They’re falling like dominoes.
On November 16, Yale and Harvard Law Schools announced their withdrawal from the U.S. News & World Report law-school rankings. On November 17, the University of California, Berkeley School of Law followed suit. Since then, eight others among the highest-ranked law schools in the U.S. have also opted out. As a consequence, this high-profile publication will no longer be able to draw data from these schools to create their very influential rankings.
The latest defections include:
- Michigan Law School (Ranked #10)
- UCLA (#15)
- Georgetown (#14)
- Stanford (#2)
- Northwestern Pritzker School of Law (#13)
- Duke (#11)
- UC Irvine (#37)
Frustrations with the rankings are long standing among school administrations and grad school consultants. The US News rankings assess law schools based on certain metrics that schools say have little or nothing to do with the quality of education. Furthermore many law schools, especially those that need the rankings to enhance their reputations, have tweaked their admission decisions and internal workings to boost their rankings. Now, anticipating a potential U.S. Supreme Court ruling that outlaws race-based admissions, many schools are deciding the time is ripe to exit this flawed system. Withdrawing from the rankings will allow the schools to de-emphasize LSAT and GPA when making admissions decisions and weigh more heavily challenges overcome, grit, resilience and other positive character traits.
Explaining their decisions, Yale Law Dean Heather Gerken said that the rankings were “profoundly flawed.” Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said, “Although rankings are inevitable and inevitably have some arbitrary features, there are aspects of the U.S. News rankings that are profoundly inconsistent with our values and public mission.”
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Berkeley’s dean specifically criticized the way that “rankings penalize schools that help students pursue careers in public-service law, motivate schools to enroll more high-income students who don’t need to borrow to earn their degrees, discount graduates who are pursuing advanced degrees, and reward schools that spend more on a per-student basis, when ‘there is no evidence that this correlates to the quality of the education received.’”
Ted Ruger, dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s Carey School of Law, told the WSJ that “the rankings don’t provide a clear or complete perspective into institutional priorities for educating future lawyers,” and that the current system undercounts financial aid that schools provide while also rewarding schools that spend money on salaries and operating expenses. Ruger said his school is now “assessing a process for our own decision-making.”
As of this writing, those willing to participate in the rankings include University of Chicago (#3) and Cornell (#12). In a message from Chicago Law School, Dean Thomas J. Miles explained why they were staying in: “Most of the data we supply to U.S. News are already public, and the rest is information we have no reason to withhold. The rankings of academic institutions clearly have a readership, and we wish to prevent the use of inaccurate information. Fundamentally, a ranking of schools is an opinion. . . My own belief is that the essential features of the University of Chicago Law School are not, and perhaps cannot be, captured in any ranking.”
Linda Abraham, Founder and President of Accepted, has long believed that applicants put exaggerated stock in school rankings, particularly for MBA and law school programs. “The ‘rankings’ are misnamed,” Linda said. “They are at best stores of data, which can be useful and valuable. However, it is individuals who apply to graduate programs. They have individual needs, goals, wants, and qualifications. No ranking can rank according to every individuals’ needs, goals, etc. Accepted has always advised that applicants (and sometimes, parents and recruiters) need to take more initiative in researching which programs truly fit their needs, as opposed to quoting rankings chapter and verse.”
US News will need to rely on publicly available sources of information and ax the survey portion of its ranking to continue the rankings. “That’s not necessarily a negative,” Linda added. “The rankings have been based on self-reporting information and are not audited. There have been cases where school representatives have misreported data to rank better.
“My concern is that schools may become less transparent about average GPA, average LSAT, and employment outcomes. This data, however, is important for applicants in deciding whether and where to apply. They shouldn’t be the only factors under consideration, but they are necessary elements to consider given the investment required to apply, and the much larger investment required to attend law school.
“Schools may revel in their liberation from the work required by rankings reports and even more so from the rankings results, which were overrated. At the same time, I also hope this brave new world doesn’t lead to less transparency.”
The top-ranked law schools will retain their luster even if they become ranking “drop outs”. Yale has held the top spot every year since 1990; Harvard most recently came in at No. 4. Stanford and Penn were No. 2 and 6, respectively.
But an exodus of top-ranked schools might provide lower ranked schools a chance to climb a few rungs higher.
Ken Randall, the dean of George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School—which held the No. 30 spot on the latest U.S. News list—said rankings allow prospective students to fully evaluate their options.
“Rankings also can help demonstrate that a lesser-known school deserves consideration by students and employers,” he said, adding that he would like to see law deans and U.S. News discuss a reformed ranking system.
Whether these law schools contribute data or not, U.S. News plans to continue ranking all fully accredited law schools. In a message posted on their website, they stated, “U.S. News has a responsibility to prospective students to provide comparative information that allows them to assess these institutions,” the company said. “We will continue to pursue our journalistic mission of ensuring that students can rely on the best and most accurate information, using the rankings as one factor in their law school search.”
Law Schools Withdraw from U.S. News Ranking
|2023 U.S. News Ranking||School||Withdrew Yes/No|
|3||University of Chicago||Remain|
|6||University of Pennsylvania (Carey)||Withdrew|
|7||New York University||Unannounced|
|8||University of Virginia||Unannounced|
|9||University of California--Berkeley||Withdrew|
|10||University of Michigan--Ann Arbor||Withdrew|
|13||Northwestern University (Pritzker)||Withdrew|
|15||University of California--Los Angeles||Unannounced|
|16||Washington University in St. Louis||Remain|
|17||University of Texas--Austin||Unannounced|
|20||University of Southern California (Gould)||Unannounced
|21||University of Minnesota||Unannounced|
|21||University of Florida (Levin)||Remain|
|23||Brigham Young University (Clark)||Unannounced|
|23||University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill||Unannounced|
|25||University of Alabama||Unannounced|
|25||George Washington University||Unannounced|
|25||University of Notre Dame||Unannounced|
|28||University of Iowa||Unannounced|
|29||University of Georgia||Remain|
|30||Ohio State University (Moritz)||Unannounced|
|30||William & Mary Law School||Unannounced|
|30||George Mason University||Remain|
|30||Arizona State U. (O'Connor)||Unannounced|
|35||Washington and Lee University||Unannounced|
|35||University of Illinois--Urbana-Champaign||Unannounced|
|37||Wake Forest University||Unannounced|
|37||University of California--Davis||Withdrew|
|37||University of Utah (Quinney)||Unannounced|
|37||University of California--Irvine||Withdrew|
|43||University of Wisconsin--Madison||Unannounced|
|43||Indiana University--Bloomington (Maurer)||Unannounced|
|45||University of Arizona (Rogers)||Remain|
|46||Texas A&M University||Unannounced|
|47||University of Maryland (Carey)||Withdrew|
|47||Florida State University||Unannounced|
|49||University of Colorado--Boulder||Remain|
|49||University of Washington||Withdrew|
School representatives and applicants: If your school or if you hear of a school that has changed since the post was published, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org so we can update the table.
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