools largely based upon perceived rankings prestige and focus instead on other factors, then it will make sense to ignore prestige.

To be clear: academics, of all types, are overly concerned with prestige. But let's not act as if they are the only ones who are.

Posted by: anon | Jun 20, 2014 10:50:16 AM

"Students care about the strength of their peers and their employment outcomes."

I would argue that counting citations to a school's flagship journal actually is looking at an indicator of the strength of a prospective student's peers. The journals used in this study are all student run and student edited. The reputation of the journals, which directly impacts the quality of the articles submitted and, therefore, citations to those articles, is really more a reflection of the reputation of the top cohort of the students at a given school than on their faculties (with the possible exception of a journal with a particularly active faculty advisor).

Posted by: Former Editor | Jun 21, 2014 5:02:31 AM

Whether students know it or not, they care about jobs. The non-job factors of note are pretty much all proxies for jobs (prestige, etc.), or proxies for proxies for jobs (student quality > prestige > jobs).

Citations are a joke because law reviews are a joke. Law review prestige is basically inflexible and "editing quality," or whatever the misguided poster above is getting at has nothing to do with it. There is such a paucity of minimally competent legal scholarship (even before you discount such crit nonsense as is of no use to anyone) that there's no reason for a decent article not to find a good placement. Lower-tier reviews therefore have no way of attracting the pieces that they require to increase their status.

Schools should be ranked 100% by job placement.

People who advocate factoring tuition cost in have the right idea but miss in practice, in my view, because a biglaw job will justify basically any tuition cost.

Rank schools by biglaw, medium law, etc. law placement -- and don't use some "algorithm" to merge them into a single opaque number; give clear placement rates for each. Then add additional columns for other stuff like tuition, LSAT, etc. (not citation rank though; that will just deceive 0Ls into thinking it matters), so that the rare people who care about these things can factor them in as they will.

Posted by: Think Like a 1L | Jun 30, 2014 1:36:28 PM