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Law school rankings in the United States

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Yale Law School

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.[citation needed] There are several different law school rankings, each of which has a different emphasis and methodology.

U.S. News & World Report rankings[edit]

U.S. News & World Report (USNWR) is considered[by whom?] to be the most influential ranking among law schools. USNWR organizes rankings into two main sections: the first is a "Top 145" listing the top 145 schools in order from highest to lowest ranked. U.S. News groups the remaining schools, or the bottom 25 percent of those that are ranked, into a "Rank Not Published" group.[1] 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 published its first attempt at ranking U.S. law schools in 1987.[2][3] The magazine has continuously published updated rankings on an annual basis since 1990. There has been great consistency at the top of the U.S. News rankings since their inception, with Yale Law School consistently ranking first.[4] While Yale, Harvard, and Stanford have historically clustered at the top of the list,[5] Harvard was recently replaced by the University of Chicago in the third place spot.[6]

Top 14 law schools[edit]

There exists an informal and unofficial category known as the "Top Fourteen", "Top 14", or "T14", which has historically referred to the institutions that most frequently claim the top 14 spots in the yearly U.S. News & World Report ranking of American law schools,[7] with T14 schools remaining the only ones to have ever placed within the top ten spots in these rankings.[8] Although "T14" is not a designation used by U.S. News itself, the term is "widely known in the legal community".[9] While these schools have seen their position within the highest-rated group shift frequently, they have consistently placed within the top 14 of the U.S. News annual rankings. Schools that have most frequently taken the top 14 spots are commonly referred to as the "Top 14" by published books on law school admissions,[10] undergraduate university pre-law advisers,[11] professional law school consultants, and newspaper articles on the subject.[12]

The schools that most frequently have appeared at the top of the U.S. News & World Report ranking of American law schools, commonly known as the "Top 14" or "T14" are, in alphabetical order[13]

Academic Ranking of World Universities[edit]

In 2017, the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) released its rankings of world universities in the subject of law by taking into account only the academic strength of the institution. In 2021, ARWU ranked all T-14 US Law Schools within the world's top 20 law schools.[14]

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[15] and Law.com.[16][17]

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.[18]

QS World University Rankings[edit]

The 2020 QS World University Rankings for Law ranked 14 U.S. institutions in the top 50 worldwide. The U.S. institutions in the top 10 were Harvard Law School, which ranked first, with Yale Law School ranked fourth, Stanford Law School ranked fifth, NYU School of Law 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 made the QS Top 50.[19]

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[20] 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.[21]

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.

An article by Espeland and Sauder (2007),[22] published in the American Journal of Sociology, discusses the increasing use of public measures for evaluating the performance of individuals and organizations, highlighting their significant social impact on accountability and governance. Using media rankings of law schools as a case study, it emphasizes the concept of reactivity—how people change their behavior in response to being evaluated. The authors demonstrate that these measures have numerous unintended consequences and identify mechanisms like self-fulfilling prophecy and commensuration that drive reactivity. They outline effects such as redistribution of resources, redefinition of work, and proliferation of gaming strategies. The article suggests that the growing influence of these measures necessitates more systematic scholarly investigation due to their profound negative impact on institutions and the potential to perpetuate inequalities. Lastly, it raises ethical concerns about the implications of these measures, noting their influence on the redistribution of resources and the reinforcement of inequalities.

The American Bar Association, which has consistently refused to support or participate in law school rankings, has issued disclaimers on law school rating systems, and encourages prospective law students to consider a variety of factors in making their choice among schools.[23] 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 & World Report's journalistic integrity."[24]

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.[25] 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."[26]

Ranking systems, most prominently that of 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.[27] 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.[28] 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.[28] They go on to suggest that the ABA should use its accreditation power to mandate greater transparency in law schools' statistical reporting.[28]

In March 2011, Loyola Law School Dean Victor Gold in Los Angeles 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."[29] 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.

Between November and December 2022, 12 of the 14 "T14" law Schools announced that they would no longer participate in the U.S. News rankings by declining to submit admissions data, with University of Chicago Law School and Cornell Law School continuing to do so.[30] One of their criticisms was that the rankings don't give enough credit to programs that train lawyers interested in public service.[31][32] In response, U.S. News pledged to modify its law school rankings to capture the individual nuances of each school.[33] Additionally, the magazine said that it will continue ranking all fully accredited law schools, regardless of whether schools agree to submit their data.[34]

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. This pressure has also resulted in various schools "gaming the rankings".[35] 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.[36][37] 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.[36]


  1. ^ "Methodology: 2023 Best Law Schools Rankings". US News & World Report. May 10, 2023. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  2. ^ Schmalbeck, Richard (December 1998). "The Durability of Law School Reputation". Journal of Legal Education. 48 (4): 571 – via Duke Law Scholarship Repository.
  3. ^ Solorzano, Lucia; Walsh, Maureen; Taylor, Ronald A.; Work, Clemens P.; Kalb, Deborah; Blaug, Elizabeth; Golden, Sharon F.; Burke, Sarah; Hiotas, Cecilia; Rosenfeld, David; Yuill, Barbara (November 2, 1987). "Special Report: America's Best Professional Schools - Law Schools: Brains for the Bar". U.S. News & World Report. 103 (18): 72–73.
  4. ^ Weiss, Debra Cassens (March 20, 2018). "US News law school rankings are released; Pepperdine's mistake costs it a ranking". ABA Journal. Retrieved September 13, 2018.
  5. ^ "Top Law School Rankings From US News". 7Sage LSAT. Retrieved March 29, 2022.
  6. ^ "2023 Best Law Schools". U.S. News & World Report. March 28, 2022. Retrieved March 28, 2022.
  7. ^ Reynolds, William L. (2011). "Back to the Future in Law Schools Symposium: The Profession and the Academy: Addressing Major Changes in Law Practice". Maryland Law Review. 70 (2): 451 – via DigitalCommons@UM Carey Law.
  8. ^ Mystal, Elie; Patrice, Joe (March 15, 2017). "Is T14 Dead? Is It T15? T13? Was T14 An Arbitrary Ranking All Along?". Above the Law. Retrieved September 5, 2018.
  9. ^ "In 2013 Best Law School Rankings, Top Schools Switch Spots - US News and World Report". U.S. News and World Report. December 20, 2012. Archived from the original on December 20, 2012. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  10. ^ See, for example, books by Richard Montauk, Anna Ivey, Robert H. Miller, and Susan Estrich
  11. ^ E.g. University of Dayton Prelaw Advising Website and an SUNY Binghamton press release
  12. ^ E.g. Ivey, Anna (April 6, 2005). "Career Advice". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  13. ^ See the complete list Archived 2014-07-18 at the Wayback Machine on the U.S. News website.
  14. ^ "ShanghaiRanking's Global Ranking of Academic Subjects 2021 - Law". Academic Ranking of World Universities. 2021. Archived from the original on August 11, 2021. Retrieved August 29, 2021.
  15. ^ "Ranking the Go-To Law Schools".
  16. ^ "Another Law School Ranking System: Any Good?". Blueprint Prep. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  17. ^ Brophy, Alfred (January 1, 2016). "Ranking Law Schools with LSATs, Employment Outcomes, and Law Review Citations". Indiana Law Journal Supplement 55. 91 (5): 55–86. ISSN 0019-6665. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  18. ^ "Go-To vs. 'U.S. News'". National Law Journal.
  19. ^ "QS World University Rankings by Subject 2018: Law". QS Quacquarelli Symonds. February 22, 2018. Retrieved March 29, 2018.
  20. ^ "SSRN - SSRN Top 350 U.S. Law Schools".
  21. ^ "SSRN - SSRN Top 3,000 Law Authors".
  22. ^ Espeland, W. N., & Sauder, M. (2007). Rankings and reactivity: How public measures recreate social worlds. American journal of sociology, 113(1), 1-40. https://doi.org/10.1086/517897
  23. ^ "ABA-Approved Law Schools".
  24. ^ Hoffman, Jan (February 19, 1998). "Judge Not, Law Schools Demand of a Magazine That Ranks Them". The New York Times.
  25. ^ The MacCrate Report
  26. ^ "Crossing the Bar – Law Schools and Their Disciples". Archived from the original on September 28, 2007.
  27. ^ "U.S. News Defense of Law School Rankings". Archived from the original on July 9, 2006.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ "What's Really Behind U.S. News' Refusal to Consider Diversity?". HuffPost. March 21, 2011. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  30. ^ Esaki-Smith, Anna. "University Of Chicago, Cornell Law Schools To Continue With U.S. News Rankings". Forbes. Retrieved May 16, 2023.
  31. ^ Song, Zijia (December 12, 2022). "Top Law Schools Snub 'US News' Rankings, Marking Shift in Legal Industry". Bloomberg News. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  32. ^ Patrice, Joe (November 18, 2022). "Law Schools Dropping Out Of US News Rankings Like It's A Crypto Exchange". Above the Law. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  33. ^ Maglione, Francesca (January 3, 2023). "US News to Change Law School Rankings After Yale, Harvard Quit". Bloomberg News. Retrieved January 3, 2023.
  34. ^ Morse, Robert (November 17, 2022). "U.S. News Best Law Schools Rankings Will Continue to Inform Prospective Students". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  35. ^ "Law.com". Law.com. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  36. ^ a b "American Bar Association Website/ABA for Law Students". ABA for Law Students. Retrieved December 12, 2022.[dead link]
  37. ^ Stake, Jeffrey Evans (April 7, 2005). "The Interplay between Ranking Criteria and Effects: Toward Responsible Rankings". Indiana Law Journal. Symposium on the Next Generation of Law School Rankings. 81 (5): 229. doi:10.2139/ssrn.700862. SSRN 700862. Retrieved December 12, 2022.