Super Cum Laude: Our First Annual Law School Ranking

 Today Super Lawyers announces the release of our first annual ranking of U.S. law schools. The 2010 Super Lawyers U.S. Law School Rankings is unique in that it ranks law schools based on the number of graduates who are selected for inclusion in Super Lawyers across the country. Only 5 percent of the lawyers in each state are selected to Super Lawyers lists (click here to see our selection process).

We’ve been rating lawyers for nearly 20 years. This puts us in a unique position to shed light on how well schools fulfill the ultimate mission of producing great lawyers.

Most law school rankings look at things like bar passage rates, professor-to-student ratios and the number of books in the library, but they ignore the end product — the quality of lawyers produced. We think it’s like ranking football teams based on athletic facilities, player size and equipment without considering who wins the games.


In the real world — the world of clients and juries and judges — no one cares about your GPA or LSAT score. All that matters is how good and ethical a lawyer you are. That’s the focus of Super Lawyers.


Schools are ranked according to the total number of graduates named to the state and regional Super Lawyers lists in 2009. In the event of a tie between schools, the cumulative peer evaluation and research scores of graduates are used as tie-breakers.


Our approach is simple. We take a snapshot of the top lawyers in the country and ask, “What schools produced these lawyers?” Then we report the results. Our rankings fill an informational gap. It throws a new and unique indicator of quality into the mix. It’s another data point for students to consider before making a big, expensive and life-changing decision.


This methodology produces a list that is very different from other law school rankings: The top three schools on this year’s Super Lawyers list are Harvard Law School, the University of Michigan Law School and the University of Texas School of Law.


Because the attorneys named to Super Lawyers are highly experienced and graduated from law school years ago, the Super Lawyers law school ranking is a trailing indicator of quality. While it’s true that past performance does not guarantee future results, it is an important factor that up until now has been largely ignored.


Regional law schools have also been left out of rankings. U.S. News & World Report, for example, ranks only 100 law schools and places the rest of the schools in the country in either tier 3 or tier 4 without ranking them.


Not everyone is accepted to or can afford to attend a national school. These students need to know how regional schools compare to one another. The Super Lawyers ranking provides this information.


We recognize that schools with smaller graduating classes may be at a disadvantage in our ranking. We considered taking into account class size, but decided not to this year for several reasons: First, we found that class size was not as big a factor as you might think. There were very large schools that ranked low and small schools that ranked high on our list. The quality of graduates, not the size of the school, is what ultimately determines where schools land on our list.

Second, this first year we wanted to keep our methodology simple so that people could easily understand what we are doing. We reward schools that produce the greatest number of outstanding attorneys, period. Our approach is similar to the way baseball crowns a homerun king based on total homeruns without employing a weighted average based on plate appearances.

And finally, there is the practical problem of factoring in class size. The lawyers on our list graduated 10, 20 or 30 years ago. How do you accurately determine the graduation class sizes of nearly 200 schools through the years? Nevertheless, we are open to suggestions on how to improve our list for next year. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear from you.

 

7 Comments

Are all school represented in this list, or just ones that meet a certain pre-determined criteria? There are most definitely most than 180 law schools in the US (I think number is slightly higher around 230).

Where are those missing schools? Even if they don't have any SuperLawyers represented there, I would expect them to be at least listed at the bottom with zero.

"... we found that class size was not as big a factor as you might think." HLS pumps out five times as many lawyers as Yale does every year. I wonder what effect this has. This ranking demonstrates the exact fallacy which it attempted to rebuke: when it comes to rankings, crap in = crap out. It also shows why lawyers should never try play with math.

This is certainly interesting information but to frame it as a "law school ranking" is irresponsible and simply a marketing attempt by the publisher. Interesting how high the Florida schools are because everyone that practices in Florida goes to local schools. This cannot be the sole criteria for any sort of ranking of law school.

I'm sure a history of graduating class size can be found. Perhaps count in size by doing the average class size of the school over the last 20 years. or last 30. or 40. even 50.

Class size should be a factor. As much as I think UT is great, it churns out some of the most lawyers in the country because of its size. Does that mean that all of them are #3 in the nation quality or does it mean that just the top 5% of UT students are?

Class size is very important. This goes to show that numbers can be manipulated. I don't agree with the mathematics here! What idiot did you get to crunch these numbers? Any statistican knows better.

Instead of taking the raw numbers (i.e. number of graduates from X school that are listed as a Super Lawyer) a ratio would be a better way to rank (i.e number of Super Lawyers from X school/total graduates at X school since the year Super Lawyer rankings began). Then and only then can schools that have a smaller class size be equivalently compared to those schools with a larger class size.

This is an interesting approach to law school ranking, but failing to incorporate class size is a fatal flaw. It seems you acknowledge the flaw, but then you shrug your shoulders and say "maybe next year." Not exactly the way to establish yourself as a player in the crowded field of law school rankings.

Here are a few alternative suggestions:

1) If you're not serious about it, then just get out of the law school rankings game rather than making noise. The last thing we need is yet another publication with a broken methodology demanding attention (we're looking at you, U.S. News).

2) Use the current class size for each school. Yes, it would introduce irregularities for schools that drastically changed their class sizes over the years, but it would still be more meaningful than ignoring the class size problem.

3) Find the class size for each school for each class year of each "Super Lawyer" and then A) average the class size for each school across years and use that for a per capita calculation, or, for a truly accurate result, b) give each "Super Lawyer" a fractional point depending on the class size of his class (e.g., if a Super Lawyer graduated from Harvard class of '79 and Harvard's class size was 380 at the time, give Harvard 1/380 of a point for that Super Lawyer).

4) If you're really serious about it, take approach 3B and, additionally, get a statistician on board to account for trending. That is, a school with a lot of Super Lawyers who graduated in the 60s and 70s but not so many in the 80s and 90s is less likely to be a great school now than a school with a few Super Lawyers in the 60s and 70s and more than its share in the 80s and 90s.

My alma mater, Ohio State, did quite well at 35th, considering the relatively modest size of its graduating classes (around 200 or 210) -- a significant disadvantage under this methodology. Eight state-supported law schools were higher-ranked, but I suspect that all or almost all have substantially larger graduating classes. My compliments to my fellow alums!