Advocates for Starving Advocates

Northeastern Law > Harvard Law? Validating an ATL Poll


Above the Law posted results yesterday of its tragically named student poll, “Which is the Most Wicked Awesome Law School in Boston?” 1 As Northeastern Law grads, the people behind Hungry Hungry Lawyers felt this poll was worthy of some examination. Don’t get me wrong, we have strong, positive feelings for NUSL, but if it’s better than Harvard, then we’d like our Supreme Court appointments now, please.

How is it that Northeastern dominated these rankings? Well, ATL used a student-satisfaction methodology, asking students how they felt about various aspects of the student experience. On the one hand, this doesn’t offer the top-down, third-party analysis based on objective factors that you get from something like U.S. News & World Report, but it might measure one of the most important factors students consider in choosing a school: How happy are current students with the product? And Northeastern students are typically happy with the product, as this poll reflects. Then again, it seems to us based on the results the poll is skewed by the unique perspectives of the different kinds of students answering the survey questions. Let’s consider:

Quality of Faculty and Academic Instruction (ratings are on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 4):

1. Northeastern (3.67)
2. Boston University Law (3.64)
3. Harvard (3.60)
4. Boston College Law (3.56)
5. Suffolk University Law (3.18)

So, yes Northeastern students tend to think their teachers are more up to snuff. This makes sense, because classes at Northeastern tend to be geared toward public-interest topics that NUSL students greatly value (except for the visiting prof. “Environment/Global Justice” debacle from the summer of 2011). That doesn’t necessarily mean the teachers are “better quality” than professors at other schools (for the record, some are great, others are good and then some less so), but they are typically excellent at serving their audience.

Also, let’s consider that Boston University students are — unequivocally and without exception — smug, self-satisfied and disappointed they didn’t get into BC. Therefore these respondents are more inclined to save face and overrate the institution that begrudgingly welcomed them after its first picks chose to attend BC. Even if every BU Law class were taught by Karl Childers, BU Law students would rate the faculty at nothing less than a 3.64.

The Terriers go so far as to rank their professors above those at Harvard, which can’t possibly be true. Of course, the perspective of Harvard students is skewed by the fact that they are smart enough to know when their professors are full of shit. It probably doesn’t happen often, but every teacher at one time or another is totally making it up as they go along, and the Crimson students are on top of that and therefore more reluctant to give their faculty perfect scores.

Finally, it doesn’t seem fair to Suffolk professors that they must be rated by Suffolk students. Many Suffolk students suffer from a Napoleonic complex, which is the natural result of attending law school in this market. As a result of this complex, they tend to perceive their professors as substandard — and, to some degree, the only thing holding them back from world domination. Therefore, their poor faculty took a beating in this poll.

Practical and Clinical Training:

1. Northeastern (3.92)
2. Suffolk University Law (3.24)
3. Harvard (3.20)
4. Boston University Law (3.12)
5. Boston College Law (2.93)

Northeastern and Suffolk are the only schools on this list really invested in practical and clinical training, and their students won’t shut up about it, so this result is no surprise. Harvard gets a pass here for being Harvard, but the fact that BC and BU students rank their programs so low in practical ed (which is vastly more important than traditional legal schooling), shows how vastly the law schools rankings overrate these programs.

Career Counseling and Job Search Help:

1. Harvard (3.34)
2. Northeastern (3.17)
3. Boston University Law (2.92)
4. Boston College Law (2.48)
5. Suffolk University Law (2.47)

Shockingly, Harvard students are satisfied with their job prospects. Career services counselors aren’t magicians, they’re only as good number of jobs available and the quality of the applicants chasing them. That BC, BU and Suffolk all rate their career services below a 3.0 would indicate to me that students in those schools are suffering in a weak market.

Social Life:

1. Boston College Law (3.62)
2. Northeastern (3.58)
3. Harvard (3.22)
4. Suffolk University Law (3.13)
5. Boston University Law (3.04)

At first, I thought this was total nonsense there’s no way BC students like their lives more than my colleagues at Northeastern. But then I remembered that NUSL’s Student Bar Association just books events at Conor Larkin’s every week. And that’s just about the worst bar in Boston, which is saying a lot. No whiskey, bad food, no space to move and abundant roaches. The woefully misinformed undergrads think its cool. It’s a train wreck, and not in a good way like Punter’s Pub, appropriately located across from Museum of Fine Arts. Now I’m wondering why the Huskies even ranked themselves this high.

No idea how it’s possible that Suffolk students are having more fun than the kids at BU, an institution you think would benefit from the abundant social opportunity in that neighborhood. Then again, Suffolk is right next to the Beantown Pub, home of the Paul Revere, which is a delicious sandwich. Delicious sandwich wins.

Overall Rating:

1. Northeastern (3.45)
2. Harvard (3.27)
3. Boston University Law (3.17)
4. Boston College Law (3.07)
5. Suffolk University Law (2.88)

There you have it, Northeastern wins law school. Huskies, let’s break out the Knob Creek, and get one of those old-fashioned NUSL-style parties brewin’. Or let’s just all go over to Conor’s. That’s fine. The whiskey is on me!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Brown is a Boston Business Lawyer and co-founder of Boston MicroLaw, LLP. He’s so glad now that he didn’t get into Harvard.


  1. Ten percent of Boston readers chuckled at that title, and the rest of us groaned in unison and then politely acknowledged that, yes, some people here frequently use the expression, “wicked awesome,” typically to describe something that is the opposite of a “wicked pissah.” Then we pahked, got out of the cah, and apparently enjoyed them apples just like Matt Damon in that movie while baking beans and pretending that Dustin Pedroia isn’t a total douche who we’d all hate viscerally if he didn’t play for the Sawx. Ha ha, Boston!