U.S. News & World Report said it will amend the methodology used in its ranking of best U.S. law schools after several law schools cited concerns with its criteria.
More than 20 law schools including Northwestern, Harvard, and Yale, have said that they will stop providing data to U.S. News for the annual rankings because the rankings lack diversity metrics, penalize schools whose graduates pursue advanced degrees or careers in public interest, and encourage schools to favor wealthy students by offering financial aid based on test scores rather than financial need.
“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,” Northwestern Law Dean Hari Osofsky said in a November 2022 statement.
Osofsky noted that areas that Northwestern prioritizes – like interdisciplinary education, public interest students, and supporting access to legal education for low-income students – weren’t evaluated “effectively and constructively” in the U.S. News approach.
The updated methodology will rank law schools using the publicly available data required by the American Bar Association, U.S. News said. Schools that respond to its survey will receive more detailed profiles.
There will also be a reduced emphasis on the peer assessment surveys of academics, lawyers and judges, and an increased weight on outcome measures.
Updating the methodology
U.S. News said the changes are based on recent conversations with more than 100 deans and representatives of law schools, as well as internal research and its iterative rankings review process.
The main concerns raised by law schools centered on per-student expenditures, the weight of the peer assessment surveys, and indicators of student debt. U.S. News also received feedback that the rankings should place more weight on outcomes, like passing the bar and employment.
Some law schools criticized the rankings for discouraging public service careers by undervaluing fellowships. In response, U.S. News said that, for the next year, it will give full weight to certain fellowships and treat all fellowships equally. It will also give full weight to those enrolled in graduate studies in the ABA employment outcomes grid.
U.S. News said it needs more time to address concerns around factors including loan forgiveness/loan assistance repayment programs, need-based aid, and diversity and socio-economic considerations.
“More data benefits everyone,” U.S. News said. It called on law schools to make public all of the data they provide to the ABA “so that future law students can have fuller and more transparent disclosure.”
Law school reaction
The updated methodology does not appear to have appeased concerned law schools, including the University of California Law San Francisco and St. John’s University School of Law. Both law schools recently announced they would no longer participate.
Law school admission consultant Mike Spivey told Reuters that he expects more law schools to boycott the rankings since they will now be based on ABA data.
“The big thing is it’s all going to be public,” Spivey told the news outlet. “There’s no reason for schools to stay in.”
Inside Higher Ed shared a statement from Yale Law Dean Heather K. Gerken that said “having a window into the operations and decision-making process at U.S. News in recent weeks has only cemented our decision to stop participating in the rankings.”
The outlet also quoted Megan Carpenter, Dean of the University of New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce School of Law, who said in a statement that the announcement was “too little, too late, and too vague.”
“We should be very concerned that the conversation about the diminished credibility and legitimacy of the U.S. News ranking, initiated by the 20-plus law schools including UNH Franklin Pierce, simply devolves into an exercise about tweaking their monolithic formula,” Carter said.
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