Yale (Again) Tops 2016 U.S. News Law Rankings

by Jeff Schmitt on

Yale Law School Library

Yale Law School Library

‘The more things change, the more they say the same.’

That saying certainly applies to the 2016 Law School Rankings from U.S. News & World Report. Since 1990, Yale Law School has ranked No. 1 among its peers. And you won’t find any change here, as Yale again tops the 2016 rankings for the 25th consecutive year.

For most, change is uncomfortable at best and threatening at worst. And that’s particularly true for traditional institutions like law schools. Thanks to their strong recruiting, hiring, and academic prowess, Harvard Law, Stanford Law, and Columbia Law have consistently remained top-five programs during Yale Law’s reign. Again, 2016 is no different, with Harvard tying Stanford for second place as Columbia University stays locked with the University of Chicago Law School for fourth.

In other words, the schools maintained the same rankings as 2015 and 2014. In fact, the only difference from six years ago is the tie between Columbia Law and Chicago Law.

LITTLE VOLATILITY IN THE TOP 20 TOO

Here’s another saying: ‘When a dog bites a man, that’s not news. But when a man bites a dog, that’s news.’ By that measure, you could say that the 2016 rankings are rather pedestrian . . . on the surface, at least. New York University Law, Penn Law, and the University of Virginia School of Law retained their spots at six through eight. However, the bottom of the top 10 was shaken up, with Duke Law and the University of California-Berkeley climbing up to tie Virginia Law at eight.

Duke Law

Duke Law

Duke Law’s ascension is particularly notable, as it was ranked 11th just six years ago – and it rose two spots in 2016. How did this happen? For starters, its first-time bar passage rate – 98.7% – trails only Vanderbilt Law (100%). And this rate was a 3.1% increase over the previous year. Duke Law’s nine month employment rate also rose slightly, from 87.1% to 87.6%. In addition, it remained consistent in its peer and professional assessment scores, incoming LSATs and GPAs, and acceptance rate. Despite this, Duke Law’s peers (law administrators and tenured faculty) again gave it a 4.2 score on a 5.0 scale (below both Berkeley Law and Virginia Law). However, it received a 4.5 average from legal practitioners, which placed it in the same bracket as these schools.

Otherwise, the top 20 remained relatively intact.  The University of Michigan slipped out of the top 10, but only to number 11. The Georgetown University Law Center also slid from 13th to 14th, with Vanderbilt going from 16th to 17th. However, such slight changes probably won’t unleash a wave of faculty and alumni jingoism (let alone prompt deans to start updating their resumes).  However, Michigan Law, which ranked as high as 7th in the 2012 rankings (and 9th just two years ago), may be in for a bit of soul searching.

CALIFORNIA-IRVINE COMES OUT OF NOWHERE TO RANK 30TH

Irvine Dean Erwin Chemerinsky

Irvine Dean Erwin Chemerinsky

Just four years ago, the ABA conferred a provisitional accreditation on the University of California-Irvine’s School of Law. Under the leadership of dean Erwin Chemerinsky, the school has developed a big-time reputation, with Irvine trailing only behind Yale Law in the percentage of its students who land federal clerkships.

After the 2016 rankings, Irvine Law is no longer California’s best-kept secret. Jumping into the top 100 at number 30, the school actually ranks higher than long-time in-state competitors like Davis, Hastings, Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount, and Santa Clara. Already enrolling 326 full-time students, Irvine Law maintains competitive incoming LSATs (162-166) and a tough acceptance rate (22%) that’s actually lower than stalwarts like New York University (30.1%), Michigan (26.9%), Northwestern (24.7%), and Cornell (30.3%) – not to mention in-state rivals UCLA (28.1%) and USC Gould (28.4%). However, Irvine Law’s first-time bar passage rate (77.8%) lags behind UCLA (88.2%) and USC Gould (85.8%) in what is considered one of the toughest state bars.

Among the top 50 schools, there were several notable developments. The University of Iowa, which has garnered headlines recently for slashing tuition, launching its 3+3 program, and softening its LSAT requirements, nearly entered the top 20 at number 22 (tying it with the University of Alabama, George Washington, and Notre Dame). Iowa Law scored particularly high on first-time bar passage rate (97.5%), up 1.9% over the previous year. Its nine month placement rate also jumped from 77.3% to 82.6%.

Among top 50 schools, Arizona State (26th) and California-Davis (31st) enjoyed a similar five spot bump over the previous year, with Notre Dame also edging up four spots to 22nd. In fact, Arizona State has risen an jaw-dropping 12 spots in the past six years alone (the second largest jump in that period, with Alabama – leaping from 38th to 22nd over that period – being the top performer here). The University of Utah’s Quinney College of Law experienced the biggest jump in the top 50, going from 49th to 42nd, buoyed by nine-month employment increasing by 7% over the past two years (and its first-time bar passage rate rising by 7% in one year alone). However, Quinney’s practitioner assessment score dropped by from 3.4 high in 2015 back to its 3.1 score from 2014, while its assessment score from academic peers plunged from 3.4 to 2.8.

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