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Pulling Back the Curtain on the Latest US News Ratings
The 2016 US News and World Best Law Schools report has been released and Yale Law School is ranked first once again. The report ranks law schools based on a weighted average of 12 measures of quality, including employment success for the Class of 2013. In the past six years, US News has changed its methodology for determining employment success four times. This year’s employment methodology is particularly convoluted, and in my view detrimental to the future of public interest fellowships.
On the ranked list of schools, US News depicts a percentage employed at graduation and nine months after graduation for each school. In making these employment calculations, US News gives full weight only to positions that are full-time, long-term (one year or more) where bar passage is required or a JD is an advantage. Using this methodology, US News determined that 88.7% of Yale Law School’s Class of 2013 was employed nine months after graduation.
This one data point generated by US News does not in any way offer a complete picture of the choices available to graduates of Yale Law School, nor of the decisions they make. As a law school, we seek out and support students with extremely varied backgrounds and interests. We provide tools to enable our students to pursue a multidisciplinary course of study and engage in intellectual pursuits of interest to them. It comes as no surprise to us, therefore, when many of our graduates turn down traditional legal employment for different types of opportunities. For example, several of our graduating students each year forego employment altogether to pursue advanced degrees, most often with the goal of being hired as a scholar by a law school. Seven graduates in the Class of 2013 (3.4% of the Class) took that route. These graduates will undoubtedly secure meaningful employment upon completion of their degree programs. Additionally, several of our graduates each year choose professional positions, often involving policy, research or teaching, for which bar passage is not required and which do not fit squarely in the ABA’s definition of "JD Advantage." Six graduates in the Class of 2013 (3% of the Class) accepted these types of positions. All of these graduates are fulfilling their professional goals and personal aspirations, just not within the strictures of the US News definition of "employed."
More importantly, beyond the data depicted on the ranked list of schools, this year US News is “discounting” the value of jobs funded by law schools and in some undisclosed way incorporating this “discount” into their overall ranking formula. We are extremely concerned that “discounting” year-long law school funded public interest fellowships will discourage law schools from offering these valuable opportunities to their graduates in future years.
For the past decade Yale Law School has provided fellowships to support the work of our graduates who wish to engage in public service. Our fellowships include the Arthur Liman Public Interest Fellowship, endowed to honor one of Yale Law School’s graduates, Arthur Liman YLS ’57; the Robert L. Bernstein Fellowship in International Human Rights, established at Yale Law School in 1997 to honor Robert Bernstein, the founder and former chair of Human Rights Watch; and the Robina Foundation Post-Graduate Fellowships in International Human Rights supported by the Robina Foundation, just to name a few. These fellowships are highly competitive. They are attractive to our students because they assist graduates who wish to follow the difficult path of a career in public interest law. We are extremely proud of the opportunities that these fellowships create for our graduates. In a recent YLS survey, 40% of YLS fellowship recipients reported receiving a permanent offer from their fellowship organizations.1 We publicize these fellowships to prospective students, who frequently choose to attend Yale Law School precisely because of the availability of these fellowships. Fifteen graduates in the Class of 2013 (7.4% of the Class) received these prestigious fellowships.
In explaining the decision by US News to discount year-long law school funded positions, such as the YLS opportunities described above, Robert Morse acknowledges that some law school-funded jobs are highly sought-after, competitive fellowships but complains that there is no way to distinguish among different types of school-funded jobs based on the employment information currently available. To that end, Yale Law School has encouraged the ABA to require schools to provide more detailed information regarding law school funded opportunities, including the total number of school-funded positions, the term of each school-funded position, the salary for each school-funded position, the average salary for all school-funded positions, and whether the position requires bar passage or is JD advantage, professional or non-professional.
Ultimately, I encourage prospective students not to rely on the employment information that US News deems important, but instead to view each law school’s detailed employment statistics (available on their websites or through the ABA) and to ask schools in depth questions about their graduates’ employment choices and law school-funded opportunities. I am confident that at YLS, you will like what you hear.
Assistant Dean, Career Development Office
Yale Law School
1 Among the 74 YLS graduates who served as public interest fellows in 2012-2014 and responded to the survey, 40% received offers to remain with their fellowship employer upon completion of their one year fellowships and 32% accepted those offers. Others accepted offers from other public sector employers (29%), served as judicial clerks (26%), went to law firms (7%), or entered academia (6%).