Law school rankings in the United States
Law school rankings are a specific subset of college and university rankings dealing specifically with law schools. Like college and university rankings, law school rankings can be based on empirical data, subjectively-perceived qualitative data (often survey research of educators, law professors, lawyers, students, or others), or some combination of these.
Such rankings are often consulted by prospective students as they choose which schools they will apply to or which school they will attend.
Rankings by U.S. News and World Report 
Although the American Bar Association does not officially rank law schools, U.S. News & World Report does. U.S. News & World Report organizes rankings into two main sections. The first section is a "Top 145" that lists the top one hundred forty-five schools in order from highest ranked to lowest ranked. While the top 145 law schools are ranked individually, U.S. News groups the remaining schools, or the bottom 25 percent of those that are ranked, into a "Rank Not Published" group. Schools that fall into this category are listed alphabetically and not by actual ranking. U.S. News also ranks each school's specialty programs using a similar method, if applicable. U.S. News ranked 195 schools in 2012. Each school's U.S. News ranking tends to fluctuate annually. U.S. News's ranking system has incurred various criticisms over the years due in no small part to its arbitrary nature. The American Bar Association has issued disclaimers of law school rating systems. The ABA encourages prospective law students to consider a variety of factors in making their choice among schools.
Consistency at the top of the U.S. News Rankings 
Although U.S. News has published an annual version of the rankings since 1987 with the exception of 1988-89, there has been remarkable consistency at the top of the U.S. News Rankings. Yale Law School has been ranked first every single year. Additionally, Harvard, Columbia and Stanford have always appeared in the top five. Some have argued the consistent placement of these schools at the top has simply reinforced their position, leading to a "feedback loop" because of the heavy reliance by U.S. News on opinion surveys. 
There exists an informal category known as the top 14, or T14. This term refers to the 14 institutions that continually claim the top spots in the yearly US News and World Report ranking of American law schools. Although "T14" is not a designation used by US News itself, the term is "widely known in the legal community." These schools, listed below, have seen their ranking within the top fourteen spots shift frequently, but have not placed outside of the top fourteen since the inception of the annual rankings with the exception of Cornell trading places with UCLA during the inaugural rankings in 1987. Because of their variable placement within the top fourteen, but remarkable consistency of these fourteen schools at the top of all 180+ schools, they are occasionally referred to collectively as the "Top Fourteen" in published books on Law School Admissions, undergraduate university pre-law advisers, professional law school consultants, and newspaper articles on the subject.
Schools that rank in the top 14 (aka "T14") 
The schools that have consistently ranked in the "Top Fourteen" since the inception of the rankings are (in alphabetical order, ignoring terms denoting the type of school, such as "University"):
- University of California, Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law, in Berkeley, CA.
- University of Chicago Law School, University of Chicago, in Chicago, IL.
- Columbia Law School, Columbia University, in New York, NY.
- Cornell Law School, Cornell University, in Ithaca, NY.
- Duke University School of Law, Duke University, in Durham, NC.
- Georgetown University Law Center, Georgetown University, in Washington, DC.
- Harvard Law School, Harvard University, in Cambridge, MA.
- University of Michigan Law School, University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, MI.
- New York University School of Law, New York University, in New York, NY.
- Northwestern University School of Law, Northwestern University, in Chicago, IL.
- University of Pennsylvania Law School, University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, PA.
- Stanford Law School, Stanford University, in Palo Alto, CA.
- University of Virginia School of Law, University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, VA.
- Yale Law School, Yale University, in New Haven, CT.
Characteristics of the top schools in the U.S. News Rankings 
There exist common characteristics across these top schools. Reputation is a key driver of their placement, according to Anna Ivey, noted law school admissions counselor, who declared, "A degree from a top-14 school will be portable nationally" in a Washington Post interview. Nonetheless, there are schools outside of the top 14 whose graduates predominantly place nationally rather than locally.
Criticisms of rankings 
Among the criticisms of law school rankings is that they are arbitrary in the characteristics they measure and the value given to each one. Another complaint is that a prospective law student should take into account the "fit" and appropriateness of each school himself, and that there is thus not a "one size fits all" ranking. Others complain that common rankings shortchange schools due to geographical or demographic reasons. One critic has gone so far as to create a website that sarcastically ranks US magazines. U.S. News is placed alone in the "Third Tier."
The American Bar Association (ABA), has consistently refused to support or participate in law school rankings. Further, the Association of American Law Schools has also voiced criticisms of U.S. News's ranking system. Carl Monk, its former executive director, once went so far as to say "these rankings are a misleading and deceptive, profit-generating commercial enterprise that compromises U.S. News and World Report's journalistic integrity."
As a response to the prevalence of law school rankings, the ABA and the LSAC publish an annual law school guide. This guide, which does not seek to rank or sort law schools by any criteria, instead seeks to provide the reader with a set of standard, important data on which to judge law schools. It contains information on all 200 ABA-Approved Law Schools. This reference, called The Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools is provided free online and also in print for a small cost. A similar guide for Canadian Law Schools is also published by the Law School Admission Council and is called Official Guide to Canadian Law Schools. These guides seek to serve as an alternative to the U.S. News Rankings and law school rankings in general.
Additionally, the American Bar Association issued the MacCrate Report in 1992, which outlined many fundamental problems with modern legal education and called for reform in American law schools. While the report was hailed as a "template for modern legal education", its practice-oriented tenets have met resistance by law schools continually ranked in the "top 14."
U.S. News has not allowed these criticisms to go unanswered. They regularly outline and justify their methodology alongside the rankings, and have even published defenses of their value. Additionally, law professors William Henderson and Andrew Morriss have come out with a study criticizing law schools' (and the ABA's) refusal to adopt any better objective comparison method for the continued widespread reliance on U.S. News. Henderson and Morriss allege that law schools' attempts to "game" their U.S. News ranking by manipulating postgraduation employment statistics or applicant selectivity have led U.S. News to adjust its methodology accordingly, resulting in a counter-productive cycle. They go on to suggest that the ABA should use its accreditation power to mandate greater transparency in law schools' statistical reporting.
In March 2011, Loyola Law School Dean Victor Gold penned an op-ed in the Huffington Post, accusing U.S. News & World Report of "refus[ing] to consider diversity as a factor in its ranking system." Gold asserted that "[t]here is a broad consensus among law school deans and professors that diversity enriches law school education." Loyola, which has a large Asian student body, claims 37% of its students are "minorities," but it does not provide any specifics.
Impact of rankings 
Despite these criticisms, law school rankings in general and those by U.S. News in particular play a role in the world of legal education. When a school's ranking drops, fewer admitted applicants accept spots at the school, and people may get fired.[unreliable source?] Likewise, when a school rises in the rankings, the school often accidentally over-enrolls. This pressure has also resulted in various schools "gaming the rankings." In a March 2003 article in Student Lawyer, Jane Easter Bahls stated that, in order to appear more selective, some law schools reject applicants whose high LSAT scores indicate that they probably would go somewhere else. Other schools, in an attempt to increase the amount of money spent per student, increase tuition and return it to the students as financial aid.
Alternatives to the U.S. News Rankings 
There are a number of alternative law school rankings that have been prepared, often in response to those by U.S. News. The Internet Legal Research Group has compiled links and background on many of these rankings at its website.
Judging the Law School Rankings 
Judging the Law School Rankings are sometimes called the Brennan rankings or the Cooley rankings, in reference to the President of Cooley Law School who was involved in their creation. Thomas M. Cooley Law School – a school consistently placed in the fourth tier by U.S. News – created its own set of rankings. The first edition of these rankings, called "Judging the Law Schools" was published in 1996 by Thomas E. Brennan, founder and president of the Cooley Law School. This online publication, now in its tenth edition, measures only ABA data such as first time bar passage rates, LSAT scores, academic facilities, student and faculty diversity, as well as twenty other objective measures. It is available on the Cooley Law School website. Academic Brian Leiter calls their system, which does not poll perceived reputation and places Cooley Law School higher than schools such as Stanford and Berkeley, "preposterous."
The ranking system advocated by the school has come under criticism for the methodology used to determine placement. The school maintains that judging a legal education by what caliber of students enter will not adequately address the quality of lawyers which come out. However, the Cooley ranking system has been criticized for never actually mathematically addressing this issue. Instead, a host of less relevant criteria, like volumes in library, were introduced to offset the UGPA and LSAT indicators. In the tenth edition of the Cooley ranking system, Cooley Law ranks themselves 12th in the United States ahead of law schools such as Stanford Law School, University of Michigan Law School, and Duke University School of Law.
Gourman Report 
Dr. Jack Gourman, a professor at California State University, Northridge, published the Gourman Report, a ranking undergraduate and graduates schools. The last edition to include law school rankings was published in 1997. Among the criticisms particular to the Gourman Report rankings are that the school rankings in each subcategory (administration, faculty, library, alumni, etc.) are identical to the overall rankings, it favors large, public universities and the use of an opaque methodology that prevents the reader from careful analysis.
Hylton Rankings 
Another set of rankings is the Hylton Rankings, prepared by Dr. J. Gordon Hylton of Marquette University's Law School. Hylton billed his rankings as U.S. News data "without the clutter." The rankings consider only LSAT (converted median) and peer assessment (as measured by U.S. News' survey of law professors). The much-discussed "top fourteen schools," though ordered differently, remain the same. The five highest ranked law schools are Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, and the University of Chicago in that order.
Leiter Rankings 
Leiter's Law School Rankings is a set of rankings published by Brian Leiter, a law professor at University of Chicago School of Law. Each ranking is based on a single factor such as how many Supreme Court clerks, or how many employees in top law firms came from each school, or the LSAT scores of students entering the school.
Critics of the Leiter Rankings say that they reflect biases, as the reader can choose to follow whichever criteria are important to them. The Leiter Rankings are also criticised for not giving schools a single overall ranking. Adherents of the Leiter Rankings see these as the advantages.
National Law Journal's Go-To Law School Rankings 
The National Law Journal ranks the top 50 law schools by the percentage of juris doctor graduates who took jobs at NLJ 250 firms, the nation’s largest by headcount as identified by The National Law Journal’s annual survey. In 2011, University of Pennsylvania Law School is ranked first, and is followed by Northwestern University School of Law and Columbia Law School.
QS World University Rankings 
In Top 100 QS World University Rankings for law in 2011, Harvard Law School is ranked first, and it is followed by Oxford Law School, Cambridge School of Law, Yale Law School, and Stanford Law School.
Vault rankings 
The career information and survey site Vault.com released its first set of law school rankings in 2008. Based solely on the surveys of nearly 400 hiring partners and recruiting professionals from across the United States, the rankings reflect how survey participants rated incoming associates on their research and writing skills, knowledge of legal doctrine, possession of other relevant knowledge (e.g., science for IP lawyers), and ability to manage a calendar and work with an assistant. Without turning directly to statistics or educational quality, the Vault rankings attempt to quantify which schools produce the most marketable graduates in the private sector. As of 2008, only the law schools with the top 25 cumulative scores received recognition.
- "http://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-law-schools/articles/2012/03/13/in-2013-best-law-school-rankings-top-schools-switch-spots". US News and World Report. Retrieved 2012-09-27.
- Previous rankings can be found in back issues of the U.S. News and World Report since 1989, or can be viewed together in a set of spreadsheet compilations
- See, for example, books by Richard Montauk, Anna Ivey, Robert H. Miller, and Susan Estrich
- e.g. University of Dayton Prelaw Advising Website and an SUNY Binghamton press release
- e.g. 2005 Washington Post Article
- See the complete list on the U.S. News website.
- Washington Post Interview
- Tulane Law School, "Employers of Graduates 2008-2010"
- The MacCrate Report
- Crossing the Bar – Law Schools and Their Disciples
- U.S. News Defense of Law School Rankings
- Rankling Rankings, American Lawyer, Jun. 18, 2007; see also Measuring Outcomes: Post-Graduation Measures of Success in the U.S. News & World Report Law School Rankings, Morriss and Henderson, SSRN abstract.
- Victor Gold, "What's Really Behind U.S. News' Refusal to Consider Diversity?" Huffington Post, March 21, 2011.
- USNews Law School Rankings, DeLoggio Admissions Achievement Program website
- Law.com – Law Schools Play the Ranking Game
- American Bar Association Website and "The Interplay between Law School Rankings, Reputations, and Resource Allocation"
- See the complete first edition of Judging the Law Schools at ILRG's Website.
- Cooley's website
- Brian Leiter's Law School Reports: The Cooley Law School Rankings
- ISBN 9780679783749
- Law Professors Blog
- Leiter's Law School Rankings
- Concurring Opinions: Rankings Bias
- Vault Top 25 Law Schools
- Law School Rankings Symposium – Website for national symposium on law school rankings, including copies of papers and abstracts
- College Rankings: Caution and Controversy – Education and Social Science Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- NALP (National Association for Law Placement) Directory of Law Schools – non-profit educational association listing
- Brian Leiter's Law School Rankings – collection of rankings by various measurements