Is There More to Law School Than a Prestige Ranking?

by Vault Law Editors | February 28, 2011

  • My Vault

The National Law Journal (“NLJ”) has released the results of its Go-To Law Schools Report (“the Report”). The Report ranks the top 50 law schools with the highest percentage of 2010 graduates hired by NLJ 250 firms (NLJ’s ranking of the 250 largest law firms in the United States) and documents which schools are “firm favorites” of the top firms in the NLJ 250. According to the Report, the top ten schools with the highest percentage of 2010 graduates working at NLJ 250 firms are:

1.University of Chicago Law School
2.Cornell Law School
3.Columbia Law School
4.University of Pennsylvania Law School
5.Harvard Law School
6.University of Virginia School of Law
7.University of California, Berkeley School of Law
8.Northwestern University School of Law
9.New York University School of Law
10.University of Michigan Law School.

Not surprisingly, NLJ’s survey found that fewer 2010 law school graduates were employed at NLJ 250 firms than those who graduated in 2009. According to the NLJ, “[t]he percentage of 2010 graduates taking jobs at NLJ 250 law firms was 27.3%, compared with 30.3% of 2009 graduates.” But for two schools, 2010 brought good news for law-firm employment: Chicago Law and Cornell Law “supplied nearly 3% more of their graduates to the nation's 250 largest law firms, compared with 2009.”

What some might find surprising, though, are the law schools included in the top 50 ranking. The list isn’t a regurgitation of the US News & World Report (“USN&WR”) tier 1 ranking—the ranking itself is quite different, and while it includes some of the USN&WR tier 1 schools, it also includes several schools outside of USN&WR’s first tier. The same is true for the “firm favorites” list, which includes both schools from the first tier and those outside of it.

While the Report confirms what we already know: the legal job market is down. It also brings forth an important consideration for prospective law students (and a topic David and I recently discussed in a Lexis Nexis podcast): how important is ranking to your law school selection, and should it be the most important factor. Certainly, law school rankings are a consideration in choosing a school—like it or not, prestige is at the center of the legal industry. But it isn’t always as easy as picking the higher ranked school—would you choose a school with inferior employment and salary statistics because it is ranked five places higher?

I’m sure some people would, and that’s fine. But that measure doesn’t work for everyone—law school selection is a personal choice, and you must decide which factors are important to you and your legal future. Surveys like NLJ’s Go-To Law Schools Report demonstrate that there is more to a law school than its prestige ranking. Certain schools may shine in private sector employment placement, public sector employment placement, internship placement, etc. Factors ranging from location to alumni involvement to the career services office to the faculty may impact a school’s success in various areas. Decide what is important to you, and explore how the law schools on your list measure up.

National Law Journal Go-To Law School Report
NLJ 250
Us News & World Report Law School Rankings

Read More:
Digging Deeper Into the Law-School Investment: Podcast with Vault.com Editors

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Filed Under: Law

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