The ATL Top 50 Law School rankings are out and, as usual, we’re going to turn a critical eye toward our own system. Because Duke, UVA, and Cornell are all excellent schools, but are they really the top 3 law schools in the country? How did we even arrive at these numbers?
Our rankings continue to provide an invaluable service by reorienting the law school decision around a student’s long-term financial and career prospects as opposed to pure prestige, but there are definitely results in here that beg for closer inspection.
1. What Happened To The Yales And Harvards?
The ATL Top 50 ranking isn’t trying to emulate other rankings out there. As opposed to privileging a law school’s “inputs” — GPAs and LSAT scores — we put our thumb on the school’s outputs and reward schools offering students the best return on investment. So Yale might be a better law school in the abstract, but that doesn’t mean it’s giving you the best bang for your educational buck compared to another traditional “T14” school like Duke.
But here’s the thing… Yale and Harvard and Stanford used to top our ranking too. The initial ATL Top 50 ranking placed the HYS triad in the top three places. The methodology hasn’t really changed over that run, so how did we get here?
It appears to be a combination of schools upping their job placement game and the vagaries of cost of living. Taking an isolated comparison, Duke’s all-in cost of attendance is $337,238 per Law School Transparency, Stanford is going to run someone $383,937. Meanwhile, Duke has a 93.6 percent employment score and a 2.4 percent underemployment score while Stanford has an 82.6 percent employment score and a 12 percent underemployment score.
This trend is more interesting to me than the 2022 snapshot. The ATL methodology isn’t intentionally detrimental to the HYS schools… but from the start of the rankings until today those schools have made choices that dragged them from the podium. That says something about the philosophy guiding the schools right now.
2. Pandemic Ripple Effects?
While Vanderbilt is up 10 places into the top 5 and BYU is up 14 slots to 22nd, the biggest winners are a little further down the list.
Fordham and Emory appear at 28 and 29 after not being ranked at all last year meaning they’re both up at least 20 places. What happened there?
Fordham boasts an 87.7 percent employment rate and 4.4 percent underemployment rate. Last year, those figures were 78.6 and 13.9. Emory is at 80.4 and 8.2, but last year the employment score was 68.4 percent and underemployment was at 17.4 percent. For both schools, 2022 marked a jump from the norm. Both schools all saw a big leap in “quality” job placements — which our methodology defines as NLJ 250 firms or federal clerkships.
With law firms moving toward a post-pandemic model, maybe these programs with deep connections to their local job markets saw some homefield advantage when firms started looking to staff back up? I don’t know if these students had in-person interview opportunities that out of town schools didn’t, but that could explain these bumps.
3. Hi Vandy!
As noted above, Vanderbilt leapt 10 slots and it also did it with employment. While the school’s 6-point jump wasn’t as dramatic as what happened to Fordham and Emory, that’s just because Vanderbilt didn’t have as far to climb and its 90.1 percent employment figure in overall employment placed it higher than Berkeley, Penn, UT, Harvard, UCLA, or Yale. It also went up 10 percentage points in the quality jobs number to 75.6 percent, also higher than a lot of other brand-name schools.
4. Seriously Though, What’s Up With Yale And Stanford?
Yale and Stanford sit atop the US News Rankings but really struggled in the ATL rankings this year with Yale down 9 spots to 15th and Stanford getting clobbered 19 places to 27th.
Yale’s employment score dropped around 9 points and its underemployment score jumped by about 9 as well. With a small class size, it only takes a few tough breaks to experience that kind of swing so maybe we can’t read a ton into its dip.
Stanford’s job numbers did take a turn for the worse but only by 3 percent or so. Unfortunately for the Palo Alto school, it took a step back in every category our methodology measures and while the overall jobs numbers didn’t fall dramatically, the quality jobs score fell 9 points, from 74.9 percent to 66.3 percent.
5. Public Schools?
It’s actually a little surprising that public schools aren’t doing better in this ranking. Given the emphasis on costs and jobs, state schools with lower tuition and built-in job pipelines should do better in this methodology. Yet there are more state schools in the US News top 10 (3) than the ATL top 10 (2). ATL makes up for it with Texas, Berkeley, and Georgia cracking the top 14 while US News doesn’t get another public school until UCLA at 15th, but all told US News has 15 schools in the top 30 (kind of a cheat because of ties, but whatever) and ATL has 10.
I’m not even sure what to do with this. It just seems curious.
Some stuff to think about as you peruse the rankings. Good luck to prospective students out there.
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.
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