Joe and Kathryn welcome Chris Williams, the newest writer to the Above the Law staff, to discuss the latest Above the Law law school rankings. Chris’s alma mater tied with Harvard this year and we discuss the ATL model and how it comes up with these numbers. We also discuss last week’s biggest story: an associate who billed for over a year to a closed matter. Yikes.
Special thanks to our sponsors, Lexicon and Nota.
Joe Patrice: Well, hello and welcome to another edition of Thinking Like a Lawyer.
Kathryn Rubino: Hello.
Joe Patrice: I’m Joe Patrice from Above Law. I’m joined by Kathryn Rubino as per ushe.
Kathryn Rubino: As per ushe, yeah I’m here. It’s officially summer. This past weekend was I think the first weekend of summer.
Joe Patrice: Yeah and it’s a heat advisory here. There’s a major —
Kathryn Rubino: Not just on the east coast.
Joe Patrice: Well, yes, actually our poor heat wave, it’s a serious heat wave and nobody cares because of what’s happening on the west coast.
Kathryn Rubino: Well, it’s really bad there.
Joe Patrice: Yeah well I’m actually originally from Oregon as some people know and you know that’s a place where you know very mild summers. Mid 80s, it’s like when it gets really hot. It’s apparently 118 degrees now.
Kathryn Rubino: That is too hot. People aren’t meant to live in places that are that hot. Well, I know this weekend was the Olympic trials in Eugene and they said that the temperature on the track was 148.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, not good.
Kathryn Rubino: If you need more evidence of cataclysmic climate change, I’m done. I’m over like this is it.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, it’s not great. Well, so yeah.
Kathryn Rubino: Yeah, so that’s summer. It’s going to be a hot girl summer but not quite the way I anticipated it.
Joe Patrice: Okay fair enough.
Kathryn Rubino: So, you listen. I’m trying here.
Joe Patrice: Well no, that’s fair. Don’t really have any good way of leading into anything so let’s hear from our friends at Lexicon.
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Joe Patrice: Okay, so we’re back and we have some news. We have all kinds of news. Yeah.
Kathryn Rubino: Big news for Above the Law.
Joe Patrice: Yes, for those of us for long time Above the Law readers, you may notice a change in the last couple of days and that’s because today as we’re recording is the first day that we bring on Chris Williams to join in the ATL crew, so welcome to the show. We’ll introduce you here.
Kathryn Rubino: How are you doing, Chris?
Chris Williams: I’m very good, very good. In a heat wave underneath a fan with air conditioning so I feel blessed. I cannot complain.
Joe Patrice: So Chris is coming to us for those of you who are real deep into the law school lawyer ecosphere of comedy. Chris comes to us largely from the Law School Memes for Edgy T14s meme group on Facebook which if you haven’t checked out, you should. I used to post some of them on Above the Law here and there where he’s been working as a moderator and growing that to — how many people are in there now?
Chris Williams: We have a couple thousand, I think a hundred thousand.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Kathryn Rubino: It’s pretty good.
Joe Patrice: A hundred thousand, it’s been cited in like a law review articles and stuff even.
Chris Williams: I think it was like a like a Harvard or something.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard of that school.
Kathryn Rubino: Not that they’re doing too well in the rankings.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, it’s interesting you mentioned that because that’s a good place for us to transition. I guess to talk about a substantive story for a little bit. Above The Law also does its version of law school rankings. We do this slightly differently than the way US news does.
Kathryn Rubino: Well, I mean there’s only value in doing it differently and one already exists and I think there are some really important differences in the way that ATL does our law school rankings.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, so if you haven’t checked out the top 50 law school rankings, you should do that. You’ll see that our system which tends to rely on outputs, the ability of people to get jobs with relatively little debt are weighed much higher than the GPAs and LSAT scores that are the inputs to law school that US news does. Bringing us all the way around to that school that Chris mentioned, Harvard is ranked ninth and tied with your law school.
Chris Williams: Oh wait, is cursing a thing here? Is that okay?
Joe Patrice: Yes, we have the explicit tag.
Chris Williams: As the French say, oh shit. We take those, we take those, yeah.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, WashU in St. Louis is tied with Harvard which raised some eyebrows around the world.
Chris Williams: What?
Kathryn Rubino: Mostly ours.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, I mean look.
Obviously WashU, it’s not like it’s a secret that it’s a good school even in the US news rank in those other rankings I guess I’ll call them from now on. In those other rankings, it is still a top 20 school. It’s not like it’s a real shock that it does well but in our rankings, it got a big boost because as it turns out, its employment numbers are better than Harvard’s. More folks are coming out of there with full-time, long-term jobs in the law than coming out of Harvard according to stats.
Chris Williams: But what I will say is I will default to ATL’s ranking. One, for just personal bias but also it lets me talk way more at a bar in Boston. Oh Harvard’s up here. Like what?
Kathryn Rubino: Well I know Joe and I frequently bicker about the quality of our respective law schools and both of them have been kicked out of the top 10 in the ATL rankings. Yes, both Columbia and NYU are not in the top 10.
Chris Williams: How does that feel?
Joe Patrice: It’s a little rough. Neither of our schools have ever done well in our system because living in New York is more expensive and so they get dinged because while our employment numbers are generally pretty good, it costs more and you could land at a big law firm in New York going to places that are not quite as expensive as NYU and Columbia.
Chris Williams: Wait is WashU cheap? Because based off of my tuition —
Joe Patrice: Not, it is not. But it is cheaper than NYU and Columbia by — I was looking at law school transparency’s numbers. It’s something like total cost including your living and yada yada assuming zero scholarships and everything was like 350 for UNI schools and like 302 or something like that for WashU which is still that’s hugely expensive but it’s that little bit that can make a difference in a ranking system that cares about debt loads.
Chris Williams: But I will say to anybody thinking about ranking and cost of living based off of where you want to go. St. Louis really bad philly cheesesteaks and chopped cheeses. Their transit system had much to ask for. I mean, that’s also something to factor in but that’s cool here because it’s my first time hearing.
Joe Patrice: So yeah, top 10 school. I actually had an interchange with a WashU grad over internet because I wrote a piece saying that you know obviously there’s some weaknesses with our rankings and some people might point to like this particular inflation and I explained why and like how we don’t we don’t have the ability to really discern out the full-time long-term jobs from like if you’re working for Polsinelli in St. Louis. That’s a big national firm and you’ve got a good gig but you can’t quite measure that versus working for Skadden in New York and that distinction matters because WashU is very good about getting people jobs and about a quarter of them are in Missouri and that’s something we can’t really parse with our rankings.
Kathryn Rubino: Right whereas like Columbia has the most folks going into big law period and that is not rewarded nearly as much as just getting them full-time long-term law jobs, yeah.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, anyway, but yeah so I had a back and forth and you know this is a WashU grad who has a big law job in New York and was saying — well I mean it’s possible and I’m not saying it’s not I’m just saying that you know there are a lot of people.
Kathryn Rubino: There’s a lot of people who get those jobs. You can go to Toro and get a big law. You can.
Joe Patrice: Yes, but that’s not a fair comparison.
Kathryn Rubino: Sure. I’m just saying it’s possible.
Joe Patrice: This is much more likely to get it out of WashU.
Kathryn Rubino: Yes, there’s probably the top grad at those kind of lower tier schools versus a whole tier of folks that at WashU.
Chris Williams: How’s Vanderbilt?
Joe Patrice: Not as good. Actually it’s interesting that you mentioned that because we actually wanted to talk through that a little bit which is Vanderbilt’s obviously the school that in the US news rankings is right next to you. They’re very comparable but in this ranking there’s much more of a gap and that was one thing that stood out to us.
Kathryn Rubino: Yeah and it’s interesting too because the employment numbers at WashU tend to be better historically as well and for our rankings that’s definitely what the issue comes down to you know.
Joe Patrice: I wonder if you know obviously the top several percentage half maybe even more of both these schools are able to kind of go to whatever market they want to go to but I also wonder to what extent. There’s you know for the folks that are at the bottom of those classes like in Vanderbilt like there’s one market to kind of go to, Nashville, you go into that market whereas with WashU has the advantage of being able to funnel into either a St. Louis or a Kansas City market. Maybe that’s a reason why the numbers are a little bit better, I don’t know.
But yeah Vanderbilt was 15 and obviously WashU tied for ninth. I’ll just read them. So the top honors were Chicago this year.
Kathryn Rubino: Boo.
Joe Patrice: Then UVA and Duke, Cornell, Michigan, Yale, Penn, Stanford and a tie between WashU and Harvard for the top 10.
Kathryn Rubino: Where did ours?
Joe Patrice: Columbia ended up 13th and NYU is 16th.
Chris Williams: Well one of you is still T14.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, yeah.
Kathryn Rubino: How does that feel, Joe?
Joe Patrice: T14 is a number that only matters in the US news world here.
Kathryn Rubino: Sure but it has become a colloquial way to refer to you the elite of law schools.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, it has and we’re going to ignore that. I don’t see any reason.
Chris Williams: I will not. I’m finally at a T14 school. You can take that how you will.
Joe Patrice: Well, actually on that note. You’re not finally, last year WashU was 14 in our rankings so it was already T14.
Kathryn Rubino: Well this is top 10.
Chris Williams: I feel like it’s tier 14 or is it T14er now that it’s higher up.
Joe Patrice: Yeah I don’t know what the proper grammatical term on that one is.
Chris Williams: Yeah, one of the two.
Joe Patrice: Now that we’ve talked about a bit of a substantive story for a little bit let’s transition. Get a little bit more of introducing you to the audience. How’d you get into the meme group situation?
Chris Williams: So, the way it worked out and I’m just very online and it turns out that Facebook is a great way to avoid learning the rules against perpetuity. It was my go-to. I was like “oh, do I really care that much about standing?” No, but they have haha react, I want those. So that’s kind of how it started. Joined the group and then there was one point where they were asking for people that are interested in being mods and just on a whim I volunteer as tribute. You know, whistle sound from hunger games and then I posted a few memes. Some of them were good, the other ones we were a lot of knowledge and they were like, “okay, fuck it, you’re on.” I’m like okay cool so then I found a way to not get kicked off from the moderating group and then after like I guess I don’t know if it was a year in real time, a year in internet time or a year in the COVID time but after a year I just became an admin so became more involved with the general politic of the group which really just means there’s a cool group chat that we all had where we get to like have conversations with each other. And it became more of a group of people I was in. Actually I became closer to a lot of the fellow admins and moderators in my cohort and WashU so that was interesting.
Kathryn Rubino: One of the questions I always love to ask on podcasts when you’re trying to get to know someone for a legal podcast is why did you go to law school in the first place. You are you’re much closer to the law school experience than myself or Joe but I think it’s always kind of an interesting question to kind of figure out how people approach the profession.
Chris Williams: Sure. I think the long answer to why I went to law school is because I didn’t have as good of a mentor as I could have. To keep this colloquial, see right, what had happened was I graduated from Rutgers Newark. Two degrees, had a degree in philosophy and I had a degree in African and African American studies and I thought to myself I really want to keep on reading the work of cool black people and dead white men. How can I do this without becoming a career student? I figured I could either get a PhD and teach philosophy at some school and then be an adjunct professor and get screwed over and never get tenure or I could get a law degree, teach jurisprudence, get paid six figures to teach legal philosophy and still have summer break. So that’s what I wanted to do, that’s really why I went to law school. I had no intention of ever practicing.
Joe Patrice: You can definitely read exactly those two categories of authors in the law so there is that.
Kathryn Rubino: So it was a clever way to do then.
Chris Williams: I mean it was an attempt. So the thought was and I figured and this is the thing about WashU kind of the climate was also those people that thought to myself okay I’ll get in, a little bit of a scholarship, I’ll finish 1L(ph) top 5 in my class, be phenomenal, transfer to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, NYU because those were the teacher schools, right?
Do all my readings, people were like get a study group. I’m like I’m good I don’t need one of those. Got my first grades back, I got a 3.18 and I was like “oh this is what it sounds like when dreams die,” so after that I’m like looks like I’m not transferring. But then I had one of those you know aim for the stars because even if you fall you’ll be on the moon. WashU’s a good moon, right? So decided to stick it at WashU. Met some amazing people, accrued some amazing debt and now I’m here.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, no it’s great to have you because we really do feel — Kathryn kind of made the allusion to us being old which I did not appreciate at all a second ago but she did it anyway.
Kathryn Rubino: He graduated this year, anything more than 2020, he’s closer to the law school experience than we are.
Joe Patrice: Right. No, I agree, I agree. Yeah so anyway.
Kathryn Rubino: I’m not old. I will be very clear about that.
Joe Patrice: But it’s great to have somebody who’s actually been in law school more recently because you’re going to have a lot different — I mean, I don’t even know what that situation is even like anymore other than what people occasionally tell me and I’m sure I don’t get the best reports.
Chris Williams: It’s probably the same as what you did. You know, we go in the contract, we put on the VR set. We listen to, you know.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, no.
Kathryn Rubino: I will say that I had my study guides like the commercial outlines that I bought on cassette tape.
Chris Williams: What?
Kathryn Rubino: Yes, I had a cassette tape version so I could like do it while I was walking around and running errands because I had a Walkman like the original like cassette tape.
Joe Patrice: Wow.
Chris Williams: The closest relationship I have to cassette tapes is that some games have the cassette image icon as the save function. So there may be a bit of a difference.
Joe Patrice: Some anachronistic picture. Yeah, wow, Kathryn.
Kathryn Rubino: Well I also bought every study guide for every class and I was like “ooh this one’s available in cassette, let me see if I’m more of an auditory learner.”
Joe Patrice: I probably should have because I do like the fact that I didn’t. Well, let’s take a quick break here and we’ll come back and talk about another one of those stories since we’re talking about law school.
Kathryn Rubino: Why did you go to law school? Did you go to be a lawyer?
Joe Patrice: You went to law school to be a lawyer not an accountant although in this case, Chris has now told us that sometimes you can go to law school to be something not a lawyer too so maybe this ad read isn’t quite entirely correct. But you went to law school to be a lawyer not an accountant. Take advantage of Nota and no cost IOTA management tool that helps solo and small law firms track client funds down to the penny. Enjoy peace of mind with one click reconciliation, automated transaction alerts, and real-time bank data. Visit trustnota.com/legal to learn more. Terms and conditions may apply. So yeah, the other thing we often do on the show is talk through what the big stories of the week had been and now we’ve got Chris here and we can bring him into this talk too. The biggest story of the week is people still got raises but we’ve talked about that now for two weeks so there’s not really anything more to say. The next big one is one of my stories. In Illinois, there is a lawyer who has some trouble with the disciplinary committee right now. The disciplinary committee seems a little displeased because according to the complaint that they released. He billed 2,200 some odd hours to a matter that was closed.
Chris Williams: What?
Kathryn Rubino: That’s not right.
Joe Patrice: So this attorney who was an associate was at the time an associate at Lewis Brisbois was working on a pro bono matter for an inmate that matter ended because they lost and it meant that the firm was no longer pro bono counsel to them. There was a letter sent out explaining we no longer represent you. That’s that. This associate according to the complaint continued billing to research and drafting of the summary judgment motion so that happened. The matter ends in January of 2020. He bills the entirety of 2020 to researching and drafting the summary judgment motion to the tune of a little over 2,000 hours which conveniently was enough to get his bonuses interestingly enough.
Kathryn Rubino: I support robust pro bono programs for big law firms as much if not more than the average bear but 2,000 hours and you don’t need approval. What is going on? What is going on? A lot of firms you have things like you know up to you 100 or 200 hours of pro bono will be counted towards your bonus numbers and listen it’s great if it’s unlimited but usually somebody has to check a button somewhere and say yup this one’s okay.
Joe Patrice: Somebody in our tips line actually wrote me and said if you build 2,000 hours to a pro bono matter and my firm, they would give you some sort of an award. For PR reasons, they would be like press release look at our great associate who built this much.
Chris Williams: Wasn’t the award sanctioned or something?
Joe Patrice: The award appears to be sanctioned.
Kathryn Rubino: It’s a great way to pass COVID year though.
Joe Patrice: So that was 2020, and then January and the first couple weeks of February of 2021, he continued billing to this matter.
Kathryn Rubino: That’s a really long time for any summary judgment motion like that it’s too long.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, like some red flag should have come up.
Kathryn Rubino: Is there no mentorship at the firm? Like I know everything was kind of thrown into chaos because of you know global pandemic but come on. No one’s paying attention to what he is doing? No one?
Joe Patrice: No one.
Kathryn Rubino: I blame the firm here. Listen, obviously, don’t make up billables. Sure. Everyone knows that though but I think the real lesson here is that big law firms have to have some sense of what their associates are actually working on. That means he spoke to no one about his case for over a year like from a management perspective. Even if it wasn’t pro bono even if it wasn’t closed that means no one is watching what happens. That also means that there’s no partner paying attention when there are pro bono matters to be like, oh let me read a copy of, I would like to see it before it gets filed. There’s none of that going on.
Chris Williams: Are you sure this wasn’t just like a SNL skit or an onion article that go leaked?
Joe Patrice: It’s unbelievable.
Kathryn Rubino: If we made this as like a joke on ATL. People are like, that’s dumb, that doesn’t happen, that couldn’t happen. Somebody would notice.
Joe Patrice: It’s started making the rounds in Chicago legal circles, this complaint and it was forwarded on to us from there. Well, I mean this can only happen on pro bono because if it were a billable matter somebody would have had to go try to collect the money. That would have been the moment someone noticed. It’s a testament to how I guess lacks their concern for their pro and their own pro bono program is that nobody bothers to keep up with what’s going on there.
Kathryn Rubino: No, listen, I’ve heard stories about young associates ghosting on their jobs and just not showing up to work for a while and it takes weeks maybe months for the firm to notice.
Joe Patrice: Wow, that’s not a situation where you heard. You are literally subtweeting a person that we both know in real life but move on.
Kathryn Rubino: Correct but still, the firm noticed within six weeks. That is a long time to not know what your associate is doing but it is understandably long. It is not over a year over but that’s too much. It probably would not have happened if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, right? Don’t we think. We think that, right?
Joe Patrice: I guess because if you’re physically in an office people might bump into you and ask you questions. I guess that’s the one thing but yeah.
Kathryn Rubino: That’s crazy, that’s crazy.
Joe Patrice: Anyway yeah, no, so there’s disciplinary action.
Kathryn Rubino: Yeah, you would imagine disciplinary action.
Joe Patrice: Obviously, there’s some deceit involved in something like this but there’s also the financial aspect of he kept getting exactly the numbers required to meet his bonus targets.
Kathryn Rubino: And to continue working at the firm.
Chris Williams: Is this is firm hiring? Because I got a couple hours in my back pocket.
Joe Patrice: That’s a deal.
Kathryn Rubino: That was a great story.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, anyway so, there’s that. I think that’s pretty much everything we got, right?
Kathryn Rubino: Welcome to the team, Chris? Are you excited, hope, terrified? Probably terrified.
Chris Williams: All the words, all the words.
Joe Patrice: Well for now for readers who are looking forward stuff. For now, you’re not going to be doing a full-time stretch because you’re still studying for yield exam but soon enough. So, there’ll be some part-time. You’ll see him on our social media and stuff part-time for the short term and then transitioning into doing more.
Chris Williams: And I may or may not be planning on writing a love letter to the bar as if study for it and I think about my friends from last year’s class that just didn’t have to at all and are doing the law thing.
So it’ll be about the major significance of this trial. It’s not like it’s hazing or anything, it’s very important.
Joe Patrice: So bad, yeah and every — we’ve done a lot of coverage on this too. Everything about last year was basically it was like the pressure test that broke all of the myths we told ourselves about whether or not the bar exam was useful and we walked away going no not really.
Kathryn Rubino: Don’t worry, the industry has learned nothing from the experience.
Chris Williams: I mean, they’re still profiting.
Kathryn Rubino: How to make money without even trying.
Joe Patrice: With that said —
Kathryn Rubino: Let’s go enjoy this summer.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, thanks everybody for listening. You should be subscribed to the show that way you get episodes when they come out. You should give them reviews, stars, write something, show some engagement that shows more people that we are a law podcast out there that folks should be listening to. You should listen to the Jabot which is Kathryn’s other podcast. You can check me out on Legaltech Week’s Journalist Roundtable talking about legal text stories every week. You should be reading Above the Law obviously for all of our content. You should connect on social media. I’m at Joseph Patrice. She’s Kahtryn1, the numeral one. Chris, what’s your social media info?
Chris Williams: [email protected].
Joe Patrice: There you go. Yeah so, if you want to get in touch with him. You can always get in touch with all of us at once by writing things to [email protected]. That comes to all of us. That’s a very useful place to write if your law firm has a raise that we need to talk about.
Kathryn Rubino: If there is someone at your firm who built 2,000 hours to a closed matter.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, all of these sorts of things you should reach out to us.
Kathryn Rubino: And all tipsters are always kept strictly confident.
Joe Patrice: Obviously, obviously, good point. Let’s see what else? Is that everything? Thanks to our advertisers noted by M&T Bank and Lexicon and yes now I think we’re done.
Kathryn Rubino: Peace.
Chris Williams: It’s been a pleasure.