Above the Law's New JD Ranking

Yale Law
Yale Leads the Pack
Not surprisingly, Yale Law tops the rankings for both Above the Law and U.S. News and World Report(where it has held the top spot since their first rankings in the last 1980s). However, when it comes to an index score, Yale is only .86 points higher than Harvard University and 1.69 points better than Stanford University in the ATL rankings, while scoring 4.0 and 5.0 points higher than Harvard and Stanford (respectively) in the U.S. News rankings. In other words, the gap between Yale and the pack tightens considerably when placement data is given greater weight and peer surveys are removed.
There is an eight point drop in index scores between the top three scores and #4 Columbia Law, which has been basking in good press regarding high placement rates, strong starting pay, and impressive big law hiring statistics (not to mention a new dean). These factors helped Columbia jump four spots to #4.
Duke University was another big winner, leapfrogging the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Virginia, and the University of California-Berkeley to nab the #7 spot in Above the Law’s ranking. Duke was buoyed by a high placement rate overall (and particularly with big law firms). And Vanderbilt University edged up two spots as well. Conversely, the University of Virginia was likely dinged for artificially boosting their employment rates by 14.8% through school-funded positions.
And which schools dropped? The University of California-Berkeley, Georgetown University, Southern Methodist University, and UCLA each slipped 3 spots. What knocked Boalt Hall down? Here’s a theory: Pay. According to Forbes, Berkeley grads only average $82,700 starting salaries, #14 overall. Here’s another: an 87.2% first-time bar passage rate (stemming, partially, from an extremely rigorous state bar exam).
Iowa and New Mexico Are Big Winners in Top 25
If you’re looking for the big winner in this year’s rankings, look no further than the University of Iowa, which leaped 19 spots from #37 to #18 in just one year. Thanks to slashing tuition and maintaining a respectable 77.3% placement rate (according to U.S. News), the school made the biggest jump in this year’s rankings.
The University of New Mexico is another feel good story. Despite being ranked #72 by U.S. News, the Lobos edged up to four spots to #22. What’s the difference? For starters, they aren’t encumbered by lower-than-average assessments from academics and legal professionals (and LSAT and GPA ranges that don’t match up as well against higher-ranked programs). Here, they’re evaluated according to their placement rate (Nearly 70 percent according to U.S. News) and a reasonable tuition and cost of living. Their highly regarded clinical program doesn’t hurt matters either.
School Clusters
The most striking feature of Above the Law’s ranking is the school clusters formed by the overall index scores. As noted earlier, Yale, Harvard, and Stanford operate in a league of their own, with index scores from 85.56-87.45. Six more schools, including Columbia, the University of Chicago, and New York University, form another group, with scores ranging between 73.89 and 77.7. Four more schools, including Northwestern University and Cornell University, comprise a third cluster with index scores starting at 68.76 and going to 69.56. After that, the index scores just plummet (though Vanderbilt University and the University of Texas-Austin held their ground in the 60s and Georgetown University nearly joined them with a 59.37 index score). In fact, the scores bunch up, with 44 schools producing index scores between 37 and 51 (and six schools bunched within nearly one point of each other). In short, it almost seems like law schools have fragmented into three spheres: The elite, the average, and the unmentionable. Based on these scores, most schools below the top 15 are struggling to differentiate themselves in terms of placement, cost, and alumni accomplishment.
(See table on next page for the Top 25 school ranking)