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Brian Dalton

Brian Dalton is the director of research for Breaking Media, the company that launched Above the Law. Prior to...

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Elie Mystal

Elie Mystal is the Managing Editor of Above the Law Redline and the Editor-At-Large of Breaking Media. He’s appeared...

Joe Patrice

Joe Patrice is an Editor at Above the Law. For over a decade, he practiced as a litigator at...

Episode Notes

Above the Law unveils its 2017 law school rankings and uncorks a few surprises. Elie and Joe discuss the new rankings, the ATL methodology, and why everyone should consider the Above the Law rankings if they’re deciding on law school with special guest Brian Dalton, Above the Law’s Director of Research.


Above the Law – Thinking Like a Lawyer

2017 Law School Rankings



Intro: Welcome to Thinking Like a Lawyer with your hosts Elie Mystal and Joe Patrice, talking about legal news and pop culture, all while thinking like a lawyer, here on Legal Talk Network.


Joe Patrice: Hello. Welcome to another edition of Thinking Like a Lawyer. I am Joe Patrice, with me is my co-host Elie Mystal.

Elie Mystal: I realized today that I don’t have any jacket that’s appropriate for this kind of weather. It’s kind of high 50s low 60s, I’ve got a parka, you know. I’ve got sweaters, but I don’t have that like flappy trenchcoat thing that I kind of need right now for like these like three weeks.

Joe Patrice: It’s possible also that you don’t need a coat and you’re just kind of a whiner because it’s not cold weather.

Elie Mystal: Okay, says the man from Iowa, Idaho or whatever upper Midwestern or hellhole you’re from. Out here in civilization people sometimes wear coats in this weather, I’m just saying. I don’t have one though.

Joe Patrice: Yeah — no. No, it’s lovely outside. It’s rain, it’s kind of misty, but it’s —

Elie Mystal: Can anybody would like to advertise on this podcast. I do need a coat, so there’s that.

Joe Patrice: I mean, well — so your logic is you want people who make coats to advertise here and comp you a coat.

Elie Mystal: I was literally listening to the Met game the other night and the announcer was talking about how his binoculars weren’t good anymore, and like in the next Met game he had gotten new binoculars. He was gifted new binoculars.

Joe Patrice: Yeah, so, right, and I mean what are we doing this show for if it’s not to co for things from potential sponsors? Yeah. No, I mean, that’s fair, I mean, that’s why people do everything.

Elie Mystal: My temperature is not what I’m grinding my gears about today though.

Joe Patrice: Oh really? Okay.

Elie Mystal: So this morning the reason why I was actually out this morning as supposed to be in my lovely climate-controlled house, I was on the Brian Lehrer show this morning which you should check out.

Joe Patrice: Which by that he means last week.

Elie Mystal: Yes, by the time you hear this it will be last week, but check out Brian Lehrer generally anyway, it’s a good show. Anyway, I was on and we were talking about Cosby, Bill Cosby, who —

Joe Patrice: Oh, not — not Tom Cosby.

Elie Mystal: Not Tom Cosby.

Joe Patrice: Okay, good. I just wanted to make sure because there’s a lot of possibility for confusion.

Elie Mystal: He is currently on trial for allegedly sexually assaulting one woman. He is not on trial for allegedly sexually assaulting 40 odd women as they are barred by statute, but the issue that we were talking about really is something that bothers me Cosby’s attorneys mainly, and at some level him and his daughter, have really tried to make a racial angle out of his prosecution. They’re kind of saying that this is happening to him because of race and as a Black person, who kind of talks and thinks deeply about how racism affects people. I find this argument really offensive.

Racism did not make Bill Cosby allegedly sexually assault 40 women, okay? That racism did not do that to him, right? The conspiracy theories are — they didn’t all sit around in a cabal and think about how to bring down a funny Black man. Dave Chappelle is not next, all right? That’s not what’s going on.

Now there are some racial issues to be concerned about. For instance, I think that the Cosby trial shows that if you’re a White man who’s accused of sexually assaulting a boatload of women, you can still be President. If you’re a Black man accused of the same thing you’re not fit to sell jello.

Joe Patrice: That’s a fair point.

Elie Mystal: That’s a racial disparity right there, all right? But the way to fix that is not to let the Black man skate. It’s to hold the White man accountable for his actions, and so the people on Cosby’s team, some of the people within the community who are really trumping up the racial angle here, what about Woody Allen and what about Roman Polanski? Now those are bad guys too. We should go get them. That doesn’t – it has nothing to do with whether or not Bill Cosby did or did not commit this particular crime that he’s charged with and all of the other crimes that have come out.

Joe Patrice: Right. Well, I mean, wouldn’t you say that the concern about race specifically in the context of the Cosby trial is less. Oh, he’s being blamed because of race, but that the traditional burdens of proof are being more sullied because of that, that people are more likely to say of insert White person here. He’s accused of all these things. People are willing to make those excuses whereas there is a rush to judgment due to a series of pervasive largely racist tropes throughout American history that Black men hyper-sexualized beings as they’ve been constructed by folks, and that stuff is playing into the ways in which there’s a rush to judgment. Isn’t that more the concern?


Elie Mystal: Rush to judgment, people have been accusing this man 20 years and nobody was judging it.

Joe Patrice: Right, but his lawyers are concerned about a rush to judgment.

Elie Mystal: Right.

Joe Patrice: We’re talking lawyers not — we’re thinking like a lawyer not the opposite.

Elie Mystal: Yeah, his lawyers are concerned, and this is the other reason why they are playing the racing, all right, because his lawyers understand that they need to win this not only in the court of law but also in the court of public opinion, because if Cosby was just kind of willing to accept that he was losing in the court of public opinion, he would have taken the white way out of this, which would be to go to Switzerland by now. Right? Like he has the means and the opportunity to go to Switzerland or Ecuador or wherever the hell it is that you go to when you’re accused of sexual assault and you don’t want to face the music, right?

Cosby obviously still thinks that there is a chance for him to win in the court of public opinion and that’s why his lawyers are pushing the racial angle because it’s only through that, that after the trial whatever happens. Look, it’s a he-said, she-said, it’s going to be a hard case for the prosecution to win, but whatever happens in the courtroom his lawyers want at least some number of Black people to think like, well, you know, there was ten White people and two Black people in the jury. What was he going to — they want that to help him later, which is also offensive to me.

Joe Patrice: Also in addition to the earlier issue, I brought up another race element of this that doesn’t necessarily help or hurt Cosby himself, but a racial element to this that it has troubled me as it’s gone on, has been the kind of cottage side industry of people rushing to newspapers to write their hot take that the whole problem here is that we shouldn’t have any Statute of Limitations for rape. I know there’s been a few op-eds about that and I’ve been kind of quick to say there are a lot of states that do not have Statutes of Limitations nearly long enough. There’s some state in the deep south that has like a one year, that’s absurd, that said, oh my god, you are completely oblivious to the ways in which these crimes can act out and be taken advantage of if you think that getting rid of all Statutes of Limitations is a good idea. There’s way too many instances of false identifications

Elie Mystal: Evidence degradation.

Joe Patrice: Evidence degradation, but also just there’s a lot of racial animus that builds into this because of preconceived notions and bad piss-poor narratives that support racist ideas that are more likely to be problematic, the more years you go away from a problem and that’s what concerns mean.

Elie Mystal: I totally agree with that and I know that you also would agree with me on this caveat that the corrective measure here that we need is to make it a lot easier and a lot more palatable for people to come forward with these allegations in real-time as they’re happening and have some hope that there will be investigation and prosecution on their behalf, right? Because the reason why we are in a situation where these allegations are coming out 30, 40, 50 — not 50 — in 30-40 years later in some cases is because these women did not feel like they could allege these things back in the 70s, and they probably weren’t wrong, and that’s really the problem is not with the Statute, it is as usual with me. It is with the enforcement, it is with the police, it is with the prosecutors, not the Statute.

Joe Patrice: Oh, you mean the way in which America systematically re-victimizes victims is a bad thing.

Elie Mystal: Yeah.

Joe Patrice: And then who knew.

Elie Mystal: Yeah, I thought you would agree with that.

Joe Patrice: Yeah — no — absolutely. Okay, so we’ve gone on for a few minutes now, so why don’t we take a break now and we’ll be back to talk about law schools, and more importantly, what the best law school in the country is at least according to us.

Elie Mystal: Rankings.

Joe Patrice: All right, rankings after we come back.


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Joe Patrice: So ‘Above the Law’ does a ranking system every year, much like ‘U.S. News’ for years ranked law schools, we didn’t necessarily think that the way they ranked law schools were all that good, so we came up with our own set of rankings, and guess what, it’s that magical time of year again when we release our rankings.


Elie Mystal: Our rankings are most likely the second most well read law school rankings in the country. That’s a little bit like saying that we’re the tallest midget, but you know what, we are the tallest goddamn midget in the rankings’ universe.

Joe Patrice: I’m not sure you can use the M word anymore. I’m not positive. For a while I thought that was the thing, but you know what, that’s a good point like, is that still a thing? Words shift a lot. There was a good episode of Lexicon Valley about this, like these things get re-appropriate and change a lot.

Elie Mystal: Depending on what our lawyers say, we are the tallest little people in the rankings business.

Joe Patrice: Yeah, the smartest hillbilly in hillbilly town, how about that? Oh wait, that’s probably a problem too. Anyway, so yes —

Elie Mystal: 10:42 before I get fired.

Joe Patrice: If it hasn’t happened yet, I am like – oh, have you listened to our show? That’s hasn’t happened yet, we’re fine, we’re all clear. So we brought on today to discuss the unveiling of our own rankings our Director of Research Brian Dalton here.

Brian Dalton: Hey Joe, hey Elie, hello Internet.

Joe Patrice: Yeah, so, welcome to the show. So we’ve been on before to talk about our rankings. We’re going to talk about them again this year. I don’t know where do you want to start with this, Elie? Do you want to talk about the top or do you want to work our way up to the top?

Elie Mystal: Start right at the top because we are going to change the top.

Joe Patrice: But do you want to start at the top at number one or do you want to start at ten and like David Letterman this and like work backwards?

Elie Mystal: No, I think it’s more exciting to start right with one.

Joe Patrice: All right, all right. So –

Elie Mystal: Who’s number one this year, Brian?

Brian Dalton: The number one law school in the 2017 above the law rankings is Stanford.

Joe Patrice: Wooh!

Elie Mystal: I would like to point out. This is the fact that our rankings can spit out Stanford really shows the objectivity of our rankings because if there’s one of the top schools that I can’t stand, it’s Stanford because they are the top school that did not admit me?

Brian Dalton: Interesting. It always spins back to Elie one way or another.

Joe Patrice: It’s unbelievable.

Brian Dalton: It is, but it’s like a superpower.

Joe Patrice: It’s like this weird gravitational pull that brings in every possible idea to know about him.

Elie Mystal: How is Stanford and so Yale is two this year?

Brian Dalton: Yale is three.

Elie Mystal: Da, da, da. So Stanford is one, Yale is – Harvard is two.

Brian Dalton: Chicago is two.

Elie Mystal: Did Trump win in this office as well?

Brian Dalton: Trump is four and Harvard is five.

Joe Patrice: In a sense Trump is four.

Brian Dalton: Yeah, I know.

Elie Mystal: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 is Stanford, Chicago, Yale, Duke, Harvard. Harvard is now the duke of the north, is that what you’re telling me?

Brian Dalton: Those are your words.

Joe Patrice: In a sense.

Elie Mystal: How did this happen?

Brian Dalton: Yeah, I think it’s a much more interesting question than why is Stanford number one is why is Duke ahead of Harvard, and not to drone on too much about our methodology and philosophy behind how we put this together, but I think it’s worth visiting a little bit.

Five years ago, and this is the fifth time we’ve done this which kind of blows my mind, I don’t know about you. We sat around the corner at this Mexican restaurant and concocted this sort of scheme. We kind of staked out, but it almost amounts to an ideological position and that was the only thing that matters is outcomes, employment outcomes. We don’t care about any inputs, we don’t care about LSATs, we don’t care about grade-point average, we don’t care about how much you spend on library books, we don’t care about any of that, we just simply care about —

Elie Mystal: We about care about professorial scholarship.

Brian Dalton: Some might say it’s a cynical position but we treat law schools as trade schools, like the point of going to law school is to get a job as a lawyer. Now this infuriates many people in the legal academy, but if they would stop charging hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars for their educational offerings, then perhaps we would take a different stance, but just the economics of the legal job market in the sheer cost of law school, really we don’t feel like we have any other choice and that we’re doing our readers a disservice if we take any other kind of approach.

So why a school is a certain place in our sort of ordinal list is a function of how they do in terms of employment outcomes? And the reason Stanford’s number one is because of all the schools we looked at Stanford had the second highest employment score and what we mean by that is we take the schools self-reported employment statistics, the ABA, and strip out everything that we think is sort of dubious or unverifiable or not falling under what we define is under the rubric of real lawyer jobs. We’re only talking about full-time bar passage required positions. No so-called JD advantage, no solos, no school-funded jobs, none of that, no part-time anything.

Elie Mystal: And Stanford and Chicago and Duke do a lot better than that perhaps than people think.


Brian Dalton: Duke, well, I don’t know what people think, but Duke did the best of anyone. They had — it was north of 90% and Stanford was second. I mean that accounts for Dukes being above Harvard in our list. We’re also not saying that you should go to Duke rather than Harvard because of our list.

Elie Mystal: That’s a whole different kind of stupid.

Brian Dalton: That’s a whole different kind of stupid example.

Joe Patrice: Harvard was fifth last year in our rankings too.

Elie Mystal: Yeah, I mean, this is about where they are based on how we think about these things, and look, as I said I believe last year as I was defending them last year, obviously the point of this list is not saying people at Harvard are not getting jobs, but for the specific kind of jobs that we’re talking about, they’re not placing in those jobs quite as well as some other schools. They’re still placing very, very well, and there are lots of reasons for that.

A Harvard student might go into a long term bar passage required job. They also have opportunities to do a lot other stuff and because we’re talking about very small distinctions here. If five Harvard kids decide that, all right, this is the year that we’re all going to go whatever, start our own company in Alaska, there’s nothing to do with law school, but that’s what we want to do, that can bump a school on these percentages a little bit.

Brian Dalton: I think that’s exactly right. I think that this sort of the top 15 or so of our rankings is fairly stable, no one sort of moves more than two or three places typically, but what’s interesting about our list is farther down the list. 60% of our formula is the employment score, which I just tried to describe, and then something what we call a Quality Job Score, which is percentage of graduates placed in the best-paying law firms as well as in federal clerkships.

So essentially we double-count certain kinds of jobs, and again, the reasons we do so are our economic reasons because those are the jobs that give you the best or most plausible path toward paying down your debt.

Elie Mystal: The bimodal salary distribution curve kind of represented in the ranking form. So who down the list — Joe, who down the list do you find interesting that’s there that people wouldn’t necessarily think would be there?

Joe Patrice: Think would be there, I don’t know about that, I guess Penn State who was not even in our top 50 last year is 27 now, that strikes me as a surprise.

Brian Dalton: Yeah.

Elie Mystal: They finally got rid of Paterno so that –

Joe Patrice: Yeah, right.

Brian Dalton: And also Georgia –

Joe Patrice: Is a State, right? or no?

Brian Dalton: Well, Georgia State, well, cost is another factor, so an institution like Georgia State which has a very good employment outcomes at least in relative terms does really well because of relative cost by our measures, so Georgia State does really well.

Elie Mystal: Like straight up 17:47 is really high.

Brian Dalton: Jump five places into the top 20 and we’d love to attribute that to some sort of Sally Yates effect but that unfortunately isn’t true but nevertheless.

Joe Patrice: It’s too early for that to ripple down.

Brian Dalton: Yeah. Other schools that did well towards the top, WashU went up five spots, little farther down the list where things are little more fluid. Seton Hall went up 11 places.

Joe Patrice: Illinois went up 10.

Brian Dalton: Illinois went up ten, and again, this is down in this neighborhood, this is a pure function of employment outcomes. This percentage of Scottish clerkships in Federal Judiciary Penetration and all, these are the factors that we have — are largely irrelevant once you get out the top.

Elie Mystal: I mean if you look at a school like Georgia versus a school like Duke because that’s just what we were talking about. Our ranking say that if you go to either Duke or Georgia, you’re going to be in a good position, but the key is, either, right? And I think that a lot of people tend to think of Duke is like one kind of school and Georgia is a completely different kind of school and our rankings are trying to show that’s not necessarily the case if you get into from our decision podcast, it’s a situation where if you get into Duke costing you 100% and you get into Georgia with a full ride or a 50% ride, Georgia is a really good option, and I don’t know that everybody gets that.

Brian Dalton: Sure, I mean, it’s really less about the institution than about the applicant, and what Elie said is exactly right, they are both great places, but there’s so many variables that go into each individual case that without knowing that it’s hard to make a recommendation from one direction to other, obviously, Duke is a little bit larger of a national brand and probably has a little bit more national reach in terms of employers, but there may be reasons to go to the other direction. We can’t just say because of some ordinal list that one is necessarily better than the other.

Elie Mystal: Cost cuts both ways though. I think the other thing that people notice when they look at our list are the schools that underperform, and certainly, I think consistently our list shows kind of an underperformance relative to ‘U.S. News’ for the big New York schools.


Brian Dalton: Well, that’s really just all about cost. If you look at the cost figures for NYU in Columbia which really just kind of get killed by us, nothing personal, it’s just that the cost of living locally here is just so disproportionately high that if we use cost as a factor and we feel that we have to, then they suffer. The fact that they do as well as they do just to show how strong they are across the board and elsewhere.

Elie Mystal: You guys both went to law school in New York, how did you guys manage your cost of living while you were here?

Brian Dalton: Yeah, I mean –

Elie Mystal: Little action on the site?

Joe Patrice: I slept in the park. I mean, I lived in the dorms for the two years that I could and then I managed to secure an apartment around the corner from the law school for my third year, which was very impressive and it was cheap because it was awful, so there were mice. Actually the mouse problem was so bad that at one point I got a knock on my door from like the health inspector saying there’s a mouse problem here and I was like, okay, and they were like blaming me, and I was like, I don’t want there to be mice. I thought perhaps we should begin from a different premise. It’s not like I’m raising these things. I don’t want them here. So why are you bothering me, go, do something about them.

Brian Dalton: I also had a pronounced rodent problem in my accommodations during law school which were in a part of Brooklyn that is now quite expensive and fashionable, but at the prime was obscure and depressing and very far away from where I need to go up towards Columbus Circle.

Elie Mystal: So these are the kinds of things I think that pushed down the New York law schools in our list, and again, I’m kind of – “proud” is not exactly the right word. I am happy that that is reflected somewhere. Right? That if you go to Georgia, you’re probably going to not be living with mice and if you’re trying to go to NYU on a cost-efficient basis you very well might be. That’s something that students don’t think they’re going to care about before they go to law school, but turns out as part of the suite of concerns.

Joe Patrice: Yeah Columbia, NYU, obviously Berkeley also similar issues. Surprised, Stanford isn’t hit by that but —

Elie Mystal: Well, this goes to kind of a different problem just how elite your Stanfords and Harvards and Yales are, I mean there was a — we had a conversation, Brian, about should we even include Yale on the list at all because it’s such an unicorn.

Brian Dalton: Such an outlier.

Joe Patrice: Yeah.

Brian Dalton: Right, it’s such a strange place and everyone acknowledges that it is by far the most difficult school to get into, and it performs extraordinarily well by our measure, but, give me a break, almost every case you get into Yale you’re going to go to Yale, but their job score in relative terms is mediocre, it’s probably around 75% compared to 85 plus for the school sort of in its way class, but I mean that’s because the options that people coming out of that place have.

A lot of school deans like to talk about the proverbial J.D. Advantage, McKinsey consultant or what have you, which is largely nonsense, but in the case of Yale, it’s a true thing.

Joe Patrice: Yeah, the prime minister of a small nation is not really captured in that –

Brian Dalton: Yeah, that’s exactly right.

Joe Patrice: — but that is what the Yale grads do.

Brian Dalton: All over the map highly it’s just — it’s a peculiar institution on this list and we have some conversations internally about just excluding them because they kind of — they just don’t fit.

Elie Mystal: They imbalance the rest.

Brian Dalton: Yeah.

Elie Mystal: Last question from me, give us a little bracket buster, who was the last one out because our rankings just look at the top 50. There is a reason –

Brian Dalton: Oh. This is good one.

Elie Mystal: Yeah, there is a reason why we only look at the top 50, we’re trying generally to think about national law schools or schools that are going to have punch outside of just their region, so there might be a really good school that’s really useful in their region, but doesn’t really have national poll that usually wouldn’t make our top 50, so who’s 51?

Brian Dalton: Well, 51, I’m not sure if they meet your criteria that you just outline of a regional player, the 51st school is USC.

Elie Mystal: USC is always –

Brian Dalton: They are always right on the bubble.

Elie Mystal: They are right there.

Brian Dalton: They are right on the bubble, and for whatever reason, there is no mystery to this. It’s just because of the data points that we’ve decided upon in the way we apportion.

Elie Mystal: That’s a school that’s getting hit because of cost.

Brian Dalton: Yeah.

Elie Mystal: Because USC is really expensive relative to the national places, and their employment scores are good, but I think USC perfectly fits in terms of an employment score that’s great but it’s great within California. It’s greater on the west coast. I wouldn’t feel great about running with my USC degree if I had to go get a job in Texas in the same way that I would feel if I had my Stanford degree, right?

Joe Patrice: Right.

Brian Dalton: Wearing your Matt Leinart t-shirt.

Elie Mystal: We can have a larger conversation about why are we trying to get a job in Texas.

Brian Dalton: Yeah.


Joe Patrice: All right. Well, this is interesting. Now, if you are listening to this through any kind of your subscription to us service or your podcasting download of service, then you don’t have advantage of this but if you’re listening to this on the embedded podcast that’s within our post on this, then you’re reading the rankings right now. So you could have followed along. If you aren’t, go to ‘Above the Law’ and read the rankings so you can follow along with this discussion, probably something I should have said beforehand, but you should just re-listen to this podcast because why not. I’m sure you are interested in hearing or insights a second time.

If you aren’t subscribed to us though you should be because that way you get to download it every time we come out with a new episode, you should give us stars on your review process and write reviews, and those things will help us be visible to more people because the algorithm pushes us up when people search a law for a podcast would higher up if we have more reviews, so that’s a good thing for you to do.

Listen to the Legal Talk Network app, their app has all us as well as all the other Legal Talk Network offerings. Read ‘Above the Law’ obviously, Twitter, I’m @JosephPatrice, you’re @ElieNYC, that’s pretty much everything I got to say. Anything else?

Elie Mystal: No, thanks for coming by, Brian.

Brian Dalton: Thanks guys.

Joe Patrice: Yeah, all right. Peace.


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The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.

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Episode Details
Published: May 31, 2017
Podcast: Thinking Like a Lawyer - Above the Law
Category: Law School
Thinking Like a Lawyer - Above the Law
Thinking Like a Lawyer - Above the Law

Above the Law's Elie Mystal and Joe Patrice examine everyday topics through the prism of a legal framework.

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