In recent years, law school rankings have become rather predictable. For 25 years, Yale has topped U.S. News & World Report’s list. Even when Above the Law joined the rankings fray in 2013, Yale remained the number one law school.
Until now, that is.
Forget the U.S. hockey team’s “miracle on ice” in the 1980 Olympics. The biggest upset now belongs to Harvard Law, which knocked Yale out of the top spot in Above the Law’s new law school rankings. In fact, Yale tumbled all the way to number five, behind Stanford, the University of Chicago, and the University of Pennsylvania – a fellow Ivy!
YALE DOOMED BY A LACK OF GOOD JOBS
So why was Yale’s streak broken? It comes down to one word: “Jobs.” In the Above the Law methodology, where employment and quality jobs scores account for 60 percent of a ranking, Yale graduates simply weren’t landing (or attempting to land) those high-paying, full-time jobs that help pay off debt.
For starters, 2014 Yale graduates averaged 93 percent employment – an enviable rate, but also below the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago (97 percent each) and Harvard and Stanford (96 percent each). Even more, Yale’s positions were deemed lower quality in Above the Law’s rubric. For example, Yale grads yielded a 73 percent LST score, a calculation that removes jobs that are part-time, short-term, solo practice, school-funded, or don’t require bar passage. Compare that to LST scores at Stanford and Harvard (90 percent each), the University of Chicago (92 percent), and the University of Pennsylvania (95 percent). In fact, Yale’s LST score has been steadily declining in recent years, going from 88 percent (Class of 2011) to 82 percent (Class of 2012) to 79 percent (Class of 2013) to a 73 percent low for the Class of 2014.
At the same time, Yale placed the smallest percentage of students in deep pockets big law firms (35 percent) in contrast to other schools in the top five: Stanford (44.4 percent), Harvard (57 percent), the University of Chicago (60 percent), and the University of Pennsylvania (70 percent).What’s more, Yale lost the high ground in a domain it has traditionally dominated: Federal clerkships. Although nearly 26 percent of 2014 Yale graduates earned a clerkship, Yale was actually beaten out by Stanford (31 percent) in this benchmark.
The rest of Yale’s Class of 2014 seemingly left the beaten bath. 20 percent slinked into “Other Employment,” defined by Above the Law as “short-term, JD advantage, professional and non-professional positions.” 12 percent entered public interest law, while another 9 percent chose a school-funded job. Along with placement, Yale was hurt by its academics, with alumni survey respondents giving it a 3.51 score on a 4.0 scale in that area. That’s high compared to most schools, but it was also the lowest score among the top five schools – with Stanford (3.83) and the University of Chicago (3.82) earning the highest marks among alumni.
But don’t bury Yale just yet. Among alumni, Yale produced the highest scores among the top five law schools for practical training (3.43 vs. 3.34 for Stanford), financial aid advising (3.09 vs. 2.92 for Stanford and Harvard), and social life (3.6 vs. 3.46 for Stanford). Even more, Yale’s three year cost – which includes tuition and cost of living – was $282,077, tens-of-thousands less than the University of Pennsylvania ($299,640), the University of Chicago ($300,810), Harvard ($301,786), and Stanford ($315,604).
JOBS-DRIVEN METHODOLOGY BENEFITS SCHOOLS WITH HIGH PLACEMENT RATES
Above the Law’s ranking data is derived from a variety of sources, including the American Bar Association, Law School Transparency, M7 Financial, and the National Law Journal. When it comes to methodology, you could argue that Above the Law is the “people’s ranking” – placing greater weight on outcomes like high placement, good jobs, low debt, and alumni satisfaction. That contrasts sharply with U.S. News’ methodology, where 40 percent of a school’s rank is derived from subjective (and sometimes unreliable) surveys with law school personnel and practicing judges and lawyers. Even more, U.S. News gives a 25 percent weight to inputs like LSAT scores, GPAs, and acceptance rates – numbers that don’t necessarily correlate to future jobs.
In Above the Law’s formula, 30 percent of a score is based on employment, which encompasses full-time, long-term jobs that require bar passage (and are not funded by law schools themselves). Another 30 percent stems from a “quality jobs score,” which is graduate employment at the 250 “big law” firms or Federal judicial clerkships. Student debt weighs 15 percent and is based on the total cost of an education (while factoring in cost of living). Another 5 percent is derived from a confidential alumni survey, where participants rate the academics, career services, clinical training, and social life of their alma mater. Finally, Supreme Court clerkships and active Federal judgeships each account for 7.5 percent of the score, which reflect accomplishment and prestige.
In other words, Above the Law offers higher rewards for outputs instead of inputs. Even more, it is more current, featuring 2014 data as opposed to U.S. News’ heavily reliance on 2012 inputs in its rankings. Overall, Above the Law’s methodology has remained consistent. However, for the 2015 ranking, the weight of the alumni survey was cut from 10 percent to 5 percent. Above the Law then gave that remaining weight to debt-per-job, rewarding those schools with conflate moderate tuition with high financial aid and placement.
TOP 25 RELATIVELY CONSISTENT – BUT PLENTY OF MOVEMENT
Despite the tumult at the top, Above the Law’s 2015 rankings actually remained relatively steady. Among the top 25 schools in 2014, 22 repeated that feat in 2015. The only schools to fall out of the top 25 were the University of Georgia (from 20th to 27th), the University of North Carolina (from 23rd to 26th), and Southern Methodist University (from 25th to 37th).They were replaced by the College of William & Mary (which soared 15 spots to 24th), Boston University (climbing from 30th to 21st), and Washington University (sneaking up one rung to 25th).