William & Mary’s surge stemmed from its high placement (91 percent) and respectable LST (72 percent) scores – numbers that are nearly identical to Yale. At the same time, alumni gave the program high marks in academics (3.56) and clinical training (3.25). The school’s reasonable three cost ($176,967 for in-state and $206,301 for out-of-state) was another blessing. Conversely, Southern Methodist was hobbled by tepid employment, with just 67 percent of employed students from the Class of 2014 working in jobs requiring a JD. At the same time, the school’s three year cost – roughly $263K – didn’t necessarily deliver a strong return on investment as one anonymous alum, who responded to an Above the Law survey, notes. “It is a very expensive school and the employment statistics are not necessarily as accurate as one would like when contemplating so much for an education.”
Among top tier programs, the University of Pennsylvania was this year’s big winner. Ranked 8th in 2014 (after coming in at 5th in 2013), Penn hopped up to 5th in 2015, bypassing Yale, Duke, New York University, and Columbia. The University of Virginia rose three spots to 6th, buoyed by 98 percent employment (and a 94 percent LST score). At the same time, Cornell Law jumped four spots into 9th. How? For one, Cornell actually carried a higher LST score (96 percent) than employment rate (92 percent), meaning nearly every graduate was landing a long-term, full-time law job that required bar passage, particularly with large firms (64 percent). And that’s exactly the audience that Cornell caters to, observes one nameless alum. “Cornell teaches corporate law really well, and has extensive ties with the business school, so it’s well-suited for those looking to work in NYC BigLaw.”
In addition, Boston College (21st to 16th) and the University of New Mexico (22nd to 18th) also moved up in the top 25. At the same time, Columbia Law (4th to 8th), New York University (6th to 10th), the Georgetown Law Center (16th to 20th), and the University of Notre Dame (17th to 23rd) experienced disappointing results.
Columbia’s numbers were particularly perplexing, as the school produced a jaw-dropping employment rate (97 percent), LST score (94 percent), and big law hiring percentage (74 percent) that exceeded higher-ranked programs like Harvard and the University of Chicago. However, just 4.7 percent of the class of 2014 entered Federal clerkships. This begs a point: Does Above the Law’s methodology punish schools whose high placement rates in one area (i.e. big law) undercut their rates in another area (i.e. clerkships)? Columbia alumni also knocked the school on practical training with a 2.9 score. And New York City’s high cost of living resulted in a $315,968 total investment over three years for Columbia Law grads.
PLENTY OF FRESH FACES IN THE 2015 RANKINGS
This year’s ranking also witnessed six new schools enter the Top 50. Villanova made the highest debut at 38th, followed by Louisiana State University (42nd), Rutgers University-Newark (43rd), University of Tulsa (48th), St. Louis University (49th), and the University of Akron (50th). Those schools that dropped out of Above the Law’s 2015 ranking include: the University of Southern California (35th), the University of Washington (41st), the University of California-Davis (42nd), Case Western Reserve (47th), Rutgers University-Camden (48th), and the University of Miami (49th).
Aside from the College of William & Mary, the biggest gainer in this year’s ranking was Georgia State University. The school, which recently produced a higher bar passage rate than Yale, vaulted 12 spots to 33rd. Similarly, Temple University scampered up another 10 spots to 34th – after not even being ranked in 2013. With Penn, Villanova, and Temple making a big splash in this year’s rankings, you can’t help but wonder if the law school axis is starting to shift from Boston and New York to Philadelphia. Temple itself, known as the Beasley School of Law, offers a highly recommended clinical training program (3.3 score from alumni), an 88 percent placement rate, and relatively modest three-year investment ($163,381 for in-state and $210,504 for out-of-state).
At the same time, several schools plummeted in this year’s rankings. Indiana University (Maurer), the most notable example, plunged 15 spots to 46th, despite receiving the highest scores from alumni in areas ranging from academics to social life. The school also boasted a 90 percent placement rate for 2014 graduates (though only 64 percent of those positions required bar passage). So what’s wrong? To begin, just 17 percent of newly-employed graduates landed in lucrative big law jobs. And even fewer – 2 percent – made it to Federal clerkships. What’s more, a quarter of the class landed work outside law within nine months of graduation. And these numbers could derive from limitations inherent to the program. “Bloomington is an awesome place to spend 3 years,” writes one anonymous alum in an Above the Law survey. “But unless you’re a top student with OCI prospects (top 10%), you will be lucky to find a legal job. If you want to practice in the State of Indiana, you would be better off going to IU’s Indianapolis campus where you can connect with law firms, government, business, judges, etc.”
MAJOR DIFFERENCES WITH U.S. NEWS RANKINGS
With inputs like LSAT scores and acceptance rates removed from Above the Law’s ranking formula, the playing field was evened for some schools. And the University of New Mexico takes the biggest advantage of this. The school is ranked 71st by U.S. News, with its high acceptance rate (roughly 40 percent) and middling median GPAs (3.43) and LSAT scores (153) acting as an albatross. When you remove these inputs (and the school’s average academic and professional assessment survey scores used for 40 percent of U.S. News’ ranking), New Mexico proves that it can really compete on outcomes.
And low cost is exhibit A. In-state residents make just an $116,295 investment over three years. And that includes cost of living like housing and food (costs that students would bear anyway). The school also yielded a 97 percent placement rate for the class of 2014 – with 78 percent requiring bar passage. However, there is a tradeoff. Just 2 percent of last year’s grads ended up in big law. “If you go to this school,” one alum pointed out, “it will be very difficult to get a job outside of New Mexico and jobs in New Mexico don’t pay very well.” How bad is the pay? According to U.S. News, the average median starting salary in the private sector is $57,000. And it’s just $50,000 in the public sector.
New Mexico isn’t the only school that benefits from an outcome-based ranking. The University of Akron jumps from 127th with U.S. News to 50th on Above the Law’s rankings. Similarly, Louisiana State University (94th to 41st), Villanova University (87th to 38th), Rutgers University-Newark (87th to 42nd), St. Louis University (87th to 49th), the University of Tulsa (82nd to 48th), Georgia State (56th to 33rd), Houston Law Center (59th to 39th), Brigham Young (34th to 22nd), Boston College (34th to 16th), Washington & Lee (42nd to 30th) also earn higher ranks on Above the Law’s jobs-driven scale.
To see ranking histories and comparisons between Above the Law and U.S. News, go to the next page.