Because duh. Law schools are professional schools and we believe that obtaining a job as a lawyer is the whole point. (Except for Yale.)

So putting all this into the Excel spreadsheet blender, here are their top 10 schools:

  1. Yale
  2. Stanford
  3. Harvard
  4. Chicago
  5. Penn
  6. Duke
  7. UVA
  8. Columbia
  9. Berkeley
  10. NYU

I’m not enough of a student of the finer points of law school rankings to parse whether there are any headline surprises here, or in the other 40 ranked schools, but I would be surprised if there are not some material differences with that paleolithic ancestor, USNWR. (I hope so!)

Now, is everything perfection incarnate?

As a first start out of the box, it’s drop dead impressive. Yet if I know the folks at ATL well (and, disclosure, I do), they’ll never be satisfied. So what tweaks might they make next time?

  • Obviously, one could question whey they ranked 50 schools and stopped there. I happen to think that’s actually an ingenious decision. Let’s not kid ourselves, people, are there really a lot more than 50 law schools that most people pay attention to? Whether 50 is the right cutoff or not reminds me of the ceaseless debate over whether 18 or 21 is the right age to be able to vote, drink, smoke, serve in the military, etc. Who knows, and at some level I fundamentally don’t care: What matters, and what we can all agree on, is that it’s not 12 and it’s not 30.
  • Do SCOTUS clerkships and lifetime-tenured federal judgeships really deserve so much (or any) weight?  I know they are “prestige” incarnate–not to mention more-than-decent outcomes in life for the lucky occupants–but the SCOTUS jobs may be unduly subject to allocation based on who you know and the federal judgeships based on whose campaigns you supported.  (Never having pursued either one, this is blissfully uninformed by personal experience.)
  • Conversely, if you join me in mild skepticism of  putting specific, name-brand jobs onto the scales, what about other arguably more valuable jobs?  If you asked me, I would immediately nominate “entrepreneur,” for example.  Peter Thiel (Stanford, Stanford Law) co-founded PayPal and was the first outside investor  in Facebook.
  • I have a more philosophical observation, and it has to do (stay with me, folks) with the epistemological foundation of numerical rankings such as this. Before I explain, let me show you the “30’s” from this list:

30: Wake Forest
31: George Washington
32: U of Minnesota, Twin Cities
33: U of Illinois Law
34: William & Mary
35: U of Houston
36: Seton Hall
37: U of Iowa
38: Washington & Lee
39: Tulane

Here’s the point: What does it really mean to say that Chicago is better than Penn (by 0.40 points on a 100 point scale, by the way) or that Seton Hall is better than Iowa (by 0.10 points)? We may not just be pushing the limits of what we can know, but blasting right past them into distinctions without differences. To recur to the 18 vs 21 age cutoff debate, if you only get into NYU (in the “bottom” of the top 10) and Wake Forest (at the top of the 30’s), would anyone in their right mind not know what to do? But if you “only” get into Iowa and Tulane, or you “only” get into UVA and Columbia, it’s not so obvious, is it?

So maybe a “batched” ranking would actually be more sensible: Something like “Creme de la creme, really excellent, not half bad, OK, and do-not-pass-go” (this is ATL writing, in this thought experiment).

The counter-argument, of course, is that a Top 50 Law School Ranking is first and foremost a ranking.  And not just because the hairsplitting is food for amusing cocktail hour debates (and bumps up page-view metrics), but more profoundly because we humans love comparisons.  Winning Olympic gold by 0.01 second is still winning.

But we have passed a milestone: Never again will USNWR own the monopolist’s mindshare or wield the monopolist’s destructive, irrational, corrosive, and odious power.  We are in the presence of Creative Destruction.

The King is Dead, Long Live the King.

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