Grading Law Schools -- The Super Lawyers Approach

When people ask where I went to law school, I like to say I went to the Harvard of St. Paul, Minnesota. That would be William Mitchell College of Law.

Never heard of it? This tells me you're not from Minnesota. You see, Billy Mitchell (as we affectionately call it) is very well respected in this state. It's produced  a Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court (Warren Burger), scores of State Supreme Court justices and many of the top lawyers in Minnesota. While Billy Mitchell ain't Harvard, it's a darn good law school. 

But you'd never know that if you relied on the US News & World Report rankings of law schools from 2008. We Mitchell grads took a collective shot in the, um, midsection when our school was listed dead last in the survey. (Okay, it wasn't quite that bad -- the magazine didn't bother to "rank" the loser schools listed in the 4th tier, so they just listed them alphabetically).

Two other law schools from the Twin Cities, Hamline and the University of St. Thomas, were listed in the third tier, while the University of Minnesota was ranked 22nd nationally.

I swear this is not sour grapes on my part here, but US News completely missed the mark on Mitchell. Consider the 2008 Minnesota Super Lawyers list. Thirty-four percent of the lawyers on the list graduated from the University of Minnesota; 26 percent from William Mitchell; 9 percent from Hamline and zero from St. Thomas (which is not surprising, since the school opened in 1999). How can it be that a lowly 4th tier school produces more than a quarter of the state's top lawyers?

Perhaps Mitchell suffers because it doesn't have a football team. It's an independent law school, not affiliated with a major university or college. Who knows? But one thing seems clear: US News uses a national ranking process. As such, they seem to do a good job ranking "national" law schools, but when it comes to local and regional schools, the process might not work so well.

The majority of students entering law school will not attend a nationally ranked school. For these students there needs to be a more reliable indicator of how local and regional schools rank compared to one another. That's where Super Lawyers comes in.

A reliable indicator of the quality of a law school is the quality of the attorneys it produces. In coming issues, Super Lawyers will publish graduation statistics on the lawyers named to our statewide lists. We believe this will give students a more accurate picture of how local law schools compare to one another, and will give a fairer shake to the Harvards of places like St. Paul, Minnesota.

 

 

 

6 Comments

Well said. Mitchell has a great reputation in a Midwest legal market second only to Chicago's, but somehow that hasn't translated into any broader national recognition. It's difficult to pinpoint why, but perhaps it's something the school should look into.

I have been a forensic expert witness for over 50 years and a lawyer for 26. In that time, I have worked with over 12,000 attorneys all across the country. While Mitchell is a good law school, it is not the school that makes great lawyers but zeal and dedication to the profession supported by an analytical mindset. Unfortunately, even the best schools produce attorneys when in practice have the mental acuity of a box of rocks.

I agree with you. My law school -- Indiana University - Indianapolis Law School is also not always given credit for the excellent legal education it offers. It too has a high percentage of the Super Lawyers listed in Indiana, and virtually always has the highest percent of any law school grads passing the Indiana Bar exam.

Well said, indeed. This Superlawyer law school rating idea is a good one. I attended and graduated from an excellent law school, the Campbell University School of Law in Buies Creek, NC, now known as the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law at Campbell University. It will be moving to our state capital, Raleigh, this summer.

Campbell consistently has a higher first time taker bar pass rate in NC than either Duke or UNC law. Campbell prepared me well to practice law and I would recommend it to anyone who plans on setting foot in a courtroom. I always felt that my legal education was equal to or better than the education opposing counsel got from the other popular schools here in NC, which are UNC, Wake Forest, South Carolina, and Duke. But Campbell is typically ranked as one of those "loser" schools in the US News and World Report rankings. Campbell has been graduating lawyers since 1976 and the practicing lawyers here in NC recognize it as a quality school, but the US News pool of raters has not gotten the word yet.

Come on! You can't measure the quality of a school by its bar passage rate. Lower ranked schools often "teach to the bar" rather than teach law on a larger scale. For example, Baylor's bar passage rate is greater than UTs. Does that mean that it is a better law school? Of course not.

Also, UM has a better national reputation. Most of the brightest UM grads are probably going to get snagged up during OCI and head to larger legal markets. The fact that there are still enough of them around to produce a higher percentage of "super lawyers" shows how well regarded the school is.

The rankings certainly aren't perfect, but they are fairly representative of career prospects and national reach.