Best law schools: US News is revising rankings after list dropouts

Within just a week this fall, Yale, Harvard, UC Berkley, Columbia, Georgetown and Stanford all opted out of U.S. News & World Report’s best law schools rankings.

After some of the nation’s most prestigious institutions dropped out of its best law schools rankings, U.S. News is making changes to its 2023-2024 list.

Within just a week this past fall, Yale, Harvard, UC Berkeley, Columbia, Georgetown and Stanford all opted out of U.S. News & World Report’s best law schools. Yale University, which regularly lands at the top of the list, kicked off the exodus when law school Dean Heather K. Gerken publicly criticized the rankings for causing more harm than good.

“We have invested significant energy and capital in important initiatives that make our law school a better place but perversely work to lower our test scores,” Gerken wrote. “That’s because the U.S. News rankings are profoundly flawed—they disincentivize programs that support public interest careers, champion need-based aid, and welcome working-class students into the profession. We have reached the point where the rankings process is undermining the core commitments of the legal profession. As a result, we will no longer participate.”

Harvard Law School withdrew from the rankings just hours after Gerken’s announcement.

Best law schools overhaul

U.S. News announced this week that the changes to its rankings system have been informed by conversations with more than 100 deans and representatives of law schools, amounting to “well more than half of this academic leadership group,” the publication’s Chief Data Strategist Robert Morse and Senior Vice President, Data & Information Strategy Stephanie Salmon wrote.

The main points included per-student expenditures, the weight of the peer assessment surveys, and indicators of student debt,” they said. “e also received broad feedback that the rankings should place more weight on outcomes.” Some law schools also complained that the rankings did not sufficiently value fellowships that allow them to encourage public service careers.

For the 2023-2024 list, law schools will be ranked based on publicly available data that the American Bar Association requires institutions to make available—regardless of whether university leaders respond to U.S. News’ annual survey. Still, the magazine and website will publish more detailed profiles of schools that participate so students can develop a more comprehensive picture of their potential choices.

Good news for higher ed: Applications are on the rise for fall 2023

But the rankings will reduce the weight given to data points such as peer assessment surveys of academics, lawyers and judges. U.S. News will increase emphasis on measures such as the number of students who pass the bar exam and employment outcomes. The conversations revealed other factors, such as loan forgiveness/loan assistance repayment programs, need-based aid, and diversity and socioeconomic considerations, which will require additional time and collaboration to address. In these areas, we will continue to work with academic and industry leaders to develop metrics with agreed-upon definitions.

“We maintain that data beyond the rankings is an essential resource for students navigating the complex admissions process and seeking to evaluate the important but costly education that you deliver,” Morse and Salmon wrote.

The rankings staff at U.S. News intends to continue to collaborate with campus leaders to create “fair and objective standards” that provide law students with a broad array of information as they choose among nearly 200 schools. “We have helped expand the universe of well-known law schools beyond the club of Ivy League schools of the last century,” Morse and Salmon wrote. “But we realize that legal education is neither monolithic nor static and that the rankings, by becoming so widely accepted, may not capture the individual nuances of each school.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

Most Popular