The US News Law School Rankings:
Summary & Insights

Published June 2023

There has recently been a lot of attention in the media regarding US News & World Report’s law school rankings. This list has existed since 1987 and is now updated annually. Applicants and the media often cite this particular list, which is the most popular rankings system for law schools.

Back in November 2022, Yale Law School and Harvard Law School declared that they were withdrawing from the rankings. Many law schools followed, including Berkeley, Columbia, Georgetown, Michigan, Northwestern, Duke, UCLA, Penn, NYU, and UVA. To this date, several dozen out of the 200 US law schools accredited by the American Bar Association have withdrawn.

Many of the law schools that withdrew from the rankings cited that they disagreed with the emphasis of certain factors and believed the rankings were unfairly skewing priorities. For instance, median GPA and LSAT/GRE scores were a significant percentage of the rankings; law schools often award merit scholarships to candidates who score well but might not need the funds as much as other candidates who apply for financial aid. At the time, US News also counted students who were employed by their alma mater in public service fellowships and students who were pursuing another degree after their JD as unemployed, although that was not the case. In addition, US News included a metric that weighed the average debt of graduating students and the percentage of graduates in debt but did not factor in loan forgiveness programs provided by the law schools. This could influence law schools to take on students who did not need any financial aid to pursue graduate studies. Schools such as Yale Law School and Harvard Law School cited that they wanted to focus on providing need-based aid, helping recruit low income populations to become attorneys, and providing more support for public service jobs.

Because of this boycott, US News decided to engage in a listening tour to receive feedback from many law schools in order to work on a large overhaul of their methodology. In April 2023, US News released a preview of the upcoming law school rankings and included which schools were in the Top 14. However, the backlash was swift. Many law schools, including ones that had withdrawn from the rankings, cited that the data US News had used for the rankings was inaccurate. For instance, Yale Law School felt that their employment data was incorrect. However, many of the same law schools had not submitted any data directly to US News for the most recent rankings. Due to these issues, US News announced they would delay the rankings while they worked on updating the data.

Finally in May 2023, US News released the full set of law school rankings. Yale and Stanford tied for first. Georgetown dropped to 15 although it is usually considered part of the T14, and UCLA landed at 14, although that has happened before in previous rankings. NYU moved ahead of Columbia Law School for the first time and is 5th, tied with Harvard, while Columbia is at 8. Fordham moved up to 29 from 37 the year before. Boston University dropped 10 spots and is now 27 instead of 17.

The main changes in the rankings methodology for 2023-2024 for law schools involved the following:

Much more emphasis on post-graduation employment outcomes and bar passage rates
Median LSAT and GRE scores as well as GPA were reduced in importance
Reputation surveys from others in the legal field were reduced

As a consequence of the delay in rankings, the law school admissions cycle for Fall 2023 was extremely slow in terms of applicants hearing back admissions decisions from law schools. Some schools did not update applicants until as late as May or June about their admissions status. This created a lot of anxiety and stress among applicants as law schools held on carefully to acceptances. There were many schools that decided to wait list a high proportion of applications and then use the wait lists after initial deposit deadlines as necessary.

What do the law school rankings currently mean for applicants? I have some clients worry that the law school they are attending dropped in the rankings. However, the past few months have demonstrated that rankings should not be the main factor that students use in determining where they should attend law school. US News’ law school rankings generate a lot of buzz but it is important to keep in mind other factors. I see the rankings as important in terms of tiers. There are generally the T14, then schools in T15-T30, T30-T50, and so on. The rankings are useful as a starting point. Clients do pay attention to these rankings, especially if they are not from the USA as they might want to find work back home and international companies sometimes do use these rankings as a resource.

However, it is key to pay attention to other factors as well. Where do you want to practice? Is the law school you are choosing known for your particular area of law? Make sure to review the ABA employment reports for the law schools you are considering. That is helpful to see what percentage of graduating JD students are employed after graduation, if they are at a firm or clerkship or other job, the size of their firms, and which are the top states for employment.

If I have a client who wants to work in New York after graduation and is choosing between UCLA and Fordham, it makes more sense to go to Fordham as it is located in their prime market. Does the client want to clerk? It is important to look at the clerkship data. What if the client wants to work in public interest? It is key to see how much support and infrastructure exists at the law school for public interest jobs. Do they have funding for public interest jobs during the summers? How is their loan repayment program structured and do they forgive your loans after a certain number of years working in public interest? Is there a maximum amount of income you are allowed to make in this program, and do they count your spouse’s income towards it?

My opinion is that the law schools who withdrew from the rankings are tired of playing the game with US News, which has had a large influence on the educational industry. Certain schools would try to manipulate the data to move up in their list. For schools that have always been ranked well since the list was first published, they want to be able to focus on their priorities without being concerned about this list. For instance, it is widely believed that the Supreme Court will make a ruling against affirmative action soon. It is my thought that pre-emptively before this ruling happens, these law schools want the ability to still create a diverse class and give access to under-represented populations in the future.

At the end of the day, US News is still going to publish these rankings. They can be a useful starting point, especially in seeing in which tier a law school falls and figuring out if they are strong in a particular area of law. However, factors such as location, size of school, strength of their offerings in a particular niche of law, clerkship numbers, support for public interest, and employment data are all key factors that should also be considered in where to attend for law school.

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