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.

National Law Journal's Go-To Law School 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[1] and[2]

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. It provides an alternative comparison of its own employment-based rankings to the U.S. News rankings.[3] 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. However, the National Law Journal ranking is considerably less mainstream due to its specificity and limited viewership compared to U.S. News publications.

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

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.[4] 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 196 schools in 2016. 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.[5]

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.[citation needed]

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.

There exists an informal category known as the top 14, or T14. This term refers to the 14 institutions that regularly claim the top spots in the yearly U.S. News & World Report ranking of American law schools. Only these top 14 schools have ever placed within the top 10 spots in the rankings.[6] Although "T14" is not a designation used by U.S News itself, the term is "widely known in the legal community."[7] While these schools have seen their ranking within the top fourteen spots shift frequently, they have not placed outside of the top fourteen since the inception of the annual rankings (with rare exceptions).[8] Because of their consistent placement at the top of these rankings, these schools are commonly referred to as the "Top Fourteen" in published books on Law School Admissions,[9] undergraduate university pre-law advisers,[10] professional law school consultants, and newspaper articles on the subject.[11] There have been occasional changes in the top 14 ranking over the years, although the significance of these changes has been debated.

Top 14 law schools[edit]

The schools that have consistently been ranked in the top 14 of the U.S. News & World Report Law School rankings are:[12]

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

These top schools share common characteristics. 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.[13] Nonetheless, there are schools outside of the top 14 whose graduates predominantly place nationally rather than locally.[14]

Social Science Research Network[edit]

Social Science Research Network—a repository for draft and completed scholarship in law and the social sciences—publishes monthly rankings of law schools[15] 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.[16]

QS World University Rankings[edit]

The 2018 QS World University Rankings for Law ranked 13 U.S. institutions in the top 50 worldwide. The U.S. institutions in the top 10 were Harvard Law School, ranked first, with Yale Law School ranked fourth, Stanford Law School ranked fifth, NYU Law School ranked sixth, UC Berkeley School of Law ranked seventh and Columbia Law School ranked tenth. Every other Law school in U.S. News & World Report's T14 rankings except University of Virginia School of Law and Northwestern University School of Law made the QS top 50. The UCLA School of Law was the only other U.S. school ranked in the top 50.[17]

ARWU (Academic Ranking of World Universities)[edit]

In 2017, ARWU released its rankings of World universities by Subject Law. Taking into account only the academic strength of the institution, it ranked Harvard Law School the first, NYU Law School the Second, Columbia Law the third, Chicago the fourth, and Yale the fifth. Princeton University, which does not have a law school, is nevertheless ranked between 75 - 100.[18]

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, and that there is 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.[19] 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."[20]

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.[21] 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 13."[22]

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.[23] 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.[24] 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.[24] They go on to suggest that the ABA should use its accreditation power to mandate greater transparency in law schools' statistical reporting.[24]

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


  1. ^
  2. ^ Laura Santoski, Another Law School Ranking System: Any Good? (discussing Alfred L. Brophy, Ranking Law Schools with LSATs, Employment Outcomes, and Law Review Citations, 91 Indiana Law Journal Supplement 55-86 (2015)
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Mystal, Joe Patrice and Elie. "Is T14 Dead? Is It T15? T13? Was T14 An Arbitrary Ranking All Along?". Above the Law. Retrieved 2018-03-29. 
  7. ^ In 2013 Best Law School Rankings, Top Schools Switch Spots, U.S. News and World Report, 13 March 2012
  8. ^ Previous rankings can be found in back issues of the U.S. News and World Report since 1987, or can be viewed together in a set of spreadsheet compilations
  9. ^ See, for example, books by Richard Montauk, Anna Ivey, Robert H. Miller, and Susan Estrich
  10. ^ e.g. University of Dayton Prelaw Advising Website and an SUNY Binghamton press release
  11. ^ e.g. 2005 Washington Post Article
  12. ^ See the complete list Archived 2013-07-13 at the Wayback Machine. on the U.S. News website.
  13. ^ Washington Post Interview
  14. ^ Tulane Law School, "Employers of Graduates 2008-2010"
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ "QS World University Rankings by Subject 2018: Law". QS Quacquarelli Symonds. Retrieved 29 March 2018. 
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ The MacCrate Report
  22. ^ Crossing the Bar – Law Schools and Their Disciples Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine.
  23. ^ U.S. News Defense of Law School Rankings Archived 2006-07-09 at the Wayback Machine.
  24. ^ a b c Rankling Rankings[permanent dead link], 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.
  25. ^ Victor Gold, "What's Really Behind U.S. News' Refusal to Consider Diversity?" Huffington Post, March 21, 2011.
  26. ^ – Law Schools Play the Ranking Game
  27. ^ a b American Bar Association Website and "The Interplay between Law School Rankings, Reputations, and Resource Allocation"