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The (Usually) Good Data
behind the (Usually) Bad Rankings

Okay, now that I've trashed the concept of an overall ranking and the concept of a "methodology" that is as secret as Merlin's formula for immortality, let me tell you how and why I use the USNews DATA -- NOT the overall ranking -- on a regular basis.

In order to use the data I'm showing you here, you must pay money. The paid version is only $15; you can practically spend that at a McDonald's these days. So don't complain about the expense; you'll spend over $1,000 applying to law school. Cough up the fifteen bucks!

To get to any relevant data, you have to click on the name of a law school.

Placement Data

US News publishes the placement rate for all applicants at graduation, and at 9 months after graduation. They rate the first number as 20% of a schools' placement success and the second at 70%.

I prefer putting greater weight on placement at graduation, since this number more likely reflects the number of graduates who have jobs they want (as opposed to what they could get to pay the bills). So I look at the US News Careers section to see the percent placed at graduation. An enormous number of schools do not report this data. The ABA doesn't require it either. So we're left with a big chunk of "I don't know."

Here's What I Do:

I look at "peer schools" (those in the same job market with similar rankings) and compare to those that do publish.

  • For instance, in 2011, Hofstra and Pace did not publish per cent employed at graduation. Brooklyn, Cardozo, and St. John's all published over 60% employed. Seton Hall and Rutgers Newark published even higher numbers. Buffalo had over 50% employed, and Albany nearly that many. I assume that Hofstra and Pace had perhaps 40% employed.
    • Am I right? How can anyone know? What we do know is that unpublished data leaves unanswered questions, and almost certainly because the answers are embarrassing.

Placement by Region

The most valuable data USNews publishes — which cannot be equaled anywhere else — is placement by region. Law schools may have this data on their web pages, but no other source compiles it for you so neatly. In fact, this study alone is well worth the $15 you pay to USNews to see it.

Here's an example:

Both Minnesota and Iowa are highly-ranked schools in the region identified as West North Central -- i.e., west of Chicago. Since Iowa is in a small town and Minnesota's in a major city, you might expect Minnesota to place more graduates in DC or L.A. But here's the actual result [data courtesy US News 2012 ed., pie charts courtesy Microsoft Excel]

jobs by region

Iowa places many more grads in both DC and Chicago than does Minnesota. It also has a sizable chunk in Denver, while Minnesota does better in California. Iowa places over 50% out of region, while Minnesota keeps more than 50% at home.

All placement data has a large unknowable factor — where do graduates want to work? UM may start with more Minnesotans who want to stay home, while Iowa may take more nonresidents and thus place more widely. There's no way to know whether people are working where they want — but at least we know where they're working!

Bar Passage Rates

USNWR reports bar passage rates, and the state for which the results are applicable.  They also show the state bar passage rate.  They rate the schools by comparing the ratio of bar passage to the state rate.  For instance, Berkeley's 92% in California, a state with a 66% pass rate, counts more than Chicago's 98% in Illinois, which has a state pass rate of 91%.[Data from USNews 2012 ed.]

That analysis makes sense.  But there is also an important argument for looking at raw pass rate (as opposed to adjusted).  In states with a single law school, the state's bar pass rate is virtually represented by the school's pass rate, so the adjustment has to be near 0.  And schools with high pass rates, like Chicago, wind up being penalized.

I've always felt that a compromise is the best approach. Compare law schools whose grads take the bar exam in a particular state to the other schools with bar takes in the same state. It's the only way to compare apples to apples.

USNWR used to include this data on the list of sortable factors. Sadly, the 2012 edition doesn't give this data. So one day when I feel inspired to offer up something new, I'll crunch some numbers for you here.

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