Wide World

May 11th, 2013 / By

QS, a British company that supports international study, has published a ranking of law schools worldwide. Like all other rankings, this one undoubtedly has flaws. The method, however, seems at least as plausible as the one used by U.S. News for our domestic rankings. The QS ranking for subjects like law focuses on academic reputation surveys, employer surveys, and measures of scholarly productivity and impact. Let’s see what the results of the survey tell us about the place of U.S. schools in the wide world of law.

First some good news for our home team: Harvard Law School tops the QS list, and four other U.S. schools (Yale, NYU, Columbia, and Stanford) appear among the top ten. These United States similarly dominate the top fifty, with fourteen American schools in that group. The United Kingdom is our closest competitor, with nine schools listed among the top fifty. Next comes plucky Australia, with six law schools in the top fifty. If this were the Olympics, we would win; we have the most medals and that’s that.

American students and professors, however, may be surprised to find the glory spread among schools from so many different nations. In addition to the U.K. and Australian schools, the top fifty includes law schools from France, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Canada, Singapore, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, China, Chile, and Italy. The top U.S. schools have a strong global reputation, but so do schools from many other nations.

Some of our dominance, furthermore, stems from our size. The United States has a population of 313.9 million residents. The United Kingdom is just one-fifth our size, with a population of 62.6 million. Australia is even smaller, with a population of just 22.6 million. A nation our size has many more educational institutions–and more opportunities to make a top-fifty list–than smaller countries do.

To adjust in a very rough way for size, we can compare the QS showing for California, with a population of 38 million residents, to both the United Kingdom and Australia. California’s population is about three-fifths as large as the population of the United Kingdom. Puny Australia, in turn, is about three-fifths the size of California.

California fares quite nicely on QS’s ranking of law schools: It has one school (Stanford) in the top ten and two others (Berkeley and UCLA) among the top fifty law schools worldwide. But the United Kingdom triples that showing, with three schools in the top ten and six others among the top fifty. The U.K. achieves that record with a population that is less than double California’s size. Tiny Australia, meanwhile, trounces California: It has two schools in the top ten and four others among the top fifty. That’s double California’s performance at just over half its size.

What does this mean for U.S. law schools and their graduates? The most lucrative forms of practice, serving corporate and financial clients, are now global practices. U.S. law matters, but so does the law of the European Union, China, and dozens of other nations. Large corporations obtain counsel from lawyers around the world, and many of those lawyers received their training outside of the United States.

To get a sense of this, scan the lawyers associated with Baker & McKenzie. For 2012, the latest year available, Baker grossed more money than any other law firm in the world. Baker is headquartered in the United States and it hires plenty of U.S. law school graduates. According to a search box on the firm’s site, it employed forty-six Harvard Law School graduates to help accomplish that end. The firm, however, also employed twenty-three lawyers educated at the University of Melbourne. Nor did those Melbourne lawyers stick to Baker’s Australian offices; they also practice in Chicago, Washington, DC, London, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur.

Examine the leading law firms headquartered outside of the United States, and you’ll find even more lawyers from all of those non-U.S. schools on the QS list. Clifford Chance, the U.K. mega-firm, has thirty lawyers in its Hong Kong office. Only two of those thirty have a law degree from a U.S. school, and one of those is an LLM earned to complement a Hong Kong degree. United Kingdom degrees predominate at Clifford Chance, but degrees from Hong Kong, Switzerland, Singapore, and Australia also appear among the Clifford Chance lawyers in Hong Kong.

Graduates of U.S. schools, in other words, are competing against a wide world of lawyers. That competition is one of the forces reducing the number of BigLaw positions for graduates of our schools. Corporate clients hire law firms located in many parts of the world. Those firms, in turn, hire lawyers from many countries–and often show little interest in U.S.-educated lawyers. As BigLaw positions contract, displaced U.S. lawyers move into positions more focused on the domestic market, placing pressure on those positions as well.

The United States enjoyed such global dominance during the last half of the twentieth century, that I fear many legal educators, law students, and prospective students don’t grasp the impact of global competition on jobs in our profession. BigLaw is no longer our playground; it’s a busy marketplace that we share with the rest of the world.

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Take This Job and Count It

January 19th, 2013 / By

In an article in the Journal of Legal Metrics, two Law School Transparency team members outline LST’s methodology for the LST Score Reports, an online tool designed to improve decisions by prospective law students. LST uses employment outcomes, projected costs, and admissions stats to help prospective students navigate their law school options.

Kyle McEntee and Derek Tokaz, the authors of both this paper and the online tool, resist the urge to rank schools on a national scale. Instead, they sort schools by where their graduates work post-graduation, allowing applicants to consider schools by geographic profile. The reports then use reader-friendly terms, like the percentage of graduates who secured full-time legal jobs, to help prospective students make educated decisions about which schools, if any, can meet their needs.

McEntee and Tokaz designed the reports to help prospective law students, but this article has important information for legal educators as well. The U.S. News rankings won’t disappear any time soon, but I think prospective students will begin looking at LST’s Score Reports in addition to the rankings. The reports contain more nuanced information, which prospective applicants will value; they also try to direct applicants into deeper exploration of their law school options.

As McEntee and Tokaz show, employment scores correlate imperfectly with U.S. News rank. As applicants begin to consider these scores, together with more transparent employment information on the schools’ websites, some schools will benefit while others suffer. Schools that under-perform their U.S. News score in job placement may want to explore why. Prospective students certainly will.

The other lesson for educators is that the vast majority of legal hiring is local. Students tend to stay in the city, state, and general region where they earned their law degree. As employers increasingly demand internships and unpaid apprenticeships, this trend may become even more dominant. It is hard to work part-time for a firm in one city while attending class in another. It’s far from impossible these days, with internet commuting, but students who lack face-time with prospective employers will be at a disadvantage. It’s also daunting to relocate after law school without a job in hand.

Law schools may find this information discouraging; most schools cherish their “national reputation” and want to extend it. It’s important to recognize, however, that the best job opportunities for graduates may be local ones. Time that a school spends promoting its national brand may deliver less return for graduates than time spent at local bar meetings.

On the bright side, schools should understand that a “national reputation” can co-exist with primarily local placement rates. That, in fact, is the reality for a vast number of law schools today. People around the country have heard about many law schools, even when those schools place most of their graduates locally. National reputation takes many forms and can pay off in many ways–even for graduates in later years. One lesson that I take from McEntee and Tokaz’s paper, however, is that schools should focus more diligently on their local, state, and regional reputations. That’s where the majority of job opportunities for graduates will lie.

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ABA Journal Blawg 100 HonoreeLaw School Cafe is a resource for anyone interested in changes in legal education and the legal profession.

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