Above the Law law school rankings 2013Who wants to fight? Or, to put it more bluntly, who’s ready to discuss another ranking of law school quality?

In my experience, the gloves come off when attorneys chat about law school rankings, especially the one generated by US News & World Report (or, as those scorched law school administrators who won’t utter the title call it, Voldemort).

A lot rides on those rankings—for the schools. But even for those who earned their law school sheepskin long ago, the topic can cause rancor. Call it pride, loyalty or pissing rights, but many lawyers get right up in your grill when it is pointed out that their alma mater is ranked poorly or—heaven forbid—unranked.

To make matters even more challenging, the latest ranking comes to us from Above the Law. If you’ve ever read their coverage, you know that the authors are snarkily uninterested in your delicate feelings—and that’s when they write a run-of-the-mill news story. But turn them loose on law school rankings, and watch out.

To give you an idea of their boisterous approach to an endeavor that is typically veddy veddy stuffy, here is their opening paragraph:

“Most people attend law school to obtain jobs as lawyers. (Not butchers or bakers, or candlestick makers.)”

“If law school was just a cool place to chill out for a few years without building specific job skills, they’d call it ‘college.’ Jobs are important, and we think that law schools should be competing to place students in the best jobs, not the best libraries. And given the cost of obtaining legal education, we want to know which law schools put you in jobs that pay you money, instead of jobs the law school pays for. With that in mind we present our inaugural ATL Top 50 Law School Rankings.”

That opener is followed by a great graphic that explains their rubric in a visual way. After that, plunge in and read the rankings themselves.

If you’re not simmering (or cheering) after that, and you still want to enjoy the rankings game, be sure to read the burgeoning list of comments that follow the ATL rankings. Angry, much?

And as an added lure to entice you to scan the rankings, there’s this: Exactly one-third of Arizona’s law schools appear on this new list—barely. (Now you’ve got to look.)

How do you think their editors did? Do you agree with their rubric? How about their results? Let me know your thoughts at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

I tend not to say much about the U.S. News & World Report rankings of law schools. No offense to the schools that did well (or the opposite), but the rankings are a little goofy. Kind of like an ABA accreditation process that counts the number of hard-copy volumes a law school has, as if that is an important indicator of legal training. (I love books, but I think 1970 is calling, and they want their library back.)

The ranking process is, shall we say, opaque. It reminds me of the vaulted (and vaunted) formula Google uses to calculate news rankings. Somewhere in there is the secret sauce that will move schools up.

As I thought about that, I came across a Department of Defense PowerPoint chart (below) that “explains” pstabilization in Afghanistan. And some small quadrant of that represents the complexity that must occupy the waking hours of law school administrators. No wonder they rub their temples a lot.

complex chart afghanistan law school

It really is this complex to determine who trains lawyers the best?

Despite my skepticism for the process, a recent ABA Journal news story on the topic caught my eye, for a few reasons.

For one, it included a good Bloomberg video (posted below) on this year’s rankings. Clearly, there is no joy in some Mudvilles.

And second, the following sentence grabbed my attention: “Greater weight is now given for permanent, full-time jobs that require bar passage or for which a J.D. is an advantage.”

Really? I’ve been referred to as “disadvantaged.” But never the reverse. My job as a legal magazine editor has been recognized as more valuable?

I’ll alert my masters. And Accounting.

Hmmm. Maybe I should start to take those rankings more seriously.

You can read the whole news piece here.