Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Prospective Students Say Law School's U.S. News Ranking Is More Important Than Placement Stats

KaplanKaplan Test Prep Survey, Despite an Uncertain Employment Landscape, Law School Applicants Still Consider School Rankings Far More Important than Job Placement Rates When Deciding Where to Apply:

[D]espite the most competitive job market for new lawyers in a generation, pre-law students continue to place a much higher premium on where a law school places in the rankings than on how many of its graduates land jobs in the legal field. When asked “What is most important to you when picking a law school to apply to?”, 32% cited a law school’s ranking; followed by geographic location at 22%; academic programming at 20%; and affordability/tuition at 13%. At nearly the back of the pack? A law school’s job placement statistics, which came in at 8%. When Kaplan first asked the same question in October 2010, these factors ranked in the same exact order –- though a school’s ranking actually increased in importance in this most recent survey.

In a related question asking, “How important a factor is a law school’s ranking in determining where you will apply?” 86% say ranking is “very important” or “somewhat important” in deciding where to apply to –- the same exact percentage as in October 2010.

On the jobs front, 38% of pre-law students surveyed said they hoped to work in Big Law, where often the big money is [although only 10% of the Class of 2011 landed jobs in Big Law]; 31% said they wanted to go into public interest law [only 6% of the Class of 2011 landed public interest law jobs; an additional 10% landed government law jobs]; 23% said they wanted to work for a boutique firm. And showing the versatility of a law degree, 23% said they wanted to use their JD to go into politics at some point; another 23% said they wanted to use their degree for business purposes. Their career aspirations closely mirror what their pre-law predecessors told Kaplan when asked the same question in an October 2010 survey.

“While it may seem counterintuitive that pre-law students aren’t placing greater importance on a school’s job placement stats, most applicants know that there is a direct correlation between where a student graduates from, their starting salary and career prospects, which is likely why rankings are consistently the most important consideration by far,” says Jeff Thomas, director of pre-law programs, Kaplan Test Prep.

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Linked over from Instapundit, I agree with Bruce and CatoRenasci. Unless law schools are 100% transparent with their placement stats, which includes size of firm (or business), salary, temporary or permanent status, and 5 year out employment rate then the school's own statistics are absolutely meaningless. At least US News has historic significance, at least with respect to to the top schools.

As to why go to law school? You shouldn't if you are going to rack up a lot of debt, but there aren't many options for even the brightest young people out there other than moving back into Mom's basement and volunteering at the SPCA or food shelter. The economy is THAT bad. Hopefully young people will remember that in November.

Posted by: Brian | Jun 21, 2012 4:58:08 PM

The US News rankings, for all their flaws, have the advantage of being compiled by an outside organization. Does anyone believe the placement statistics released by law schools?

Posted by: Bruce Rheinstein | Jun 21, 2012 1:32:59 PM

"School Applicants Still Consider School Rankings Far More Important than Job Placement Rates".

Because they have been raised to believe that in the American education system degrees are nothing more than credentials; and the point of education is the attaining of credentials.

Posted by: Sardondi | Jun 21, 2012 1:06:55 PM

It would be useful to see an analysis of the correlation between USN&WR ranking and successful placement (with median starting salary, etc.).

My guess is that there is a rough correlation between the ranking and placement success (but I also bet there are more than a few jokers in the deck, capable of really shaking things up at some "well thought of" schools that comparatively crap out in terms of placement).

Also, I would guess that geographic location of a school plays a disproportionate role in placement success.

A handful of major metros dominate Big Law and it isn't easy to give up billables to get on a plane to go interview.

Sad but true.

And a significant reason why law firms have a major cultural problem (groupthink - since a *very* small number of schools dominate BigLaw).

Posted by: cas127 | Jun 21, 2012 12:41:30 PM

Why would ANY really bright student want to pursue a law degree today?

Posted by: crypticguise | Jun 21, 2012 12:00:53 PM

The headline of this post overstates what the survey finds. The survey only asks about the importance of a law school's ranking; it does not ask specifically about the importance of its "US News ranking." Another way to interpret "ranking" is as asking whether the quality or reputation of a law school matters in deciding where to apply. Certainly it does, and it should.

Posted by: Chris Drahozal | Jun 21, 2012 9:08:33 AM

Only the profoundly clueless would pursue a law degree at this point. It should come as no surprise that their obliviousness can be independently confirmed.

Posted by: Lee Reynolds | Jun 21, 2012 9:01:07 AM

I don't think blaming young people for being naive is fair here.

By definition they are a bit green at this age and as long as bad decisions are confined to garish fashions and other small purchases of dubious taste, making mistakes like that is all part of the process of wising up from youth into adulthood.

But they can stop wearing those gold lame lurex pants and punk hairdos they 'invested' in when they grow up, unlike the junk degrees they got sold.


Posted by: Hexe Froschbein | Jun 21, 2012 8:04:40 AM

These idiots are are like drunks looking for their keys under the lamppost, where the light is. The only reason they "trust" US News rankings is that they are simple and available, while placement stats are complicated and hidden.

Posted by: Lowellguy | Jun 21, 2012 6:23:46 AM

I suspect the reason placement statistics are not regarded as a more important factor is that no one trusts the placement figures after the past few years and the recent publicity about falsifying and gaming the placement numbers.

Posted by: CatoRenasci | Jun 21, 2012 6:22:16 AM