Forget Yale and Harvard as the training grounds for future judges. It turns out that Michigan Law has the most concentrated impact on national jurisprudence. Surprised? So were we.
In Ravel’s new power ranking of law schools based on which schools turn out influential judges, Michigan Law tops the list. Instead of looking just at the number of judges a school graduated, we used a new data analysis to rank judges based on both quantity and quality of their work, and then we connected that analysis to where the most influential judges studied.
Our new Top 10 ranking offers a surprising reordering of the well known US News & World Report ranking. Schools like Harvard and Yale are known to be judicial feeders, but in our analysis, they’re joined by Alabama, Notre Dame, and South Carolina. For students interested in a federal judgeship, these rankings indicate that regional schools play an important role as feeders too, and have a significant impact on the national jurisprudence.
And, how did Michigan end up on top? For the Ravel Influence Score, we developed a measure that looks at both quantity and quality of work. Using data from Ravel’s platform we weighed the number of rulings a judge wrote and the number of times those decisions were cited in other opinions. In short, this is an approach that judges judges by way of other judges.
A closer look
With Michigan Law, we found that several graduates with very high scores were powering the school’s ranking. Amalya Kearse (Michigan Law, Class of 1962), for example, was appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1979, and ranked high on our list with a Ravel Influence Score of 142, not far from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s score of 151. Since 1980, she has authored at least eight opinions annually, and many of her opinions have been cited hundreds of times by other judges.
Other notable Michigan alumni with far-reaching influence (and Ravel Influence Scores of 80 or higher) include John M. Walker, also on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals; David Ebel on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals; and Anthony J. Scirica on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
At the University of South Carolina School of Law, key alumni judges include Judge Karen Williams, the first woman appointed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. She served on the court for 21 years and authored at least ten opinions annually. Her tenure on the appellate court overlapped with two other important South Carolina alumni, Judges William Wilkins and William Traxler. All three had Ravel Influence Scores of 60 and higher.
For a list of the top 20 federal judges ranked by influence, check out our previous blog post about Justice Antonin Scalia’s ranking.
More about our methodology
We based Ravel’s Influence Score on Hirsch’s index. Originally, the h-index was used to compute the impact of researchers in the scientific community, with the goal being to quantify the impact and relevance of an individual’s scientific output. Studies have shown that the h-index is predictive of career trajectory and that it could be applied to compute the impact of research groups. For more on how an h-index score is calculated, check out this explanation.
To be considered in our ranking, a school must count at least 10 judges amongst their alumni, and each judge must have authored a minimum of 10 opinions. Using Ravel’s case law database, we calculated the h-index for the federal judges who graduated from each school, and the school’s h-index was computed as the average of the alumni. Scores were not adjusted for the size of the school.
A high h-index score means that the opinions authored are frequently cited and thus, considered influential. For example, an h-index score of 20 means that a judge has written at least 20 opinions that have been cited 20 times by other opinions. More prolific judges tend to rank higher.
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