Above The Law tried its hand at the rankings game for the first time in 2013 with a methodology that emphasized outcomes over all else. The Top 50 list the blog came out with had some puzzling results.
Sure, Yale still was ranked No. 1 and a familiar grouping of schools occupied the top slots. But the biggest beneficiaries of this approach are St. Louis University’s Law School, which is ranked 102nd by U.S. News but 47th by ATL–a difference of 55 places–and Rutgers University’s Law School at Camden, which is ranked 43rd by ATL versus 91st in U.S. News–a difference of 48 spots.
The methodology weighed just a half dozen metrics, with a 30% weight on the percentage of grads who land full-time, long-term jobs requiring bar passage and another 30% weight on a school’s success at placing students with the country’s largest and best-paying law firms as well as federal judicial clerkships. Some 15% of the methodology is based on SCOTUS clerk and federal judgeships, adjusted for the size of the school. A survey of alumni counts for 10%, while educational costs count for the remaining 15%.
The biggest drawback to the methodology is that it fails to measure the quality of the students coming into a school or the school’s selectivity. That is a major failing when looking at the overall reputation and prestige of a law school brand because what goes in is what comes out.
Here’s how the website justifies its ranking: “The basic premise underlying the ATL approach to ranking schools: the economics of the legal job market are so out of balance that it is proper to consider some legal jobs as more equal than others. In other words, a position as an associate with a large firm is a “better” employment outcome than becoming a temp doc reviewer or even an associate with a small local firm. That might seem crassly elitist, but then again only the Big Law associate has a plausible prospect of paying off his student loans.”
There are other problems with the approach. As an ATL writer conceded, “Honestly, if you want to work in public interest, or at a local, downmarket firm, or something, then the ATL rankings are not all that useful to you. You should probably just go to the cheapest law school you can find and do your best. If you want to help battered women, or help farmers with their estate planning, or start your own law firm, then the ATL rankings are not representative of your hopes and dreams.”
Nonetheless, this is yet another data point worth having a look at.
(See the following page for the ranking and how it compares with U.S. News)