For the second year in a row, Stanford snagged the first spot in our ranking of the best law schools in the United States. To add insult to injury, Stanford beat No. 2 Yale by an even bigger margin than last year.
The difference is still small: 0.375 instead of 0.125. Yale is harder to get into by 0.9 percentage points, and its admits’ median LSAT score is two points higher. Nonetheless, Stanford delivered better results for its students—which, considering the state of the legal job market, is nothing to scoff at. An impressive 94.5% of the Class of 2012 graduated with jobs lined up, compared to 89.6 at Yale. Moreover, at $62,459, the average salary for graduates who pursued public interest work was about $1,000 higher at Stanford. (That doesn’t ease the pain of paying off student loans by much, but hey.)
Will the difference between the two schools grow further? And is tradition the only thing putting Yale at No. 1 in the U.S. News ranking?
TIPPING THE SCALES’ PARED-DOWN METHODOLOGY
The data that comes out of the U.S. News ranking has its uses. Though many deans complain that it’s outdated, it at least allows outsiders to compare apples to apples.
Nevertheless, the ranking itself takes too many details into account. 25% of it depends on input from deans and the faculty members, who don’t necessarily have the full picture of what’s going on at any given school. Figures on faculty resources—the student-faculty ratio, expenditures per student, et cetera—provide no information on how effectively those resources were used. The opinions of legal professionals count for 15%; arguably, their judgments should matter to applicants because they’re often the ones doing the hiring, but they also have a huge incentive to vote for their own alma maters. As far as a school’s reputation in the legal market goes, employment statistics provide more than enough information.
Our ranking keeps things simple. First of all, who gets in? Acceptance rates and median LSAT scores count for 25% each. A lower acceptance rate implies that a school gets to be choosy, and that students had to really prove themselves to get in; a higher median LSAT score reflects students had the intellectual horsepower to succeed in law. Hopefully, the end result is the kind of student body you’d want to learn from and network with. (We didn’t take undergraduate GPAs into account because a 3.5 at one college could mean something completely different from a 3.5 at another.)
The next question we ask has to do with outcomes: What happens when students graduate? Do they have jobs? The percentages of students employed at graduation determine 25% of our ranking. Although this factor might penalize schools in some states—rules for admission to the state bar aren’t uniform—we thought it did a better job of demonstrating schools’ influence in the job-searching process than the percentage of students employed three months later. Graduates’ median private sector starting salaries and median public interest salaries counted for 12.5% each. Salary doesn’t equal job satisfaction, but considering how expensive law school is, schools that produce graduates who can actually pay off their loans should be rewarded.
THE TOP STAYS STABLE
The top 14 schools—the T14—is the law school version of the promised land. Students who get into any of them can breathe sighs of relief, because they’ll likely find gainful, law-related employment soon after graduation. In both our ranking and the U.S. News ranking, the T14 are exactly the same.