After my recent critique of the Wall Street Journal Law Blog's coverage of law school employment data, I received a nice note from Joe Palazzolo - one of the post's co-authors. He shared with me a bit more data they'd found, further parsing the US New Top 50. Pulling apart that data helps show even better how problematic it is to conflate US News Schools into Top 50, or even Top 25. Here is the data Joe shared with me, based on their assessment.
Percentage Long-Term Full-time JD required in Top 10 89%
Percentage LTFT JD required in Top 25 83%
Percentage LTFT JD required in Top 50 75%
But let's dig a bit deeper. The median percentage LTFT JD required in US News 26-50 isn't anywhere near 75%. Using Matt Leichter's chart, which excludes law school funded jobs, the median school in this group placed 64% of its students. And more evidence of how US News rankings provide bad guidance in this area: the 25th percentile placement rate for this cohort (USN 26-50 schools) is 58.5%.
But don't assume that things are super-rosy for the higher ranked schools. I looked at schools ranked 12-24 and discovered that their median LTFT JD (non-funded) placement rate was 67.8%. That made me wonder how many Top 50 schools even matched that 83% placement rate implied by the WSJ data for the Top 25. The answer: 7. How many hit 89% identified for the Top 10?
I recognize that there's apples to oranges action here. First, I excluded law school funded jobs. That has a big effect because, looking at the top 4 placing schools even in the Leichter world (excluding law school funded jobs), you discover that each of them places over 5% of their total graduating class in school-funded positions (NYU >8%, Columbia and Chicago >6%, and Penn >5%). Columbia had the best placement data of any law school within these parameters, and it placed 88.3% of its students excluding law school funded positions. Not a single school places 89% of its grads in these jobs without a little boost from the school itself.
Second, I used medians for each school rather than placing all the students from all of the schools in one basket and tallying the percentage placement rate. But my choice makes visible the way in which large, high-placing schools - like Harvard, Columbia and NYU - skew the WSJ data. If a prospective student is assessing law schools, she might not realize that the strong placement rates for the Top 50, or even Top 25, are really driven by a few large, super-elite schools.
As I have said before - along with everyone from Brian Leiter to Kyle McEntee - US News is pretty unhelpful as a tool for picking law schools. That unhelpfulness is compounded by the way in which the WSJ sliced and diced the data. It is one thing for the WSJ to report US News rankings. I have to concede that for much of the paper's readership, the rankings are newsworthy. My objection here is to the ways in which it then manipulated the rankings to create new information even more misleading than the rankings themselves.