When it comes to ranking law schools, US News and World Report dominates the picture to the extent that their rankings are often referred to without even being mentioned by name. It’s common to hear, for example, that Harvard is ranked No. 3, without any discussion of who ranked Harvard No. 3 or why. Prospective law students and their parents and friends often perceive these law school rankings as objective fact. While some objective factors do figure into these rankings, the weighting of these factors reflects the subjective decisions of the editors who compile the rankings.
If you’re planning on going to law school, odds are that it’s because you want to become a lawyer (I hope I’m not making any big assumptions here). In today’s job market, your chances of becoming a lawyer (also known as getting a job) vary greatly depending on which law school you attend. And while the employment prospects of a law school’s graduates do affect that school’s US News ranking, many other factors do as well, such as the size of the library, the GPA and LSAT scores of the students who go there, and the impressions professors at other schools have of that school. A law school’s higher ranking does not guarantee that its employment prospects are any better than those of any particular lower-ranked school.
Your chances of becoming employed as a lawyer should be an important part of any decision you make to attend law school. This is where the new score reports from Law School Transparency come in. They aren’t rankings per se, but rather a large trove of law school job data, sortable according to many different parameters. You can look at employment percentage overall, but odds are you don’t just care about whether you’ll have a job but also where you’ll live and how much it will pay. That data is there as well. You can look at reports by state, with information on which schools send the most graduates to that state. You can sort law schools according to which kinds of jobs their graduates find (big or small firms, public service, clerkships, etc.). For law schools that release salary data, you can look at that, too.
Obviously, these score reports don’t tell the whole story about law school, as the folks at LST readily admit. But they help make some very important information more easily accessible. If you’re considering law school, I strongly recommend that you check out these score reports. It’ll probably take you a little bit of poking around to figure out how it all works—the interface, while straightforward, doesn’t exactly hold your hand as you get started—but if you can’t be bothered to do all that, maybe you shouldn’t complain too much if you find yourself having trouble paying back hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans in a few years.