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Above the Law Rankings? Below the Bar.


The Above the Law rankings are out. Yawn.

Law School Transparency and NALP have made rankings pretty much obsolete these days. Why should you rank your schools by someone else’s formula, someone else’s priorities. Instead, head on over to Law School Transparency and look at the jobs and cost data yourself. Kudos to ATL for focusing on costs and employment, but it’s so much more satisfying to see something like this:

Monthly loan payments? Yeah I can relate to that—$3,484 buys a lot of spin classes. That red number? It even looks scary.

With rankings, US News, ATL, or someone else has picked which factors should matter to you and by how much. The nice thing about ATL is that they’re plainly open about how they make sausage:

You might not care about how many active federal judges or SCOTUS clerks come from your school, or you might care a helluva lot more than just 10%. Also the “ATL Alumni Rating” is a bit fishy—ATL says that they need to use a proprietary factor just to make the rankings their own—but you might not care one bit what ATL’s visitors think of your school.

Another weird thing about the ATL rankings is just how many big swings there are in the relative rankings of the schools. Don’t be fooled into thinking that one year Harvard is the best law school in the country, and then the next year Penn fights its way above Harvard. It just doesn’t work that way.

Finally, education cost is very important, maybe more important than ATL even thinks it is. But it’s likely that your education costs are individual to you—based on your individual financial packages. So a ranking that assumes you’re paying full freight might not be so useful to you.

That said, ATL does rankings better at every step than US News, which is more opaque and has a more questionable methodology. Most infamously, US News uses library size in its formula. If you see someone in the library pulling books off the shelves they’re either from the law review or—true story—they’re trying to rob the place. No one uses the books in the library for any sane purpose.

So do yourself a favor this law school admissions season. Fire up your own spreadsheet, gather the data you need—either from Law School Transparency or from your school’s NALP report (just google “[SchoolName] NALP report” and enjoy all that sweet, sweet data).

You want to have your morning latte your way. You should have your law school rankings your way too. Especially if you’re going to be spending a thousand lattes’s worth of money every month on your law school loans.