Law school rankings in the United States

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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.

There are several different law school rankings, each with a different emphasis and different methodology. Most either emphasize inputs or readily measurable outcomes (i.e., outcomes shortly after graduation); none measure value-added or long-term outcomes. In general, these rankings are controversial, not universally accepted as authoritative.

Rankings by U.S. News and World Report[edit]

Although the American Bar Association does not officially rank law schools,[1] 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.[2] 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.[1]

U.S. News rankings are heavily weighted toward "reputation", which is measured through a survey with small sample size and low response rates. The reputation scores are highly correlated with the previous years' reputation scores and may not reflect changes in law school quality over time.

Consistency at the top of the U.S. News Rankings[edit]

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. [2]

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 U.S. News & 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."[3] 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.[4] 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,[5] undergraduate university pre-law advisers,[6] professional law school consultants, and newspaper articles on the subject.[7]

Schools that rank in the top 14 (aka "T14")[edit]

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"):[8]

Characteristics of the top schools in the U.S. News Rankings[edit]

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.[9] Nonetheless, there are schools outside of the top 14 whose graduates predominantly place nationally rather than locally.[10]

Criticisms of rankings[edit]

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.[11] 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."[12]

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.[13] 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."[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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[16] They go on to suggest that the ABA should use its accreditation power to mandate greater transparency in law schools' statistical reporting.[16]

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."[17] 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[edit]

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.[18][unreliable source?] Likewise, when a school rises in the rankings, the school often accidentally over-enrolls.[citation needed] This pressure has also resulted in various schools "gaming the rankings."[19] 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.[20] 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.[20]

Alternatives to the U.S. News Rankings[edit]

There are several different law school rankings, each with a different emphasis and different methodology. Most either emphasize inputs or readily measurable outcomes (i.e., outcomes shortly after graduation); none measure value-added or long-term outcomes. In general, these rankings are controversial, not universally accepted as authoritative.

Employment Outcome-Drive Rankings[edit]

Several ranking systems are explicitly designed to focus on employment outcomes at or shortly after graduation, including rankings by the National Law Journal, Vault,[21],[22] and the legal blog Above the Law.

National Law Journal's Go-To Law School Rankings[edit]

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 2013, University of Pennsylvania Law School is ranked first, and is followed by University of Chicago Law School and Columbia Law School.[23]

The National Law Journal provides a comparison of its employment-based rankings to U.S. News rankings. For students who are primarily interested in lucrative employment outcomes rather than scholarly prestige, this comparison may suggest which law schools are most undervalued by the market.

Scholarship Driven Rankings[edit]

Social Science Research Network[edit]

The Social Science Research Network—a repository for draft and completed scholarship in law and the social sciences—publishes monthly rankings of law schools based on the number of times faculty members' scholarship was downloaded. Rankings are available by total number of downloads, total number of downloads within the last 12 months, and downloads per faculty member to adjust for the size of different institutions. SSRN also provides rankings of individual law school faculty members on these metrics.

Leiter Rankings[edit]

Professor Brian Leiter compiles a regular series of evaluations called "Brian Leiter's Law School Reports"[24] in which he and other commentators discuss law schools. Leiter's rankings tend to emphasize the quality and quantity of faculty scholarship, as measured by citations in a select group of journals.

Judging the Law School Rankings[edit]

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.[25] 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.[26] 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."[27]

The ranking system advocated by the school has come under criticism for the methodology used to determine placement.[28] 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.[28] 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 ranked itself 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. In the twelfth edition, it ranked itself second.[29]

Gourman Report[edit]

Dr. Jack Gourman, a professor at California State University, Northridge, published the Gourman Report, a ranking of undergraduate and graduate schools. The last edition to include law school rankings was published in 1997.[30] 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[edit]

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.[31]

Leiter Rankings[edit]

Leiter's Law School Rankings is a set of rankings published by Brian Leiter, a law professor at University of Chicago School of Law.[32] 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.[33] The Leiter Rankings are also criticised for not giving schools a single overall ranking. Adherents of the Leiter Rankings see these as the advantages.

QS World University Rankings[edit]

The 2013 QS World University Rankings for Law ranked Harvard Law School first, followed by the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, Yale Law School and Melbourne Law School.[34]

Vault rankings[edit]

The career information and survey site released its first set of law school rankings in 2008.[35] 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.


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^
  3. ^ "". US News and World Report. Retrieved 2012-09-27. 
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ See, for example, books by Richard Montauk, Anna Ivey, Robert H. Miller, and Susan Estrich
  6. ^ e.g. University of Dayton Prelaw Advising Website and an SUNY Binghamton press release
  7. ^ e.g. 2005 Washington Post Article
  8. ^ See the complete list on the U.S. News website.
  9. ^ Washington Post Interview
  10. ^ Tulane Law School, "Employers of Graduates 2008-2010"
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ The MacCrate Report
  14. ^ Crossing the Bar – Law Schools and Their Disciples
  15. ^ U.S. News Defense of Law School Rankings
  16. ^ a b c 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.
  17. ^ Victor Gold, "What's Really Behind U.S. News' Refusal to Consider Diversity?" Huffington Post, March 21, 2011.
  18. ^ USNews Law School Rankings, DeLoggio Admissions Achievement Program website
  19. ^ – Law Schools Play the Ranking Game
  20. ^ a b American Bar Association Website and "The Interplay between Law School Rankings, Reputations, and Resource Allocation"
  21. ^ Top 25 Law School Rankings[dead link]]
  22. ^ Laura Santoski, Another Law School Ranking System: Any Good? (discussing Alfred L. Brophy, Ranking Law Schools with LSATs, Employment Outcomes, and Law Review Citations
  23. ^ [1]
  24. ^ Brian Leiter's Law School Reports
  25. ^ See the complete first edition of Judging the Law Schools at ILRG's Website.
  26. ^ Cooley's website
  27. ^ Brian Leiter's Law School Reports: The Cooley Law School Rankings
  28. ^ a b
  29. ^ Brennan & DuLac, Judging the Law Schools, 12th Ed., 2010.
  30. ^ ISBN 9780679783749
  31. ^ Law Professors Blog
  32. ^ Leiter's Law School Rankings
  33. ^ Concurring Opinions: Rankings Bias
  34. ^
  35. ^ Vault Top 25 Law Schools

External links[edit]