Vault, Inc, which is a publisher that collects industry information on various professions, recently released its listing of the Top 25 Most Underrated Law Schools. (Hat tip: Paul Caron & Volokh.) The findings are derived from a survey of 512 law firm recruiting managers, hiring partners, and corporate counsel, who were asked "to name law schools that, based on their experience as hiring managers, are underrated."
As I read the list, I wondered, what is the practical implication of a law school being underrated by the people who make hiring decisions for entry level lawyers? Presumably, it means that graduates of certain law schools tend to perform better than their school's U.S. News ranking would suggest; thus, legal employers are more likely to hire them.
If this is true, what is the source of superior performance? Here are two possibilities:
- Stronger Students. Some schools may enroll a stronger student body than their rank might suggest.
- Better Education. Some law schools may equip graduates with more or better skills than other schools of comparable rank
Based on some preliminary statistical analysis, there is fairly clear quantitative evidence for the first hypothesis. There is also some qualitative evidence for the second--enough to warrant some additional research.
These research questions are really important to the ranking debate because their answers could reveal a mechanism by which some students will discount USN. If an "underrated" school offers a better entree to coveted legal employers, why go to the higher ranked school, especially if the underrated school costs significantly less? Law schools that understand these dynamics are in a better overall competitive position.
After the jump, I elaborate on these findings, including methodology.