Law in Contemporary Society
-- ChristinaYoun - 20 Feb 2008

I've looked into Vault somewhat when determining which firms to apply for this summer (not that it did me any good). What I found is that many of the rankings on Vault for the Practice Areas I'm interested in were similar to other rankings I found on the internet.

I also think that what lawyers think about each other is relevant (which would somewhat validate Vault's methodology). Although tiering can exist between firms because of this, lawyers from firms within the same tier still have to rank each other. This would mean that many of the lawyers ranking had the opportunity to get into these other firms. Hence, it can't just be that these lawyers look at where they didn't get into and rank those places better.

Since these top firms have have to rank someone first, if they all go in one direction it probably means something (although not everything). There are other valid ways to rank firms outside peer review measuring tangible attributes. However, considering many of these measures would favor size over quality and would probably disadvantage upstart and new firms, which have yet to achieve the size of the older firms. Perhaps growth could control for this somehow, but that disadvantages firms which already have 1000 lawyers.

Does anyone have any thoughts on another possible methodology for ranking instead of peer review of prestige or the tangible factors Eben has mentioned?

-- JulianBaez - 20 Feb 2008

Why have rankings at all?

-- JuliaS - 20 Feb 2008

That's what I'm wondering too, Julia. Could it just be human's neurotic, compulsive need to categorize and "know" things in a certain order as Holmes has suggested?

-- ChristinaYoun - 20 Feb 2008

I think there is a strong connection to Leff's work.

The rankings allow firms to increase the apparent value to potential employees of working at the firm, while grades and law school brand serve to increase the apparent value of the student to the firm. The combination allows the firm to get more out of the attorney than they otherwise would be able to.

-- AdamCarlis - 20 Feb 2008

I think so too, Christina. People refuse to admit that the choices they make are governed, in large part, by visceral factors and not by "logical" analysis (whatever that means). For lots of ordinary choices, we can get by without admitting this, because it's easy enough to construct reasons, post-hoc, for why we chose the way we did. But when the choice set is seemingly infinite - when accomplished people are given a choice of colleges, law schools, or jobs, all of which they're qualified for and nearly all of which they could get - there's no way we can come up with logical reasons for why we chose one place over another. ("Why'd you choose to go to Penn?" "Oh, I loved the people there." "Did you even visit Wash U.?" "No, but Penn was closer to home." "But what about the thirty other schools that are even closer?" "Penn was ranked higher.") Not being able to come up with logical reasons scares us, and so the market becomes ripe for a beneficent messenger from the sky - U.S. News & World Report, or Vault - to make the decision for us. Rankings bring the choice set down from hundreds or thousands to the more manageable dozen or so choices that fit in whatever tier our grades and other accomplishments seem to put us. And so we're able to breathe easy, knowing that our choices are "logical" and that we had some non-arbitrary basis for making the "right choice" about which college/law school/firm would make us the happiest, and we didn't have to actually visit and learn about all three thousand of them.

I know when I decide on colleges or law schools or jobs (or restaurants, for that matter), the major dilemma is not that I don't know how to choose which ones will make me happy, but rather that all of the possible choices are worthy. It becomes very stressful to decide, because even though the rational thing to do, in the face of many choices any of which would be great, would be to just flip a coin and save on decision costs... Well, that just wouldn't be very satisfying, would it? So most people are willing to pay the $5.95 or $19.95 or whatever it is that buying a rankings guide costs, to mitigate some of that nagging unease that comes with making decisions that aren't obvious.

-- MichaelBerkovits - 20 Feb 2008

Has anyone actually read how the Vault comes up with the rankings? Most of it is based on a survey of what working attorneys think are the most prestigious firms. They just tally up the votes. I suspect that a lot of the prestige comes from none other than the fact that X firm has a GPA cutoff of Y. Many lawyers are probably basing their notions of prestige on "well, I couldn't get hired there with my grades...."

I’m just wondering if prestige is really a reflection of the effort a firm puts into its image as being prestigious. After all, if you look up firms in terms of growth, net profits, number of business transactions, etc. (the tangible stuff), the top 5 most prestigious firms listed on Vault are not necessarily at the top of those lists.


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r9 - 22 Jan 2009 - 02:24:14 - IanSullivan
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