How A Law Blog Changed The US News Law School Rankings

US News law school rankings on LawFuel

Law School Rankings Trumped By Law Blog

This week, U.S. News released its highly anticipated and somewhat controversial law school rankings for the 2023-2024 academic year with the most notable achievements being Duke University’s five-position improvement (#5) and Harvard dropping to Duke level at #5 also.

Originally scheduled for publication on April 18, these rankings were delayed due to complications and criticism over the way the list was compliled.

To recap, last November, Yale Law School made a significant decision to withdraw from the U.S. News rankings. Dean Heather Gerken criticized the rankings, calling them “profoundly flawed” and highlighting their disincentive for programs that support public-interest careers, need-based aid, and working-class students.

Following Yale’s withdrawal, more than 60 law schools joined the boycott. In response, U.S. News, which had previously indicated publication would be delayed indefinitely, decided to modify its methodology by relying solely on public data, including information required by the American Bar Association (ABA) and reputation scores generated by U.S. News itself.

Additionally, the publication made other adjustments to address criticisms raised by Dean Gerken and others, including revising how school-funded fellowships and additional graduate study are counted, as well as adjusting the weights of various factors and removing certain elements like expenditures per student.

The aim was to shift the focus of the rankings toward “outputs” such as employment outcomes and bar passage rates, rather than “inputs” like LSAT scores and GPAs of incoming students.

The new methodology assigns the following weights to different factors (which are summarized by Staci Zaretsky of Above the Law) but in essence they follow the Above The Law top 50 law school rankings which have their focus upon student outcomes.

The ‘new’ rankings place emphasis upon the important metrics of employment outcomes and bar passage, which overall tends to elevate the position of state law schools, which will usually have a greater emphasis and availability of local employs, as well as working more effectively on having their students pass the local bar exams. 

So here are the rankings (from ATL):

  1. Employment: 33% (previously 14%)
  2. First-Time Bar Passage: 18% (previously 3%)
  3. Ultimate Bar Passage: 7% (new)
  4. Peer Assessment: 12.5% (previously 25%)
  5. Lawyer/Judge Assessment: 12.5% (previously 15%)
  6. LSAT/GRE: 5% (previously 11.25%)
  7. UGPA: 4% (previously 8.75%)
  8. Acceptance Rate: 1%
  9. Faculty & Library Resources: 7%

According to The New York Times, a substantial 58 percent of a law school’s ranking now depends on outcome-based factors like bar passage rates and employment prospects, which is a major move away from the way the rankings were previously sorted.

While transitioning to a system that relies exclusively on public data and self-generated data should have simplified the rankings process, U.S. News encountered difficulties in execution.

Ranking expert Mike Spivey of Spivey Consulting noted that despite the availability of necessary data, U.S. News made errors in its approach. Instead of using consistent data from either participating law schools or the ABA, the publication opted for a mixed system.

This decision introduced potential errors from law schools submitting their own data and allow for better data submission than what the ABA reported. As a result, U.S. News faced substantial discrepancies between the data it possessed and the data accessible through the ABA.

These discrepancies necessitated a delay in the rankings’ release, pushing the date from April 18 to a later time.

The inaccuracies also affected the “preview” rankings released on April 11, specifically the top 14 schools, known as the “T14.” Here is the corrected list of the T14 schools, including their changes since April 11:

  1. Stanford University (no change)
  2. Yale University (no change)
  3. University of Chicago (no change)
  4. University of Pennsylvania (Carey) (no change)
  5. Harvard University (down 1)
  6. New York University (up 1)
  7. Duke University (up 1)
  8. Columbia University (down 4

So with the help of Spivey Consulting the ‘latest’ US News law school rankings are as follows:

(1) Stanford University (+1)
(1) Yale University (0)
(3) University of Chicago (0)
(4) University of Pennsylvania (Carey) (+2)
(5) Harvard University (-1)
(5) New York University (+2)
(5) Duke University (+6)
(8) Columbia University (-4)
(8) University of Virginia (0)
(10) University of California, Berkeley (-1)
(10) Northwestern University (Pritzker) (+3)
(10) University of Michigan—Ann Arbor (0)
(13) Cornell University (-1)
(14) University of California—Los Angeles (+1)
(15) Georgetown University (-1)
(16) University of Southern California (Gould) (+4)
(16) University of Minnesota (+5)
(16) Vanderbilt University (+1)
(16) University of Texas—Austin (+1)
(20) University of Georgia (+9)
(20) Washington University in St. Louis (-4)
(22) University of Florida (Levin) (-1)
(22) University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill (+1)
(22) Wake Forest University (+15)
(22) Ohio State University (Moritz) (+8)
(22) Brigham Young University (Clark) (+1)
(27) University of Notre Dame (-2)
(27) Boston University (-10)
(29) Boston College (+8)
(29) Fordham University (+8)
(29) Texas A&M University (+17)
(32) Arizona State University (O’Connor) (-2)
(32) University of Utah (Quinney) (+5)
(32) George Mason University (Scalia) (-2)
(35) University of Alabama (-10)
(35) George Washington University (-10)
(35) Emory University (-5)
(35) University of Iowa (-7)
(35) University of California—Irvine (+2)
(40) University of Kansas (+27)
(40) Washington and Lee University (-5)
(40) University of Wisconsin—Madison (+3)
(43) University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (-8)
(43) Villanova University (Widger) (+13)
(45) Pepperdine University (Caruso) (+7)
(45) Indiana University—Bloomington (Maurer) (-2)
(45) SMU (Dedman) (+13)
(45) William & Mary Law School (-15)
(49) Baylor University (+9)
(49) University of Washington (0)
(51) University of Maryland (Carey) (-4)
(51) University of Oklahoma (+37)
(51) University of Tennessee—Knoxville (+5)

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