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Top 10 Law Schools for Elitists, Bleeding Hearts, MIAs, and the Despondent

Vivia Chen

March 28, 2013

Thank goodness that law professors have cushy schedules. Who else would have the time and energy to sort through that trove of job data put out by U.S. News Law School Rankings?

© tournee - Fotolia.comPepperdine University law professor Derek Muller has put out a series of top-10 (or you might say bottom-10) lists based on that data. Thanks to our friends at TaxProf Blog, we can spend our whole day parsing Muller's lists and their hidden meanings.

I won't go through all of them. Here are four that might be most relevant to prospective law students:

Top 10 law schools for unabashed elitism. We've reported on schools most favored by Big Law. But that's only a partial measure of elitism. What's more meaningful is a list that combines Big Law hiring with federal clerkships. The winners in this most coveted category:

1. Stanford University 72.9%
2. Columbia University 69.5%
3. University of Pennsylvania 67.1%
4. Yale University 66.4%
5. Harvard University 65.0%
6. Northwestern University 61.4%
7. Duke University 56.1%
8. University of Chicago 54.2%
9. New York University 54.1%
10. University of California—Berkeley 51.3%

Top 10 law schools for bleeding hearts. Here are the go-to schools if you want a full-time, long-term public interest job:

1.  New York University 17.1%
1.  CUNY 17.1%
3.  University of Chicago 15.3%
4.  University of Wisconsin–Madison 12.6%
5.  Yale University 11.2%; University of Virginia 11.2%
7.  University of California–Berkeley 10.9%
8.  University of Michigan 10.5%
9.  University of Arizona 9.5%
10. University of Denver 9.4%; Stanford University 9.4%

This is a fascinating list because it's one of the few places where elite law school students mingle with their far more proletariat counterparts. Though many of the top-ranking schools are represented here, it's curious that Harvard is absent, even though it is one of the biggest law schools in the country.

Top 10 law schools for missing in action. The following schools report strikingly high "employment status unknown" rates for grads:

1. Capital University 28.6%
2. Florida A&M University 27.6%
3. Thomas M. Cooley Law School 26.3%
4. Appalachian School of Law 23.9%
5. University of Memphis 15.5%
6. Texas Wesleyan University 15.2%
7. Southern Illinois University–Carbondale 13.6%
8. University of Mississippi 12.6%
9. Ave Maria School of Law 12.5%
10. Roger Williams University 12.0%

How can schools pocket tuition money from students, and then fail to follow up on what they are doing after graduation? Do the schools not care? Or would they rather not know?

Top 10 schools for the seriously depressed. Law schools with high percentage of grads who are unemployed and not seeking work:

1. Santa Clara University 15.9%
2. Willamette University 11.6%
3. University of the District of Columbia 11.5%
4. Chapman University 11.3%
5. Charlotte School of Law 10.3%
6. Southwestern Law School 9.4%
7. University of Hawaii–Manoa 7.9%
8. Western State College of Law 7.8%
9. University of Washington 7.7%
10. John Marshall Law School 6.8%

This is arguably the most depressing list of the bunch. Grads aren't even pretending that they're trying to get work. Given their low (or nonexistent) ranks, the schools on this list aren't totally surprising. Still, it's curious that Santa Clara (96th rank)—which is right smack in booming Silicon Valley—should be the leader on the list.

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

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The article asks why:
"How can schools pocket tuition money from students, and then fail to follow up on what they are doing after graduation? Do the schools not care? Or would they rather not know?"

The answer: SPAM

My university bombarded me with hundreds of emails every year full of information and solicitations I did not wish to receive. My school did not enforce their privacy policy, so now I refuse to give them my contact information.

The article questions: How can schools pocket tuition money from students, and then fail to follow up on what they are doing after graduation? Do the schools not care? Or would they rather not know?

It is not that law schools do not want to or try to follow up with their students. If those students don't want to be found - or if they can be found but refuse to answer their phones or emails or Facebook messages to confirm employment or lack thereof, there is nothing a law school can do but count them as employment status unknown. There is no way to compel graduates to report their employment status 9 months after graduation. The high number of unknowns may indicate a high level of frustration with a law school and/or unemployment, but you have no idea how hard schools work to track down all their grads. It is a months-long process with countless attempts to reach out to each student from as many different avenues as possible. Until the ABA finds a way to compel graduates to report their employment status and their salaries, all of the numbers are misleading, and it is not the fault of the law schools. I'm not saying law schools are blameless or above reproach, but this is one area where they have no control.

I have a similar statistical point to make. At the top levels, at least for the top 10 that you show, the percentage of students in a graduating class that take jobs with big firms isn't really a measure of how much big firms like that school; it's a measure of how much the students in that school want to work in big firms. It's true they need to have the opportunity to do so, so to that extent it's some indication of the appeal the school has to the firms, but I suspect that more than 50% of the class at Harvard has that choice or could if they wanted it. What these numbers may indicate, again focusing on the schools in the top ten of the list, is something about the culture of the schools and how oriented they are (relatively speaking) towards the commercial sector as opposed to the public sector or academia. For example, that statistic for Columbia has been relatively constant for decades and accurately reflects the school's pragmatic nature (to put it kindly), the school is a feeder for Wall Street and always has been.

"Though many of the top-ranking schools are represented here, it's curious that Harvard is absent, even though it is one of the biggest law schools in the country."

Given that the list is in percentage terms, this is not surprising at all. The fact that Harvard is huge means that even if there are high absolute numbers of people going into public interest. the percentage would probably remain fairly low.

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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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