Maclean's first-ever ranking of Canada's law schools

Law has always been among the most competitive of professional schools. So how do Canada's law schools compare?

For a complete explanation of the methodology behind the rankings, CLICK HERE

Welcome to our first annual ranking of Canadian law schools. The annual Maclean’s university rankings, published each November, have long offered a broad evaluation of the quality of undergraduate education at each university. But this marks the first time that we are ranking a specific program within the university.

Law has long been one of the most competitive of professional schools. Above-average undergraduate marks are generally a must, with some schools being so competitive that they only extend offers to the most outstanding students.

Our law ranking is not, however, a ranking of which schools are the hardest to get into. It is, instead, about measuring the quality of the output of each school.

The methodology behind the Maclean’s law school ranking was created by professor Brian Leiter, the Hines H. Baker and Thelma Kelly Baker chair at the University of Texas at Austin Law School. He is also a professor of philosophy, as well as the director of U Texas’s law and philosophy program.

Leiter may also be America’s most prominent critic of the best-known journalistic ranking of law schools: the annual law school rankings from U.S. News and World Report. Leiter’s criticisms have been directed at the specifics of the U.S. News methodology, which is, among other things, based in part on data provided by schools, contains some data that is open to manipulation, and other data that, even if accurate, may not be measuring anything particularly relevant. On one of his blogs — www.leiterrankings.com — he has for many years compiled and published alternative ways of measuring law school quality. His numbers are often looked to by those in American academe who seek to measure roughly where their schools stand.

We turned to Leiter to help us build a relevant and unbiased assessment of Canadian law schools.

The Maclean’s law school ranking contains only four elements, all drawn from publicly available data. Fifty per cent of the ranking weight is devoted to student and graduate quality; the other 50 per cent is composed of a measure of faculty quality.

To calculate the “Faculty Journal Citations” measure, weighted at 50 per cent of the ranking, we counted the number of tenure and tenure-track faculty at each law school, excluding adjunct faculty, emeritus professors and the like. We then researched each professor’s citation count in Quicklaw’s database of 33 Canadian legal journals. We added up total citations for each school, and then divided by the number of professors at each school.(For more on methodology, go to macleans.ca/oncampus and click on “Rankings.”)

For the “Elite Firm Hiring” measure, worth 25 per cent, we relied on the Lexpert list of the leading Canadian law firms, and Vault’s list of leading New York firms. On each firm’s website, we counted the number of associates from each school. We divided each school’s total by the size of each school’s first-year class, as provided by the website of the Law School Admission Council. The “National Reach” measure, worth 15 per cent, involved using information gathered for “Elite Firm Hiring,” and calculating how many of each school’s graduates had been hired by leading firms other than the three firms that hired the most graduates from that school. This is a rough measure of the extent to which leading firms outside of a school’s region hire its graduates. “A degree that gets you hired from Vancouver to Montreal is a degree that many students may prefer to have,” says Leiter. “That’s what we’re trying to measure here.”

The “Supreme Court Clerkship” measure is worth 10 per cent. We looked at Supreme Court clerks hired over the past six years, and counted the number from each school. Supreme Court clerkships are one-year positions, awarded to the country’s top students, as chosen by the judges. Our source for the list of clerks was Osgoode Hall’s The Court website,(www.thecourt.ca/clerks-of-the-supreme-court).

Is this ranking useful for potential students? “Excellence of the faculty and professional opportunities afforded by an education must surely be two traditional and central markers of academic excellence in law school or any professional school,” says Leiter. “Schools themselves engage in constant self-representations on both counts, and professionals and students tend to have inchoate impressions of their own. Quantitative and systematic study of how schools actually fare along these dimensions should prove a useful corrective to advertising puffery and dated or inaccurate anecdotes.”

Common Law Schools ranking

Canada’s law schools have been evaluated according to three measures of student/graduate quality, worth 50 per cent, and one measure of faculty quality, also worth 50 per cent. All measures were calculated relative to the size of each school. Elite Firm Hiring is worth 25 per cent; National Reach, a measure of how widely employed a school’s graduates are, is worth 15 per cent; and Supreme Court Clerkships is weighted at 10 per cent. Faculty Citations is a measure assessing how often other academics cite each school’s professors.

Civil Law Schools ranking

Sixteen of Canada’s law schools are common law schools, the law of the Anglo tradition, and of most provinces. But five schools are civil law schools. Civil and common law schools were evaluated according to the same criteria. Ottawa is the only civil law school located outside of Quebec; the University of Ottawa’s faculty of law offers two distinct streams, civil and common. McGill offers both common and civil law training, but in one program. The Université de Moncton, though operating entirely in French, is also a common law school.

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