When U.S. News & World Report puts together its annual ranking of the best law school, the magazine factors in a variety of criteria to rate the quality of schools. It tosses in assessments from deans, tenured faculty, judges, and lawyers; LSAT and GMAT scores; acceptance rates, bar passage, and placement rates; student expenditures; student-to-faculty ratios; and library resources.
These are great metrics for gauging the quality of your peers and your likelihood of landing a job in the first three-to-nine months after you graduate. But here’s what they don’t measure: How good of a lawyer will you ultimately become?
What is a Super Lawyer?
A plucky website called Online Paralegal Programs may have some answers. Recently, they mined the website of Super Lawyers, a magazine and rating service that evaluates attorneys from “more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement.” Super Lawyers maintains a state-by-state list of which schools have produced the most “super lawyers” each year, as defined by their peers. Take Alabama, for example. In 2013, the University of Alabama School of Law had 353 graduates make the list, good for 42% of the state’s super lawyers. Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law finished second, with 222 graduates and 27% of the state’s 2013 super lawyers. The site also houses statistics for 2010-2012.
Using this state data, Online Paralegal Programs produced an instagram with a listing of which schools produced the most super lawyers in each state. However, they did something else: They compiled the total number of super lawyers per school, ranked the top thirty schools, and compared those school rankings against the ones compiled through the 2014 U.S. News Law School rankings.
As you can imagine, the results were striking. Some Top 10 stalwarts, such as Yale, Stanford, and the University of Chicago, produced far fewer super lawyers than their U.S. News ranking would lead us to believe. Other schools, such as Michigan and Georgetown, graduated far more super lawyers than schools ranked much higher. So how did the top 30 law schools fare overall? Check out the table on the following page featuring the differences between the U.S. News and Super Lawyers law school rankings (along with the most recent law school ranking from Tipping the Scales, which is based on LSAT scores, acceptance and placement rates, and starting salaries):
Stanford certainly suffers the biggest drop in Super Lawyers’ ranking. U.S. News placed the Cardinal at #2. When it came to “super lawyer” status, Stanford lagged behind upstarts like UCLA, Boston University, Boston College, and California-Hastings. Yale also polled poorly among practicing attorneys when it came to alumni being recommended, barely cracking the Top 10. The University of Chicago, Duke, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania also came out ranked far lower than their reputations suggest, as they found themselves listed between #15 and #26 when it comes to peer assessments.
Here’s the irony. On the U.S. News ranking, Yale and Stanford both received the second-highest assessment scores from judges and attorneys and the highest scores from their academic peers. The University of Chicago, Duke, and Cornell also notched scores from these segments consistent with their overall rank. However, the University of Pennsylvania earned marks from the academics that were below what lower-ranked peers like the University of Michigan and the University of California at Berkeley received.
When it comes to schools ranked between #16 and #30 in U.S. News’ rankings, only 5 made the Super Lawyers list. In fact, USC and the University of Washington at St. Louis were the only U.S. News Top 20 law schools that failed to crack the Super Lawyers rankings. Otherwise, schools like Harvard, Columbia, New York University, and the University of California at Berkeley had equivalent rankings, with Harvard topping the Super Lawyers rankings.
(See the following page for our table of the rankings)