My School Dropped How Much in the *#(*&@#!$# Rankings?!?

Law school rankingsIf you haven’t heard by now, the new U.S. News law school rankings have arrived, like a steaming turd on the front doorstep of certain law schools. Why? Because U.S. News incorporated more granular job data into the rankings, and — well — the picture’s not pretty.

What Changed?

Bloomberg Law has an interview with Bob Morse, Director of Data Research at U.S. News, if you want all the gory details on the new methodology (or what they’re willing to reveal of it anyway — they won’t give the details because they’re “concerned about schools gaming the reporting of results,” which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement).

But the short version is that they’ve incorporated ABA data that breaks out jobs into long-term/short-term, part-time/full-time, JD-required/JD-advantage/No-JD-required, and so on.

Only long-term, full-time jobs where bar passage is required or a JD offers an advantage are given 100% credit in the rankings. Why? Because, as Morse puts it, these are the jobs students expected to get when they decided to go to law school.

What Happened?

The very top and very bottom of the list remained largely unchanged, but there were big drops (and correspondingly large gains) in the middle 50-150 schools. How big?

Down 38 places (University of San Francisco). Up 33 places (University of Mississippi). And so on.

Interestingly, most of the schools with big gains were public institutions in the South and Midwest, while the biggest losers were private schools on the East and West Coasts.

What Does this All Mean?

Some people argue that these rankings are pointless and silly. (Hi there, law school deans!)

And it probably is silly to freak out about any one school going up or down a few notches.

But, considered in the aggregate, this newly incorporated data sets off some huge red flags, ones I hope potential law students will stop and consider.

Take an example from the video — You know how many graduating UCLA Law students had “full credit” jobs (full-time, JD-required/JD-advantage, at least one year)? 46%. Chew on that for a while. Sure, there’s an argument about whether they’re including clerkships or whatever, but still — 46%? Really?

What this is telling me, if I didn’t already know, is that the traditional job market for new law grads is dismal. Abysmal. Horrible. Terrible. Very bad.

And, I’m sorry to say, it probably isn’t going to get much better any time soon.

The Bad News is Here to Stay

Deep down, I think a lot of law schools are in denial about how bad the job market really is. Like many law firm partners, the attitude is, “Once this dastardly recession finally ends, we’ll be back to the boom times and everything will be fine.”

I don’t think that’s right, for several reasons:

  • Globalization and technology have eliminated the need for many young lawyers. I remember my first summer associate assignment at the firm I worked at as 1L. Someone came into my office, dropped a box of documents, and handed me a highlighter. My task was to read the documents, looking for certain words. If I found them, I’d enter the document into a spreadsheet. I spent days doing this. When I started as an associate a few years later, there were no more physical documents — it was all done electronically. Now, with the rise of predictive coding, you don’t even need people. The machines are faster, and better. (In fairness, today you still need a few people to supervise the machines, but nothing like the armies of document reviewers you needed a decade ago for even the most trivial document review.) What happened to all those young lawyers? They’re unemployed.
  • Everything is getting more efficient. Think of all the amazing stuff the smartphone in your pocket can do. Scheduling, travel planning, legal research, client management, communication, billing, time tracking, and so on. The list goes on and on, with more applications coming on-line all the time. Think about how much time electronic filing saves the average lawyer. Sure, it’s not everywhere yet, but we’re getting close. When you can click a button and file a brief, instead of laboriously printing it out, reviewing all the copies, figuring out who’s going to bring it over to the courthouse and so on, you need a lot fewer hands on deck.
  • Clients expect efficiency, and they won’t (or can’t) pay for a lot of the bloat they used to tolerate. This starts at the BigLaw level, where clients have been resistant to paying for inexperienced associates for several years now. But I think it filters down. Speaking from personal experience, there have been tasks I wanted to hire a lawyer for, but I didn’t when I found out the cost. What did I do instead? I found a way to do it myself. (And I’m not alone in that. Unless you’re extremely wealthy in the U.S., chances are your legal needs aren’t being met.)
  • People can just look stuff up. Now that the entire collected knowledge of the world is readily available (thanks, Google!) there’s simply less need for attorneys to be the keeper of the kingdom. Say I want to appoint a guardian for my child. Very important, but what’s the first thing most people will do? Not pick up the phone and call their friendly neighborhood attorney. They’ll type “appoint a guardian” into Google, and get back tons of information about the process. We can argue about whether it’s a good idea to do this on your own, but the reality is that most people (assuming they even think to do it) will do it on their own. A generation ago, that wouldn’t have been possible, unless you were highly motivated and found a book in the library that happened to cover the topic.

What’s the takeaway here? A lot of the routine, rote work done in an average legal practice of 20 years ago is being done a lot faster today, if it’s being done at all. And that leaves a lot of new law grads with no prospects in the traditional legal marketplace.

It’s Not All Bad News

But don’t run away crying yet. It’s not all bad news!

I know a lot of people think this is crazy, but I’m actually something of an optimist about the future of the legal profession.

Why?

Because the same trends underlying the problems above open the door to potentially huge innovation.

And — critically — to the possibility of much more equitable access to justice.

I’ll just give you one example — someone I met last week at the truly fantastic ReInvent Law conference. (If you’re in NYC or London, make an attempt to attend when they come to town.)

His name is Raj Abhyanker, and in less than a decade he’s built his solo practice into a dizzying array of legal-related businesses, including one of the world’s largest trademark search engines, a law firm with more than 15,000 clients around the world, and now — closer to home — a legal bookstore in downtown Palo Alto that incorporates drop-in sessions with on-site attorneys. Seven days a week, 10am to 7pm, or — of course — you can book ahead online.

It’s easy to be cynical, but I went to the book store/law storefront, and it’s pretty flipping fantastic. It’s directly across the street from an Apple store, and it could hold its own. Dare we even think it, but could law actually be cool?

Like I said, I’m an optimist.

— – —

On that note, some shameless self-promotion for the conference we’re hosting (along with the Law School Toolbox) on April 13th in San Francisco:

Catapult 2013Catapult 2013: Tools for a 21st Century Legal Career
It’s for law students, young lawyers, and anyone else who’s interested in bringing this discussion into the sphere of legal education.

We can’t promise we’ll immediately find everyone a “full-credit” job, but we can promise you’ll leave with a good understanding of the opportunities in the current job market and the skills (in social media, personal branding, marketing, and so on) to position yourself to take advantage of those opportunities.

And it’ll be fun, promise! There’s even crème brûlée.

So take a look, won’t you? Catapult 2013: Tools for a 21st Century Legal Career


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Comments

  1. LiminyCricket says:

    I went to UCLA for law school and regret it every day. If you’re not in the top 10%, you have to either go on the doc review circuit, work for free, beg solos for jobs, or open your own firm. UCLA, of course, could care less what happens to me. They still send postcards asking for donations (!!!), but I’ve had to move back in with my parents. I’ll probably never get to own a house, a car, or get married.

    I’m on income-based repayment but when you take 15-20% of my meager salary, it means I’m very poor. Also, I end up paying much more in the long-term, especially if I make a salary above $50k, which I likely won’t. You also get stuck with a big tax bill at the end.

    Law school destroyed my life. It’s a business that places in the top 10% of students in good jobs and then induces the other 90% to sign up for large bank loans. The vast majority of law grads make extremely low salaries. Law school took away my future, my career, and shattered my life. If I could amputate a limb in exchange for returning my law degree and having my loans discharged, I would do it.

    If someone wanted to pass a bill where you could have your law school loans discharged in exchange for losing the “privilege” (puke) to practice law, it seems like it wouldn’t be outrageous.

    At the end of the day, it’s my own fault. I’m the sucker who believed the law school’s salary figures. I’m the sucker who signed the bank loans. It’s no one else’s fault but my own and I own it. I’d just like to warn others not to let law school destroy your life. Law schools will say anything, blow smoke, create misleading figures, and tell you lies (e.g., JDs are versatile, employers like them, income-based repayment means loans aren’t a big deal) with one goal in mind: to get you to sign your name to promissory notes that will burden your life with insanely large loans.

    Law school was a waste of my time and waste of my life. There is NOTHING that was positive about attending law school. The education was nothing I couldn’t have learned on my own and for free, for that matter.

    But I know all the undergrads who can’t seem to land a job yet will ignore my opinion. Law schools know this, of course. It’s a great business model designed to take advantage of youth’s deadly combination of naivety and ambition (and lest we forget, the legal ability to sign loan documents).

    Law schools are really just a loan origination business model, not unlike the housing subprime market several years back. As law schools continue to destroy and shatter thousands of young lives and saddle them with unmanageable debt and poor career prospects, the truth will slooooowly make its way into the public consciousness. But, given my interactions with the general population, it may well take a few decades before the public understands that law degrees are essentially worthless for the majority of graduates.

    • Thanks for writing, and I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling.

      This is a very interesting idea: “If someone wanted to pass a bill where you could have your law school loans discharged in exchange for losing the “privilege” (puke) to practice law, it seems like it wouldn’t be outrageous.” One argument often made for making student loans nondischargeable is the moral hazard problem. But this is quite a clever solution!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Apparently, the University of San Francisco dropped 38 places in the newest US News law school rankings. The fact that this is even possible illustrates the colossal stupidity of the law school rankings game. Every year, I have a student who says something like “Well, I am going to choose School X because they are ranked 10 spots higher than School Y.” A student will do this even when school Y was offering him scholarship money, and school X wasn’t. But next year, as this student is studying for his final 1L exams, an entirely new set of rankings will be published. How’s that going to feel, paying full price at a school that has now dropped below the school that was offering him a full ride? The rankings will readjust again when he’s a 2L. And again during when he’s a 3L. And again and again, every single year of his legal career. […]

  2. […] To finish reading this post, head on over to The Girl’s Guide to Law School. To finish reading this post, head on over to The Girl’s Guide to Law School. […]

  3. […] Apparently, the University of San Francisco dropped 38 places in the newest US News law school rankings. The fact that this is even possible illustrates the colossal stupidity of the law school rankings game. Every year, I have a student who says something like “Well, I am going to choose School X because they are ranked 10 spots higher than School Y.” A student will do this even when school Y was offering him scholarship money, and school X wasn’t. But next year, as this student is studying for his final 1L exams, an entirely new set of rankings will be published. How’s that going to feel, paying full price at a school that has now dropped below the school that was offering him a full ride? The rankings will readjust again when he’s a 2L. And again during when he’s a 3L. And again and again, every single year of his legal career. […]

  4. […] My School Dropped How Much in the *#(*&@#!$# Rankings?!? (The Girl’s Guide To Law School) […]

  5. […] Apparently, the University of San Francisco dropped 38 places in the newest US News law school rankings. The fact that this is even possible illustrates the colossal stupidity of the law school rankings game. Every year, I have a student who says something like "Well, I am going to choose School X because they are ranked 10 spots higher than School Y." A student will do this even when school Y was offering him scholarship money, and school X wasn't. But next year, as this student is studying for his final 1L exams, an entirely new set of rankings will be published. How's that going to feel, paying full price at a school that has now dropped below the school that was offering him a full ride? The rankings will readjust again when he's a 2L. And again during when he's a 3L. And again and again, every single year of his legal career. […]

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