Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Akhil Amar: Be Skeptical Of Law School Rankings (Even Though Yale Is #1 Every Year, It May Not Be Right For Those Wanting To Practice In SoCal)

U.S. News 2019Los Angeles Times op-ed:  Be Skeptical of Law School and Other College Rankings. Very Skeptical., by Akhil Reed Amar (Yale):

The news held no surprises. When U.S. News & World Report released its much-anticipated annual rankings of graduate and professional schools last week, Yale once again ranked No. 1 among law schools, a spot it has held since 1987, when the news magazine first entered the law-school ranking business.

But Yale, which is both my alma mater and my longtime employer, is not No. 1 in all respects. Prospective law students should treat the U.S. News rankings — and any other ranking system, for that matter — with caution and skepticism.

Rankings can be helpful in a crude first analysis, if used as one among many tools for prospective students. But the U.S. News rankings have serious limitations, relying as they do on debatable and sometimes perverse weights and formulas. ...

The U.S. News rankings can also make applicants feel that only the tippy-top schools are worth attending, but there are lots of strong schools beyond the top three (Yale, Stanford, Harvard) — or even the top 30. Some regional schools are particularly good at familiarizing students with state law and state court systems and preparing them for leadership in state government and local hubs of national law firms. ...

I have benefited personally from the system. The maiden law-school rankings issue of U.S. News in 1987 featured a large and flattering picture of me in the classroom. For most of the last decade, I have been closely involved in admitting and recruiting Yale’s top prospective students. Thanks to U.S. News, most recruits need little persuasion; we have them at “hello.” So my grapes are not sour and my gripes are not self-serving. 

But here is some truth in advertising. Yes, Yale has some strong pluses. ... But we have real flaws.

We have failed to achieve true intellectual diversity; our litigation clinics tilt left, and in my field, constitutional law, we need more top conservative professors. Several other schools do a better job populating the top tier of the private bar (“Biglaw”). Because we are small, our curriculum is at times spotty. Some Los Angeles schools, especially the sometimes underappreciated UCLA (ranked 15th), may be a better and more affordable fit for those intending to practice in Southern California. ...

Serious applicants should consult leading rankings beyond U.S. News, and should pore over the law-school data freely available from the ABA to create their own individualized weightings and formulas. ...

It’s so easy in sports. The team that wins most consistently is best. No such clear and widely accepted rules define which law school is best. Notwithstanding last week’s rankings, in truth there is no No. 1.

Legal Education | Permalink


Theodore needs to look up "survivorship bias," because the percentage of a law school's Biglaw associate graduates who make partner is a very different thing than the percentage of a law school's grads who can get into Biglaw in the first place.

For instance, last year 122 of 336 UCLA grads landed Biglaw, which is just over one-third. But at Harvard 349 of 595 grads landed Biglaw, or 58%. So if you are a law student with acceptance letters from both institutions and you want Biglaw (or understand that you NEED Biglaw to pay down the ~$330k those places sticker at when including interest), the choice should be quite clear.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Mar 21, 2019 6:45:45 AM

Confirming Akil's op-ed: UCLA ranked first in the placement of partners in NLJ 100 firms in Los Angeles, counting 1986 and later graduates (as of a study conducted in 2011). See Seto, Where Do Partners Come From?, 62 J. LEGAL EDUC. 242 (2012). Loyola-LA was a close second. USC was third. Harvard was fifth. Stanford was tenth. Yale was not in the top ten.

Posted by: Theodore P Seto | Mar 20, 2019 8:22:51 AM

It may not be #1, at all. It stays there because it's small and elite. If there were a law school at which Cass Sunstein was the only teacher and his daughter the only student—not far from the approach some have tried—it would rank higher than Yale. The system is flawed.

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Mar 20, 2019 4:08:58 AM