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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Rankings Rancor, a contribution from Scofflaw

I've decided to give an opportunity for a couple of my students to speak to Prawfs and any others listening.  They chose to talk about rankings. As many of you know, as far as employment numbers for law schools, a JD-required job receives more points than a non-JD required job.  So, in turn, law schools often push their students to accept JD-required jobs.  My students make an insightful point about the rankings value of a JD required job versus a non-JD required job.  I understand that we don't want to equate a job at a prosecutor's office with a job at Applebee's, but surely there are great jobs in the corporate, nonprofit, or public policy world that we would be proud that our students are able to get after obtaining a JD.  There are plenty of business jobs or policy and think tank jobs that lawyers can do just as well as MBAs or MPAs or other generally smart people.  Why do we (through the U.S. news rankings) disincentivize law schools in helping students get non-JD required jobs?  Particularly as the legal market has not fully recovered as compared to other fields. I would be interested to hear from others on this topic.  (Obviously there is more than just this to criticize as far as U.S. News goes...)


By Steven Young and Trent Lowe, Utah Law School (S.J. Quinney College of Law) Class of 2016

The U.S. News & World Report has firmly entrenched itself as the czar of all law school ranking determinations. Those rankings provide a [somewhat] useful reference on where you ought to want to go to school. Those rankings, like many things in law school, seem to tell you what you ought to want. And the methodology of determining those rankings does not seem to take into account the desired end-state of the students themselves. It seems that many law schools follow the Milford School [of Law] methodology that “students shall be neither seen nor heard.” See Arrested Development: Public Relations (FOX Television Broadcast Jan. 25, 2004).

Most of us law students and future attorneys prefer to be told what to do, which classes to take, and which career to follow. It is true that the greatest route to happiness is a life of service devoted to following in the footsteps of the Harvey Specters or Harvey Birdmans of the world, but some among my law school class have different goals. I won’t name those individuals here to protect the innocent from the State Bar.

Not every school is a liberal paradise that allows the student body to flaunt convention as much as mine, but there might still be some students out there who don’t want to spend their days sitting at a desk Bluebooking, Shepardizing, or billing every six minutes of work to ACME Incorporated (Incorporated in, you guessed it, Delaware). The methodology of law school rankings does not take those people, or their misguided dreams, into account.

The scores are based on several factors, one of which is placement success. This is the sticking point for the scofflaws in my law school and in the legal community. According the U.S. News and World Report,

            “Full weight was given for graduates who had a full-time job not funded by the law school or the university that lasted at least a year and for which bar passage was required or a J.D. degree was an advantage….  Less weight went to full-time, long-term jobs that were professional or nonprofessional and did not require bar passage; to pursuit of an additional advanced degree; and to positions whose start dates were deferred.”

            Surely a J.D. is supposed to, but in very few ways does, prepare you for a job that requires you to pass the bar. But, what if we don’t want “real law job[s]” (as the experts call them) and would prefer something that law school has prepared us for in other ways, or want to stay in academia, isn’t that really the dream of all of us?

Maybe it’s not at a big firm, or being a hard-on-crime prosecutor, but if law school helps students get the job they want, then they should get credit for that, no matter the job. Understandably, some jobs are more legal than others, and maybe there should be a weighting system instead.

Regardless of the overall job-type that U.S. News feels they know is best, there should at least be an additional rubric of “I got where I wanted law school to take me and I love it.” Thanks to the current ranking system my law school could get fewer points for helping someone get the job that truly makes them happy.

Posted by Shima Baradaran Baughman on August 25, 2015 at 02:21 PM | Permalink


The real problem here is not the US News ranking preference for JD over non-JD jobs. It is that US News equates Bar Passage Required (BPR) and JD Advantage (JDA). Imagine a school in which 80% of the graduates get BPR jobs, and the other 20% get some "other" category, not JDA. Compare that to a school in which 40% of the graduates get BPR jobs, and another 50% get JDA (i.e., not jobs as lawyers per se). Because US News treats BPR and JDA the same, the second school -- with only half as many graduates placed in actual legal jobs -- gets more points than the first. Which school would you rather attend? (And note that the JDA category is malleable -- people filling out the forms can use their subjective judgment about whether the JD is actually an advantage -- so you don't even know what that 50% are really doing.)
The moral: Get actual data on where the school's graduates are going; don't just rely on the rankings and assume you'll be better off at the second school.

Posted by: Suzanna Sherry | Aug 26, 2015 11:19:58 AM

"a JD-required job receives more points than a non-JD required job"

Let's start here. First, there is no classification of JDR or non-JDR. There is Bar Passage Required, and JD Advantage.

In US News, BPR and JDA jobs get the same weight.

If you're asking why BPR and JDA jobs get more weight than Other Professional? I think that should be readily apparent. If the JD provided absolutely no competitive advantage in the hiring process, why should the school get much credit for the job placement?

The fancy, prestigious business jobs that don't require bar passage, like business consulting or lobbying, would be JDA not Other Pro, so schools are in fact incentivized to help students find these jobs.

"if law school helps students get the job they want, then they should get credit for that, no matter the job"

They do. If law school helps (ie: is an advantage) then it's a JDA job and US News gives the school credit.

Since this post got mentions "Scofflaw" in the title, Utah's humor newsletter, I'm going to assume that this post was intended as satire.

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Aug 26, 2015 7:50:18 AM

It seems to me to be eminently reasonable that law schools are judged, at least in part, by their ability to get their students jobs that actually require one to have graduated from law school. Does it "disincentivize" medical students to rank medical schools based on how many graduates ultimately become doctors? If you want to donate $175,000 in tuition to a law school and then pursue a career as a barista or contractor or politician, more power to you. But as a professional school, your alma mater should rightly be concerned with how many of its graduates enter the profession.

Posted by: pd | Aug 25, 2015 4:18:08 PM

I think it's right that some calibration of "satisfaction" with employment outcomes would be a better way to measure outputs--but, USNWR and other metrics being crude measures for what they are, that is much harder to identify, and probably why few try to do it. But more specifically to this point, the "big data" view suggests that graduates are much less satisfied with non-bar passage required jobs than other kinds of jobs. NALP each year, for instance, discloses the "job search status" of employed graduates, asking for the percentage of those in a given field who are "seeking other employment." Last year, about 15% of recent graduates in bar passage required jobs were seeing other employment, whereas 43% of those in JD advantage positions, 54% in "other professional" positions, and 87% in "non-professional" positions were seeking other employment.

Posted by: Derek Muller | Aug 25, 2015 3:24:26 PM

How do you go about telling if a law school "helped a student get a job" or "prepared [them] for in other ways" versus was an expensive mistake?

The problem isn't with the incentives once a student is already at law school -- at that point by all means the school should help graduates get jobs as major league pitchers if they can -- it's the incentives in the admissions office.

There's a big distinction between not wanting to get a JD required job and not being able to and so settling for something else. A distinction that is being cynically elided.

Posted by: Stuart Masterson | Aug 25, 2015 3:14:37 PM

There would seem to be two very obvious responses, based on the way you've posed the question:

1. It is "law" school. Is it really surprising that the tail doesn't wag the dog?

2. Applebees. You fail to offer (and, to be fair, neither does anyone else) any principled way to objectively distinguish non-JD required jobs that you feel should be US News approved and Applebees. Without that, it's all Applebees.

Posted by: shg | Aug 25, 2015 3:08:31 PM

I think this all makes complete sense. I have many students who have no desire to practice law, but instead go into finance, consulting, or labor. But I think that the focus on US News may be misplaced. I think US News only responded (years later, really) to the drumbeat of the law school scam and the LST crowd.

In other words, if students don't like rankings of their schools to be based on these types of judgments about what employment is worthy, they should take that message back to the folks who are shouting from the mountaintops that bar-required is the only thing that counts. I haven't seen a lot of that from prospective or actual students, and you are seeing the end result, for good or for bad.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Aug 25, 2015 2:50:11 PM

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