Brian Leiter's Law School Reports

Brian Leiter
University of Chicago Law School

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Overrated and Underrated Law Schools in US News

The US News top 100 are here, and here is the list of "tier 3" and "tier 4" schools.  Which law schools do readers consider overrated and underrated relative to the more traditional academic criteria of merit that play only a minor role in the US News rankings?  (A comparison with the academic reputation results may shed some light on this, at least for the top 20-25.)

Underrated is always more pleasant to comment on, so here are the schools that strike me as obviously underrated (and even allowing for the fact that I'm not exactly a neutral observer as to the first two): Chicago at #6, Texas at #18, Illinois at #25, Wisconsin at #31, Hastings at #36, Arizona at #44, Arizona State at #51, Case Western at #53, Florida State at #53, Chicago-Kent at #60, Loyola/LA at #66, the two Rutgers law schools at #70 and #77, Miami at #70, San Diego at #85, Hofstra and Syracuse in tier 3, Wayne State in tier 4.  Truth be told, even a relatively well-informed observer of legal education like myself really is not in a position to comment on a majority of the tier 3 and tier 4 schools--so perhaps others will weigh in.  My guess is that in some sense most of them are being underrated simply by virtue of being dumped into a demeaning category like "tier 4."

I'll leave "overrated" to the commenters, though a comparison with the reputation scores suggests that at the high end the most obvious candidate is Penn (#6 in the overall ranking, circa #10 in reputation).  No anonymous comments (meaning I have to be able to confirm the identify of the poster from the name and e-mail address); post only once, as comments may take awhile to appear.

UPDATE:  An anonymous comment was submitted regarding one of the schools mentioned above, which I won't post in its original form since I have no way of confirming its accuracy.  This individual wrote in part:

Mr. Leiter,
I appreciate your blog, but can you please not cavalierly call [School X] underrated?  The employment prospects out of [School X] are awful. Having [School X] on your resume does not open any doors. Most of my 2L peers are working for nothing this summer. Almost half of the class does not have a job at graduation. Only the top 10% of students have a chance at a job which pays enough to justify the school's tuition....I could go on and on, but I could never express how much I regret attending this school. So sir, please, this is an important decision to students and your blog is highly credible. Please give applicants the whole picture.

As I noted, above, my judgments about "over" and "under"-rated were by reference to academic criteria, such as faculty and student quality.  But it is surely fair for professional students to emphasize, as this correspondent did, employment prospects.   Even so, I suspect that employment prospects do not distinguish many of the schools that are similarly ranked by US News (and not only because the self-reported employment stats printed in the magazine are largely works of the imagination).

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Comments

Brian,

The U.S. News specialty rankings are another source of reputational data. For example, Pacific McGeorge is the only non first-tier school on the International Law specialty ranking; that is quite an accomplishment. That we may be an "underrated school" is further supported by the fact that we also appear among the top 20 Advocacy programs.
But I write primarily to ask these questions: Do you have more confidence in the US News "academic reputation" score than in the specialty ranking reputation scores? Do the specialty ranking scores generally track your own surveys; or does the broader survey population (for US News) produce a significant difference? I would appreciate hearing your views on this.
Thom

Posted by: Thom Main | Apr 30, 2007 6:40:44 AM

The problem with the US News "academic reputation" score is the echo chamber; it's well-documented that US News reputation scores tend to follow overall US News rankings. That's why I'm going to beat the drums some more for Wayne State. Brian already was kind enough to characterize our faculty as "clearly in the top third" of US law schools. Looking solely to US News-measured academic reputation and LSAT medians, Wayne State falls in the top 100. On a rankings list that Brian characterized as "somewhat odd . . . (though not that much odder than U.S. News)", I smile to see Wayne State in the top 35; that's Lawdragon's ranking by number-of-prominent-alumni, and the reason is the school's historic dominance of the Detroit bar. But Tier 4? Pfaugh!

Posted by: Jon Weinberg | Apr 30, 2007 7:50:01 AM

I agree with most of Brian's list, particularly Texas, Florida State, San Diego, and Wayne State. I'd add Richmond (77), Santa Clara (91), UNLV (100), and Michigan State (Tier 3) to that list -- all have faculties that seem to me well above their U.S. News station. It's a little dangerous to point to overrated schools -- our host has uncharacteristically shown some reticence here -- but I suppose I might suggest that Baylor's faculty, looked at purely from the scholarly vantage, may not warrant a rank of 53rd. (The school's ranking seems to rest more on other factors, to be sure.)

Posted by: Larry Garvin | Apr 30, 2007 9:15:30 AM

Admittedly, I have not done a thorough search, but I would be surprised if there are many schools in the third tier that have a better publication record than the faculty at Roger Williams, which is in the fourth. Since 1993 (the year the law school began operations) its faculty have published in the general law reviews at California (Berkeley)(forthcoming), Virginia, Northwestern, Georgetown, U.S.C., Texas, Wash. U., B.U., Minnesota, Emory, G.W., Iowa, Fordham, Illinois, Washington & Lee, William & Mary, Ohio State, Wisconsin, George Mason, U.C. – Davis, Alabama, U.C.- Hastings, Colorado, Maryland, Wake Forest, Arizona, S.M.U., Tulane, and U. Conn., all schools ranked in the top 50 in the latest U.S. News ranking.

And this is not just the product of a couple of productive faculty. The list above represents 49 articles written by 15 members of a faculty of about 23. And we are about to be joined by Courtney Cahill, a lateral from Toledo, whose first two articles were published by Northwestern and Washington & Lee.

(I am the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Roger Williams).

Posted by: Michael Yelnosky | Apr 30, 2007 11:31:06 AM

I am not sure how you can call U of Chicago underrated. It is rated number 6. Do you believe it is better than CLS or NYU? A professor of mine who went there (back when it was number 3), chose it over Stanford and claimed it was a great experience.

Nonetheless, he had an offer from them and chose not to go there. He believes the school is declining (slightly). He mentioned that they have not won a lateral hire contest for professors over any top school since he can remember. Chicago has a great faculty but they have few really top young professors. I give them a lot of credit though for clerkships. They have been smart enough to serve as a feeder for most of the conservative justices. If other top schools, NYU, CLS, or Penn were smart, they would promote the federalist society and do likewise. It is far easier to get a clerkship with Scalia than Ginsburg, just because so many more law students are liberal.

It also seems as slightly self-serving than you constantly promote Texas and Chicago. You work at Texas and may be accepting an offer at Chicago.

Posted by: NYU 3L | May 5, 2007 7:01:48 PM

You write: "I am not sure how you can call U of Chicago underrated. It is rated number 6."

Only Yale is superior to it along most academic dimensions, and even Yale has a lower per capita faculty quality than Chicago. There really isn't any academic justification for putting Chicago behind Columbia, NYU, or Stanford, as every other measure of academic excellence (clerkships, faculty impact, faculty reputation etc.) bears out. Having also taught at Yale, let me observe that Chicago clearly gives the superior legal education, but that, of course, is not a matter that lends itself to quantification.

You write: "A professor of mine who went there (back when it was number 3), chose it over Stanford and claimed it was a great experience. Nonetheless, he had an offer from them and chose not to go there. He believes the school is declining (slightly). He mentioned that they have not won a lateral hire contest for professors over any top school since he can remember."

I'm a bit loathe to respond to hearsay, which may or may not be accurate (though NYU has been particularly sensitive for quite some time to its standing vis-a-vis Chicago, which makes me think the comments are credible). (I am also struck by your fixation on US News rankings! Chicago was #3 and #4 in US News before they made an adjustment in how the magazine reports expenditures data--that's the only change!) In any case, it wasn't very long ago that Chicago recruited Mary Anne Case from UVA, who turned down NYU in the process. It was even more recently that Carolyn Frantz, a rookie candidate, turned down NYU for Chicago (though she has since decided she prefers practice). In the last five years, Lisa Bernstein and David Weisbach have turned down, respectively, Yale and Harvard, to remain at Chicago. But the whole premise of this critique is faulty, since there is precious little evidence in the legal academy that having multiple schools pursuing the same candidate reliably indicates quality, as opposed to chains of friendship.

You write, "Chicago has a great faculty but they have few really top young professors."

Perhaps if "young" means under the age of 25.

You write: "I give them a lot of credit though for clerkships. They have been smart enough to serve as a feeder for most of the conservative justices. If other top schools, NYU, CLS, or Penn were smart, they would promote the federalist society and do likewise. It is far easier to get a clerkship with Scalia than Ginsburg, just because so many more law students are liberal."

Your ignorance about the facts is really quite impressive. Justice Thomas seems to be the only ideologically driven hirer of clerks, though Justice Alito (who has yet to hire any Chicago grads) may turn out to be similar. The "liberal" Justice Ginsburg has not hired any NYU grads, which may suggest that politics is not the only explanation at work here.

You write, "It also seems as slightly self-serving than you constantly promote Texas and Chicago. You work at Texas and may be accepting an offer at Chicago."

That I would "benefit" in some intangible way by Texas being ranked appropriately has no bearing on the fact that it is underranked by US News, though it is not along among large state law schools in being so slighted. My opinion that Chicago is underranked long predates any association I had with that school at all. Why not look at some of the older data at www.leiterrankings.com?

Posted by: Brian Leiter | May 6, 2007 6:52:14 AM

Brian, if Chicago is really better than Columbia, then why do students with higher LSAT scores appear to choose Columbia over Chicago?

I have a guess - please tell me if you agree. I suspect that the student quality rankings reflect students' perception of the relative quality of the schools - so for example, Columbia is preferable to NYU and Chicago, Harvard is preferable to Columbia, etc. Faculty reputation is only one factor students take into account when they rank law schools - they probably also think about the quality of the teaching, student to faculty ratio, location, post-graduation employment prospects, and especially the quality of their fellow students.

Of course, even if I am right, then it may still make sense for you to say that "there is no academic justification" for ranking e.g. Columbia ahead of Chicago. But "academic" has to be understood in a certain way: it would mean the scholarly quality of the faculty, not necessarily the overall academic experience of the students.

I look forward to hearing what you have to say about this.

Posted by: JK | May 10, 2007 7:59:19 AM

A point of clarification: I don't think Chicago is better than Columbia, I just don't think there is any academic justification for ranking Columbia or NYU or Stanford ahead of Chicago.

I think you are reading way too much into the LSAT scores. From other kinds of evidence--Supreme Court clerkships, placement in law teaching--it would seem the top end of the Chicago class is stronger than the top end of the Columbia class, but even that is a coarse comparison. A difference between a 172 LSAT and a 174 is quite literally meaningless, especially without other information about undergraduate majors, GPAs etc.

All that being said, I think the main explanation for Columbia's slightly higher LSAT scores is that it is in New York City, and there is just a huge pool of applicants committed to the Northeast corridor. That would then leave the Columbia vs. NYU question, but we'd really have to know more about admissions criteria to know what's really going on.

Posted by: Brian Leiter | May 10, 2007 8:17:34 AM

I think it's pretty clear to anyone in the law firm world that Chicago is underrated. It's faculty is the most quoted, it's school is highly respected, and it's graduates are top-notch and don't have egos bursting out of their crania.

Posted by: James | Mar 12, 2008 1:17:20 AM

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