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February 6, 2006

"National" and "Regional" Law Schools

Students, academics, and law schools themselves often talk in terms of schools being "national" or "regional," though there doesn't seem to be an agreed-upon set of criteria at work in such discussions.  The vast majority of ABA-approved law schools are "national," for example, in offering a curriculum that is not specific to the state jurisdiction in which the school is located, so in terms of course offerings, "national" is the norm.  More interesting to prospective students, and more likely what is at stake when students wonder whether a school is "national," are the employment prospects of graduates.  Genuinely "national" law schools draw prospective employers to campus from around the nation, not just from the immediate area in which the school is located; more "regional" law schools mainly draw employers to campus from the immediate region.  (The best advice for students is:  ask to see a list of employers recruiting on campus--that will tell you more about employment prospects, and the "national" reach of the degree, than just about anything else.)

Data from the National Association for Law Placement on the number of firms interviewing on campus (and reprinted in the September National Jurist) gives some picture about which schools are "national" and which "regional", though the data is very crude for a variety of reasons:  (1) it tells us nothing about how many positions each firm is looking to fill (a typical large Texas firm, for example, will often be prepared to hire a half-dozen or more UT grads in a given year); (2) it tells us nothing about the caliber of the firms interviewing on campus; and (3) employers have a variety of reasons for interviewing at a school apart from the quality of the legal education--for example:  the school is near the firm's offices (a boon for schools in cities like New York and D.C. with huge numbers of law firms); the firm has been successful in recruiting students from the school in the past; size of the school (the more students, the more likely an employer is to land a graduate); affirmative action considerations; and so on. 

Although Duke has more firms coming to campus than Yale according to the NALP data, this surely isn't because anyone is in doubt about the relative merits of these schools, but because many employers find they stand no chance of getting Yale grads, who are being sought after by the most attractive/lucrative employers in the nation.  That more firms go to Virginia than Columbia surely has far more to do with the fact that Columbia grads overwhelmingly stay in New York City, where there are a multitude of attractive practice opportunities, whereas most Virginia grads leave the area, since none of the local markets compare to New York or Washington, D.C. or Los Angeles.

Given the limits of this information, noted above, I've listed the schools in broad categories based on the number of firms interviewing on campus according to NALP: 

Over 800 firms:  Georgetown, Harvard [note, of course, that Georgetown and Harvard are the two largest top law schools in the country in terms of student population]

Over 700 firms:  Virginia

Over 600 firms:  Duke, Michigan, NYU

Over 500 firms:  Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Penn, Stanford

Over 400 firms:  George Washington, Howard, Northwestern, Texas, Yale

Over 300 firms:  Cornell, UCLA, Vanderbilt

Over 200 firms:  Boston College, Boston Univ., Emory, Fordham, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Southern California, UC Hastings, William & Mary (and Washington & Lee is very close, with 197)

Over 150 firms:  UC Davis

Over 100 firms:  American, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Houston, Illinois, Iowa, Loyola/Los Angeles, Minnesota, SMU, Tulane, Wake Forest, Wash U/St. Louis, Wisconsin

72-94 firms:  Baylor, Brigham Young, Brooklyn, Cardozo, Case Western, Catholic, George Mason, Indiana, Miami, Ohio State, Rutgers-Camden, Rutgers-Newark, San Diego, Santa Clara, Temple, Villanova, Washington/Seattle

49-66 firms:  Chicago-Kent, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Denver, Florida State, Kansas, LSU, Maryland, Oregon, Penn State, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seton Hall, South Carolina, South Texas, St. John's, Tennessee.  (And on the cusp:  Arizona [47], Loyola-Chicago [47], Mississippi [47], Utah [46], Georgia State [45], Missouri-Columbia [45].)

A sampling of some others:  New York Law School-36; Alabama-34; Wayne State-29; Hofstra-27; Pepperdine-21; McGeorge-19; SUNY-Buffalo-16; Syracuse-16; Cal Western-10; Hawaii-8; Chapman-4; Cooley-3.

One reasonable interprtation of this data is that there are about 20 "national" law schools, and another ten-or-so borderline national law schools.

Posted by Brian Leiter on February 6, 2006 in Rankings, Student Advice | Permalink


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Note that Toronto and McGill both attract a significant number of American law firms to interviews (I'm guessing they would fall in the 100-149 slot, but I could be wrong).

Posted by: alkali | Feb 6, 2006 8:57:35 AM

I think this is a a relatively fair way of looking at it, but I would argue that there are probably fewer than 20 national schools if you consider it from the perspective of what grade performance it takes at each school to be sucessful outside each schools traditional home markets (at least in the OCI recruiting process that big firms participate in). I suspect that the median student at GW or UCLA might not find their schools to be as "national" as the median student at a Northwestern or Cornell. That data, which would be really useful to prospective students, will never be forthcoming from law schools

Posted by: anon | Feb 6, 2006 8:49:45 PM

Your coupling of GW and UCLA is way off the mark. UCLA is ranked 14th in Leiter's EQR and 15th by US News; GW is 22 and 20. The "national" hiring prospects at UCLA as far as what grades are required to get a big firm job outside of the home market are considerably greater than those at GW, and most likely comparable (if not better) than Cornell and Northwestern.

Posted by: anon 2 | Feb 7, 2006 11:56:13 PM

What do rankings--and in particular Leiter's EQR--have to do with hiring prospects? How many big-law recruiters do you think have even heard of Leiter? I mean no disrespect to our host, but he writes primarily for academics; hell, I'm sure he'd prefer it if firms paid more attention to his rankings.

Posted by: Marc J. | Feb 8, 2006 9:28:15 AM

my intention was to state my intuition that some schools within the subgroup Dr. Leiter identified as national have better opportunities than others.

You may be right that UCLA has better national placement throughout their class than the other schools I mentioned, but aba data reveals that over 85% of ucla's class stays in CA, which suggests, while UCLA definitely enjoys a good national rep, that it's national placement, even in light of the self selection factors of people who want to stay in CA, might be harder to attain if you are an average student.

I am happy to be proven wrong on my suspicions; i have nothing against GW or UCLA...But my question to you is: How do you know? If you have hard data, please share. The problem is that schools will never really release data about this stuff. And it is this data that would be the most helpful to prospective students. All we have are anecdotal stories/evidence from people (including me) who likely have imperfect information.

Posted by: anon | Feb 8, 2006 10:08:51 AM

I have edited a few of these comments a bit, largely for factual reasons. It would no doubt be interesting to know what grade cut-offs firms use at different schools, but most of the claims being made here, including some I let through, strike me as rank speculation. I know many good firms will hire someone from Harvard Law School no matter what their grades are; I know those same firms won't do that for someone from Northwestern or Duke or Texas or UCLA. Beyond that, I've never seen reliable information on this topic. If someone has such information, please do post it.

I actually know of some law firms that do consult my rankings (though I'm not sure what they're consulting it for!), though anecdotal evidence suggests more consult US News. But even more anecdotal evidence suggests that most law firms aren't interested in US News rankings either: established firms have their own "internal rankings" as it were, based on experience. These are not much affected by rating efforts by me or anyone else.

Posted by: Brian Leiter | Feb 8, 2006 1:10:57 PM

I find it fascinating that, Hastings with high enrollment figure (1,261) and being situated in a major legal market, ranks on par with USC. On the other hand, UC Davis has very low enrollment (564) and is more then 90 miles from San Francisco. Yet it has 3/4 as many of major firm interviewers, but is less than 1/2 the student body. It would be interesting to see the figures reformulated into a "per capita" list. One wonders the extend to which being "a bit" outside a legal markets effects hiring practices, such as Davis being a bit outside of San Francisco, or Notre Dame being a bit outside of Chicago.

Posted by: Jaime Raba | Feb 8, 2006 1:38:26 PM

Regarding Jamie Raba's observation, remember that we don't know how many positions these firms are filling. It could be, for example, that the firms going to Hastings are planning on hiring twice as many Hastings's grads as the firms at Davis are planning on hiring. I have no reason to think that is true (or false), but facts like these are relevant to any comparisons.

Posted by: Brian Leiter | Feb 8, 2006 4:14:46 PM

It's fair and correct to point out that I was speculating, but I thought I was equivocal enough in my language to avoid stating absolutes. My opinion was based on the experiences of friends that are either currently enrolled at those places or are recent graduates, but still this is not better than generally applying one individuals anecdotes. I apologize if they came across as generalized statements or fostered misinformation. that was not my intention.

But I can speak more forcefully to my experience at my school, which falls near the back end of your semi-national category. Boiling it down to a sentence, my school comes too close, in my opinion, to selling prospective students a bill of goods in regards to national prospects. I wonder if this situation is replicated at other schools that are trying to style themselves after the true national schools, however you define them.

It's an important conversation to have 1)given skyrocketing tuition; 2)the common situation where students weigh scholarship money at the semi-national versus a national at full price; or 3) making the decision on whether to go to law school at all.

Posted by: anon | Feb 8, 2006 4:16:36 PM

As someone who will be entering law school in the fall and attempting to decide between some of these schools, I find it surprising that Illinois ranks in that 100+ group with schools like American and Florida, when in terms of student quality, faculty quality, and reputation it seems to more closely align with schools like Emory and Notre Dame in that 200+ group (one could also say the same thing for Minnesota). My first thought is that maybe this is a result of location: Urbana-Champaign is kind of out of the way, and perhaps there is a strong preference among the students to work in Chicago.

Posted by: Joe Bourne | Feb 9, 2006 11:20:21 AM

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