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Turning Law School Rankings Upside Down

By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 25, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Ranking the 'best' law schools depends on who you ask.

For example, if you ask U.S. News & World Report, the top law schools are Yale, Stanford, and Harvard. That's based on 12 "measures of quality," including peer assessment, GPA, LSAT, etc.

But if you ask Above the Law, you'll get a very different answer because they rank by job placement. It's a simpler approach, if you can sort out the skunks in the litter.

Skunks in the Litter

ATL prides itself on provocative legal commentary, which is probably why they start their podcast on top law schools with a long conversation about skunks. It seems to have little to do with law school rankings, but illustrates how they see things.

Elie Mystal, a Harvard lawyer who quit to become an "online provocateur," says he can't get rid of the skunks in his neighborhood. Joe Patrice, his ATL foil on the podcast, suggests a can of white paint for a stripe.

"Paint it on a black cat, and they'll just follow that," Patrice muses. "I've learned that from over years of watching cartoons."

It takes five minutes for these cats to warm up, so you may want to just read their rankings. Here's the bottom line on their top three: University of Chicago, University of Virginia, and Duke University.

Job Placement Ranking

The "job placement" ranking also dovetails into cost of living, tuition, and other money issues. That's why otherwise "top" schools like New York University School of Law, where Patrice attended, doesn't make it in the ATL top 50.

ATL says large public law schools in the South and Texas, in particular, fared well in the rankings. These schools offer a really good value, they say. If you know where you want to work, why go out of state?

The money approach is limited, of course, but offers practical information and some market insight. Recent salary increases for associates and shifts in law school economics show there is "a new normal" in the legal market, ATL says.

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