Obviously, when I look at the latest U.S. News and World Report law school rankings, I care about them much, much less than some unfortunate sap stuck in interview hell who’s trying to explain why he couldn’t do better than Thomas Cooley.
“Um, it just seemed like the best fit.”
That ain’t gonna land you a job that pays anywhere near six figures. With a decreasing number of slots at the high-paying shops and more and more people coming out of law school, it’s no wonder these rankings mean more than ever. But they’re still bullshit.
Even though law school pedigrees mean less after working a certain number of years in BigLaw, it never escapes you. It’s still blazoned on your online firm profile and the elitist douchebags who roam these halls are more than aware of where everyone went. Not to mention, the guys from my firm doing the law school recruitment these days can hardly stomach a two-number ranking. And, selfishly, I’m happy as hell about it.
Let people focus on them. It only further validates how great it feels to be me right now, and it gives me more ammo to feel superior to everyone else. The best advice I ever got was, “Only go if you get into a top-10 school.” And so I did. And I got mediocre grades. And I’m more than OK with that.
Would I have been better off top-of-the-class at a second-tier school? Hells no! In fact, it’s a huge fallacy to assume that, just because you were middle of your class at a top school, you would be slaying it at a St. John’s or Cardozo. You probably wouldn’t. At least I know I wouldn’t. My work ethic puts me middle of the pack no matter where I would’ve gone. Lucky for me, I excel at standardized tests. Yay, white people! (Kidding, err, sort of.)
Basically, I’m gloating. The legal community orgasms over these rankings every year, and because it does, a bizarre information cascade is created, for which I’m a product of cumulative advantage. Like Justin Timberlake. Not making sense? What I’m saying is: Because so much emphasis is placed on rankings, an average schlep like me made it big time (or as “big time” as you can get in the law firm system) with minimal effort. By virtue of nothing more than a great LSAT and a top admissions director who said, “Why not?” I nabbed a job most students only dream of.
So, while on one hand I should thank the rankings for turning me into the well-perched monster I am today, on the other hand, my point is pretty obvious. The rankings are lame—and “survival of the fittest” would play out much better if they didn’t exist. I know these rankings mean a lot to firms and to all of you poor law-school saps, but unless you’re attending a T14, you should be pissed that they do.
I sometimes think about what would have happened if I actually took that full scholarship to Thomas L. Cooley School of Law and Plumbing…
Knowing myself, I would not have turned out to be the exception to the rule—like my friend. Yes, believe it or not, I have a friend who is a graduate of the esteemed Thomas L. Cooley College of Lawyering and Appliance Repair. And you know what? He’s doing better than me.
Me: A middling associate at a top Manhattan firm who is destined not to make partner and destined not to save any money because I have a pimp apartment and I spend too much on women. Grateful to keep the job I have (given my behavior), I’m too big of a pussy to exit BigLaw or even make a simple lateral jump.
Him: A spirited entrepreneur. After law school, he took some shit job ambulance chasing and realized, “Fuck this! I have a law degree, I learned some shit, and I have no debt. Let me give it a shot at starting a business.” He started a successful title insurance business in Arkansas, where nobody knows the difference between Thomas Cooley and Thomas Jefferson. And even if they did, I presume he just tells people he went to Michigan anyway. That’s what I would do. How many people are going to be like, “Show me your diploma!”?
As for the middle-ground schools, if I had ended up going somewhere in the second tier, I don’t see any way it would have ended well for me. I actually was admitted into a bunch of those, but only one top-tier school. I considered not going at all after being rejected from my “dream school” (Harvard), which probably would have been the better move for me, but then my school’s acceptance letter rolled in, and I realized that Matthew Richardson relies too much on his pedigree for everything in this world: Jobs, women, networking, women, etc.
Everything in my life would’ve been exponentially worse if I had graduated from a T2 school—or worse, tried to work a bar with nothing but a flimsy bachelors degree. Had I went to the next-highest-ranked law school that accepted me, I would have been stuck begging and pleading to get into a top firm and begging and pleading for above-average girls in the city to give me a look. Sure, when I graduated in 2005 it was possible for a T2 guy to get a BigLaw job and a suitably attractive girl. But in 2010, I’d have a better chance getting a small-business loan for my startup escort/limousine service.
What I would really love to see is a chart that tracks performance at firms based on where you went to school and where you ranked in your class. If I were a betting man, I’d say no single factor is more determinant than another. I’m sure Ivy Leaguers are probably slightly more clutch because we have larger brains. (It’s just science.) But maybe we take longer to do things because we’re cocky and read more articles in The Economist to waste time. And maybe T2 grads with chips on their shoulders bust their asses and are more efficient. And maybe the T3 kids are so friggin’ cool that nobody even cares that they read on a seventh-grade level.
What I really think is hilarious is that U.S. News has a major portion of the rankings dependent on law school professors who rate other schools’ reputations or “prestige level,” which accounts for 25%. Can you imagine that conversation?
Harvard Dean: Where are you ranking Cleveland State?
Stanford Dean: I was thinking somewhere between Cooley and the University of Phoenix Online. I heard they got the Internet this year.
Harvard Dean: Oh, I didn’t hear that, but I did hear they went back to using the Socratic Method
Stanford Dean: I think you misheard. I heard the students went back to the rhythm method.
Or the flipside, can you imagine the convo between TTTT deans?
Appalachian Dean: Fuck Harvard. I’m putting them below Ohio State. Ohio State would kill them in basketball
Dean from Thomas L. Cooley: I can never remember, which one is Penn and which one is Penn State?
Seriously, how does U.S. News look itself in the mirror every morning?
All I know is that I’m glad I got a T1 education because things could have turned out a lot worse for me. Don’t let anyone lie to you. There is value in going to the best. Which is why those of you law students who aren’t top-tier should think of a way to overturn the rankings monarchy. Because it’s sinking you kids like stones.
Sure, some of you may think you’re better off at a T2 school where you will excel and get to look at marginally better girls. Plus, that chip on your shoulder just might be what you need to survive in an intellectually superior pool down the road. And some of you may be better off at a T3 or T4 school where you can find a niche like maritime law or pornography licensure…. or better yet, maybe become like my friend who graduated Cooley and started a business. Just remember: NEVER tell people where you went to law school.
So, for all of you employers reading the rankings, please remember that second-tier kids who work hard deserve a chance too… after all the slots reserved for your fellow Ivy Leaguers get filled.