Top 25 law schools ranked by law student transfer preferences

How about another law school ranking--this time, one that measures tangible law student preference for one school over another?

The ABA has released the Standard 509 disclosures from law schools for 2014. The Standard 509 includes new data this year. Schools formerly listed only the number of transfers in and out. Now, if a school accepts more than five transfer students, it must list the schools from which the transfers came. Additionally, enough transfer students requires the school to the median GPA, and with an even larger number of transfers the 75th and 25th percentile GPAs of transfer.

The data is all concealed in those PDFs. But with a little magic (text recognition, data scraping, and a little time-consuming manual cleanup), we can aggregate the transfer data. Schools logged 2221 transfers in for the Fall of 2014. Because of disclosure requirements, we know the migration patterns of 1968 of them. So we know 1968 decisions of law students to leave one institution and instead attend another.

Students applying to law schools often don't have a good idea about what schools have to offer. But once they are in law school, they have some additional information about their own institution and have a better perspective about law schools themselves.

My colleague Rob Anderson (WITNESSETH) thought that using the Bradley-Terry model would be the best way of comparing schools. (This method is used in, among other things, Peter Wolfe's college football rankings, once a component of the BCS formula.)

Using that method, here are the top 25 schools. (The full list will be revealed at WITNESSETH later this week.) Comments below.

1. Yale University

2. Stanford University

3. Harvard University

4. New York University

5. University of California-Berkeley

6. Columbia University

7. University of Chicago

8. University of Pennsylvania

9. Northwestern University

10. University of Texas at Austin

11. Duke University

12. University of Washington

13. University of California-Los Angeles

14. Vanderbilt University

15. University of Michigan

16. University of Virginia

17. Cornell University

18. George Washington University

19. Brigham Young University

20. Georgetown University

21. University of Minnesota

22. University of Southern California

23. Southern Methodist University

24. Washington University

25. University of Notre Dame

As with any ranking system, there are obviously imperfections. Zero students transferred out of Yale, Harvard, or Stanford, so they are compared only indirectly; so too with others that had fewer transfers. Many schools had five or fewer transfers, which they did not disclose. Many students transfer for personal reasons, which may not reflect an evaluation of law school quality. Schools generally benefited if they had no (or few) transfers out; schools generally suffered if they were not required to disclose their transfer data, or if they accepted few transfers (when, of course, the most stable schools may accept the least transfers!).

Glancing at the top 25, one may wonder about some of the rankings. But consider SMU: they accepted transfers from Baylor, Hastings, and Fordham (among other institutions), but sent students only to Texas. A Bradley-Terry model would rank SMU quite high for precisely the results of this head-to-head matchup.

The data set includes all schools with at least one disclosed transfer, including the three schools in Puerto Rico, recently-accredited schools like the University of California-Irvine, and schools seeking accreditation like Concordia University.

Stay tuned: the full list of schools is forthcoming.

(If you are at a law school that did not disclose the schools from which students transfers, email us the information and we'll post an update. It will usually, but not always, help your school's ranking.)

UPDATE: This post has been modified in light of a correction in data.