Today’s guest blogger is John Gerboth, a bankruptcy and family law lawyer with Arenstein & Andersen Co. in Dublin, Ohio.
As I read Vivia Chen’s critique of the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings, I was thinking it was a fair analysis of the trends and inner workings of this all-important list. But then, at the end of her post, she writes:
If you’re aiming for Big Law, I wouldn’t bother with most schools beyond the top 20 and possibly top 25. And if you just want a decent job, I’d draw the line at the top 50. As for those schools ranked between 51 to 100—well, I hope you really want to be a lawyer—any kind of lawyer.
And if you’re thinking of going to a law school ranked below 100? I hope you come to your senses.
Those last two sentences strike me as elitist and short-sighted—and removed from the realities of what society needs from the legal profession. How many excellent lawyers would not be practicing if they had followed this advice? I agree with Chen’s assertion that anyone who wants to get on a partner track at a Vault 25 firm would best be served by going to a top 25 law school. (It should be noted that there are some partners at these firms who attended law schools ranked below 100, but they are the exception and not the rule). However, I disagree that anyone who wants a “decent job” should “draw the line at the top 50,” and that those choosing to attend schools ranked lower than 100 should “come to their senses.”
The reality is that most law in this country is not practiced in large firms, but rather in the less prestigious smaller firms, prosecutor’s offices, attorney general’s offices, and public defender offices. I would wager that if you walked into any state courthouse in any city or town and asked the attorneys where they attended law school, you would find that the vast majority of them went to schools outside the top 50.
That’s not to impugn the attorneys sitting in the corner offices of downtown skyscrapers drafting federal appellate briefs, but I would contend that their job is no more important than lawyers who practice in the state courthouses. In fact, to those being denied visitation with their children, or who find themselves unable to pay their bills and need to file bankruptcy, or who have been accused of a crime and need a vigorous defense, I can tell you that it’s probably more important.
That said, I would advise those attending lower ranked schools that they will need to be both aggressive and creative in their job search. That means networking early on in your law school career. It means being willing to work for $40,000 (or less) at your first job. You may even have to take a risk and hang out your own shingle.
However, if you have a passion for law and really want to be a lawyer, do not “come to your senses” and deprive society of a quality attorney—we need more of them, not less.
By the way, I am a proud graduate of unranked Capital University Law School.