How Lawyers Rank Law Schools
“Underperformer” is certainly a misnomer when it comes to the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Law. Overall, it leaped 10 spots, from 91 to 81 (and rose to #51 in the assessment ranking). Among lawyers and judges, its median assessment score climbed from 2.9 to 3.2 in one year. While the University of Cincinnati’s College of Law only rose one spot overall, its assessment scores also jumped by 0.3 over the previous year, going from 2.7 to 3.0. In fact, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were the only schools to increase their median assessment scores by 0.3 (while 11 schools watched their scores decline by 0.3 or more). Pittsburgh also scored much higher among academics that its overall rank might indicate.
The University of Indiana-Indianapolis and Pepperdine University also distinguished themselves on both metrics. The former soared 11 spots to #87 overall, while increasing its assessment score by 0.2. The latter moved up 7 spots, while moving the assessment needle forward by 0.1.
The performance of Loyola Marymount and the University of California-Hastings was nearly identical. Both schools were ranked higher by lawyers and judges than they were overall. The academic surveys showed a similar result. Look closer and the numbers don’t add up. For example, California-Hastings and Loyola Marymount maintain 9 month placement rates of 51.6% and 47.9% respectively, indicating that the market doesn’t regard their graduates as highly as U.S. News’ survey samples. And that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Hastings reports a pedestrian 76.4% first-time bar passage rate (while Loyola Marymount is not much better at 77.2%). Ironically, Loyola Marymount boasts a 0.2 increase in median assessment scores, despite tumbling 19 spots overall in the latest rankings.
The schools with the biggest drops in assessment scores from lawyers and judges include the University of Florida (-0.5), Washington and Lee University (-0.3), and Baylor University (-0.2). In fact, Washington & Lee was among the big losers in the 2015 U.S. News rankings, falling 17 spots to #43. The displeasure with Washington and Lee and the University of Florida could also be reflected in their 9 month placement statistics, which dropped to 56.9% and 63.1%, respectively. Washington & Lee was further burdened by its low 71.7% first-time bar passage rate last year. Despite the steep drop, Florida still retained a higher assessment score from attorneys than in-state rival Florida State (3.4 vs. 2.9), which leapfrogged Florida in the rankings.
Overall, the biggest underperformers on the list are the University of Oregon and Villanova University. Both schools hover near the bottom of the top 100, yet each also maintains assessment scores equal to Top 50 powers like the the University of Alabama, Arizona State, and Brigham Young (and higher scores than the the University of Maryland, the University of Utah, and Florida State. Even stranger, Oregon ranks #53 among academics. With 40% of a ranking derived from median scores from academics and lawyers, Oregon is easily being propped up by qualitative data.
OVERPERFORMERS: DOMINATED BY SCHOOLS IN THE SOUTH & SOUTHWEST
And now to the “Overperformers,” whose overall rank is higher than their survey assessments. These are the schools (outside of the top 20) that often score highest on quantifiable data, but have lost some luster among legal professionals. In some cases, their rankings dropped over the previous year (no thanks to the survey results). In other cases, they rose on the strength of data like high placement rates. Here are the top “overperforming” schools, whose overall rank exceeds their peer assessments:
(See following pages for full analysis and table)