Thomas Jefferson wrote:
I think both Vandy and UT will overtake GULC precisely because of their location: their markets have more room for growth than the oversaturated places GULC tends to place.
Then again, at the rate we're going the federal government will be pretty much the entirety of the economy, making DC the go-to, and only, market.
Hmm. According to Vandy's ABA data 59 out of 152 took the bar in NY and CA, (with a bar passage rate ~5.5% below the state average in NY). I would expect that the number of Vandy grads looking for employment in the major markets will increase, not decrease, as the school tries to climb the rankings ladder. I don't see a major shift in huge corporate or government interests away from NYC, Philly, DC, Chicago and LA, so I'm not sure I understand your "room for growth" argument. Vandy grads are going to have to go to biglaw just like everyone else, biglaw isn't going to come to them.
As you said, I think that if any city is going to see an expansion of its legal market in the future, it's DC.
UT is a thing unto itself, but I don't see it surpassing GULC, at least in terms of rankings any time soon, if ever. I think Vandy has a stronger case. UT places worse by every metric that I've read, even in the Leitner rankings.
By the way, in the scholarly impact section of the Leitner rankings, Leitner discusses flaws in ranking systems that have to compare large schools like GULC to small schools like Vandy (although he is speaking specifically about professorial citation rankings as a measure of faculty distinction). He says:
"Needless to say, citation studies are but one measure of the scholarly distinction of faculties. They tend to favor smaller faculties over larger faculties, which no doubt explains why schools like Texas and Virginia and Georgetown come out behind schools like Vanderbilt and Cornell, even though I don’t think any informed scholarly judgment would rate them that way
I've wondered what Leiter means by this: are citations per professor weighted to the size of the student body? If so, just because citation studies favor a smaller student body doesn't take away the significance of this kind of study--at least from a student's perspective. After all, it would mean the student would (more than likely) have better access to the cited faculty. Do larger schools suffer because they have to fill in more of the faculty space with adjuncts and visiting professors? If that's the case, this kind of study doesn't seem to give an unfair bias; it merely reflects an objective benefit to a smaller school.
About Vandy: The school has certainly improved over the last ten years. Kent D. Syverud (now at WUSTL) did a remarkable job during his tenor: upgraded facilities, he grew the endowment, applications increased by 1000+, ect. The last couple of years, the school's placement statistics improved dramatically (relative to other schools) in NLJ hiring and art. III clerkships. I think a big part of the boost in 2009 came from cutting the class size dramatically--from 225 for the class of 2008 to around 190 for the class of 2009. Job offers remained constant while supply of students decreased. But still, that shrewd move helped current students and has helped them attract better students. Over the last 5 years the class medians have gone up, nearly ever year, with this year looking to be no exception (I think class of 2013 will be around 169, 3.7). Will the school capitalize on this momentum? I'm not sure, but I have no reason to believe they won't.
I believe the suggestion about the South and Southwest growing does hold some relevance. I think it's important to note, that over the last five years Vandy has actually had progressively fewer students who went on to practice in the South (the majority now leave for other regions), but as the Southern markets grow, it will certainly help Southern schools for a couple reasons. First, Southern and Southwest markets--counter-distinguished to the traditional legal hot spots--tend to be somewhat insulated, and certainly more predisposed to hire their own. Second, even though to be considered elite, a school must have national placement, it's important to realize that backup markets for sub-median students are probably going to be more local. So as a school's regional legal market grows, the "safety net" becomes more attractive.