Several law schools have announced that they will stop submitting internal data to U.S. News and World Report for use in its annual ranking of best U.S. law schools. But U.S. News will continue to rank them anyway, said its Chief Data Strategist Robert Morse.
Law school deans say that the rankings penalize schools whose graduates pursue advanced degrees or careers in public interest, while promoting those that spend more on students and drive-up tuition costs, said Reuters.
And the ranking’s reliance on LSAT scores and undergraduate grade-point averages leads to schools opting for merit scholarships over needs-based assistance, Reuters said. This can impact diversity and access to justice for the most vulnerable.
At the time of publication, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law was the only Illinois-based law school that has said it will stop providing internal data to U.S. News.
It joins top schools including Yale Law School (most recently ranked No. 1), Harvard Law School (most recently ranked No. 4), and the University of California at Berkeley School of Law (most recently ranked No. 9) as one of at least 12 schools that have discontinued their participation.
The majority of schools that have opted out of the ranking are T14 law schools.
Why law schools are opting out
In a statement, Northwestern Law Dean Hari Osofsky said that the U.S. News approach to ranking does not align with the school’s values.
“We make this decision – despite our being ranked highly since these rankings began – due to our deep concerns about numerous aspects of this ranking and the effect that it is having on legal education, the profession, and our society,” Osofsky said.
Osofsky noted that areas that Northwestern prioritizes – like interdisciplinary education, public interest students, and supporting access to legal education for low-income students – aren’t evaluated “effectively and constructively” in the U.S. News approach.
Yale Law Dean Heather K. Gerken cited many of the same concerns, saying that the energy and capital the law school has invested over the past years to make the law school a better place may actually lower its scores.
“While I sincerely believe that U.S. News operates with the best of intentions, it faces a nearly impossible task, ranking 192 law schools with a small set of one-size-fits-all metrics that cannot provide an accurate picture of such varied institutions,” Gerken said.
Though they may be opting out of the U.S. News ranking, schools have said that they will continue to provide prospective students with information relevant to their law school selection process.
Why law schools are staying in
Many of the schools that will continue to submit data to U.S. News say that the publication already has access to much of it.
“Most of the data we supply to U.S. News are already public, and the rest is information we have no reason to withhold. The rankings of academic institutions clearly have a readership, and we wish to prevent the use of inaccurate information,” said University of Chicago Law School Dean Thomas J. Miles. The University of Chicago Law School ranked No. 3 in 2023.
In a statement to Law.com, Pete Rosenbury, assistant director of communications and marketing at Southern Illinois University Carbondale School of Law, said, “Although SIU School of Law submits information for the U.S. News rankings, we know that such services are not the sole source of information that any prospective student or faculty use when making decisions regarding choice of law schools.”
University of Illinois College of Law Dean Vikram Amar—who told the News Gazette that the law school has “no plans to change the way we do things”—said that law schools coordinating their actions against the rankings may be seen as anti-competitive and violating anti-trust laws.
Further, Amar acknowledged that many of the schools in the T14 who will not participate in the ranking will still benefit from the reputation their previous rankings have built.
How are law schools ranked?
U.S. News ranks law schools based on internal data supplied by schools such as their expenditures-per-student and average graduate debt, and reputational surveys filled out by legal academics and practicing lawyers, according to Reuters.
Reuters notes that rankings are also based on publicly available data from the American Bar Association on incoming student LSAT scores and undergraduate grades, bar pass rates, and graduate employment.
As noted by Reuters and the statements from Yale and Northwesterm, specific criteria and related concerns include:
- Employment rates for graduates 10 months after graduation and at graduation. This does not include public-interest fellowships that many schools encourage to address overall access to justice.
- Average debt incurred obtaining a J.D. at graduation and the percent of law school graduates incurring J.D. law school debt. This does not consider debt forgiveness programs offered by schools and disincentivizes schools from offering financial aid.
- Median standardized admissions test scores and median undergraduate GPAs. This disincentivizes schools from accepting and providing financial aid to the students with the greatest need and students from highly rigorous undergraduate studies in favor of the students with the best academic record.
For a more comprehensive rundown of how U.S. News ranks law school, click here.
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