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How Students Rank Law Schools

Vivia Chen

February 11, 2013


Bored with those predictable U.S. News and World Reports rankings of top law schools? Confused by which law schools rate as the "go-to" institutions for Big Law? Well, let's ditch those staid rankings and take a fresh view of the subject—from the students' perspective.

Beach_Goers © Yuri Arcurs - Fotolia.com1. Top law schools for fun, competitiveness, and workload manageability. From graduateprograms.com, law school rankings from those in the trenches:

Awesomely Fun Law Schools. Hey, if you're not going to get a job when you get out of law school anyway, why not pick a really fun place to spend three years? The top five schools for a great social life:

1. Washington University in St. Louis
2. University of California–Berkeley
3. The University of Texas at Austin
4. University of Colorado at Boulder
5. Stanford University

I won't analyze this most critical quality of life category because Staci Zaretsky at Above the Law already does a very thorough job. I'm just baffled that there are no Florida schools in the mix—I mean, isn't the omission practically sacrilegious, since the Sunshine State is the mother of all party schools?

Ulcer-Inducing Law Schools. The top five schools in the dreaded category of being most academically competitive:

1. Vanderbilt University
2. Stanford University
3. University of Michigan–Ann Arbor
4. Baylor University
5. Cornell University

Two things jump out at me in this category. First, it seems Baylor keeps cropping up on this dubious honor list (the Princeton Review said it has the most competitive students in the nation)—not a pleasant thing, considering that it's only ranked number 51 in U.S. World and stuck in Waco, Texas. Second, it's puzzling to me that Stanford manages to rank high both in the social and competitiveness category. (Are Stanford law students backstabbing their classmates but partying hard with undergrads?)

Lifestyle Law Schools. The top five schools with most manageable workloads:

1. Baylor University
2. University of Minnesota–Twin Cities
3. Cornell University
4. University of Miami
5. Columbia University

Again, it's curious that some schools that ranked high in competitiveness also get good marks for manageable workloads (Baylor and Cornell). You'd think that if it's a dog-eat-dog environment, you'd have to work like a dog too.

2. Top of the chutzpah rank: The Southern California Institute of Law. Arguably, there are many contenders in this category (click here and here), but this is the latest winner.

From Karen Sloan of The National Law Journal

A rule that requires state-accredited law schools in California to maintain bar passage rates of at least 40 percent has prompted a federal lawsuit.

The Southern California Institute of Law filed suit on February 4 against 22 sitting and former members of the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. It alleged that the recently adopted bar passage minimum—and the committee's authority to oversee state-accredited law schools in the first place—are unconstitutional.

The school argued that the rule discriminates against older students and working parent students "who may lack access to pricy bar exam prep courses." Moreover, it argued that the 40 percent figure was "picked arbitrarily, without any proof that a school's bar passage rate is a reflection of the quality of its educational program."

Frankly, requiring that less than half of your graduates pass the bar doesn't seem too unreasonable. In fact, that's a pretty low threshold. Yet, the school has the nerve to argue there's no correlation between educational quality and bar passage rate.

I mean, if you can't even get most of your students to pass the bar on the first try, what's the point? I doubt these poor students at the Southern California Institute of Law are there to soak up legal theory.


Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email chief blogger Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. 

 Follow The Careerist on Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist


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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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