A New Ranking of Law Schools' Effects on Other Law Schools

Lawyers who graduate from one law school and then teach at another become "superspreaders."

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A new law school ranking was recently published as part of an article that studied the social structure of the American legal academic community. The article, "Reproduction of Hierarchy? A Social Network Analysis of the American Law Professoriate," was written by Daniel Martin Katz, Joshua Gubler, Jon Zelnerm, Eric A. Provins, and Eitan Ingall, all of whom work for the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

In order to do their analysis, the authors first created a detailed database of 7,200 legal academics, using the The Association of American Law Schools' annual directory as a starting point. They were looking for those teaching at 184 law schools accredited by the American Bar Association and ranked by U.S. News in 2007.

One of the more interesting results of their work is a new ranking of law schools based solely on the placement, or connections, of each law school's J.D. graduates as legal academics at the 184 selected law schools. The "outdegree" rankings are based on the total number of such connections between law schools, sorted in descending order. Harvard Law School has the greatest number of connections, 993 in all; nine law schools had zero connections.

The authors say that "outdegree provides a blunt measure of the relative influence a given institution might display. The model emphasizes how, for historically elite institutions, 'peer effects' allow such schools to become intellectual superspreaders," with the alumni from one law school playing key roles in shaping the curriculum at another.

It's also noteworthy that there is a very strong relationship between the new "outdegree" law school rankings and the current U.S News law school rankings. The article calculates an 81.8% statistical correlation between the two sets of rankings.

Of course, there are some notable exceptions: Howard University, Syracuse University, and Wayne State University all rank far higher in the "outdegree" rankings than in the U.S. News rankings.

Here are the top 25 law schools ranked by outdegree compared with the 2009 U.S. News law school rankings.

Law School Name Outdegree Degree Law School Rank Number of Outdegrees from each school 2009 U.S. News Law School Rank
Harvard University, MA 1 993 2
Yale University, CT 2 712 1
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor 3 309 9
Columbia University, NY 4 308 4
University of Chicago, IL 5 288 7
New York University 6 245 5
Stanford University, CA 7 217 2
University of California-Berkeley 8 201 6
University of Virginia 9 154 9
Georgetown University, DC 10 154 14
University of Pennsylvania 11 152 7
Northwestern University, IL 12 111 9
University of Texas-Austin 13 111 16
Duke University, NC 14 91 12
University of California-Los Angeles 15 87 16
Cornell University, NY 16 83 12
University of Wisconsin 17 82 36
Boston University, MA 18 67 21
University of Illinois 19 59 27
University of Minnesota 20 57 22
University of Iowa 21 55 27
University of Florida 22 53 46
George Washington University, DC 23 50 20
Vanderbilt University, TN 24 45 15
Tulane University, LA 25 43 44

Source: “Reproduction of Hierarchy? A Social Network Analysis of the American Law Professoriate” and 2009 U.S. News “Best Law Schools” rankings