Yale Crowned Top Law School In 2017 U.S. News Ranking

by Jeff Schmitt on

University of Michigan Law

University of Michigan Law


The usual suspects again cluster below the “Big Three.” They are led by Columbia Law and the University of Chicago Law, which (like Harvard and Stanford) tied for the third consecutive year. Here, Chicago leads Columbia in outputs like bar passage (97.3% vs. 92.4%), placement (96.2% vs. 95.7%), and assessment scores from lawyers and judges (4.7 vs. 4.6). However, Columbia follows the Yale blueprint, edging out Chicago in outputs like LSAT (168-173 vs. 166-172 and 171 median vs. 170) and acceptance rates (21.3% vs. 21.9%). That said, Chicago first-years clearly bring higher undergraduate GPAs (3.9 median vs. 3.7) than Columbia. However, U.S. News only measures which school scores higher, not by how much. As a result, Chicago and Columbia end up tied (again).

New York University and the University of Pennsylvania also remained locked in their sixth and seventh spots, with NYU  excelling in LSAT scores and GPAs and Penn holding serve in bar passage and ten-month employment rates. The difference?  Both academics and practitioners each gave NYU a tenth of a point advantage in the surveys.

As with previous years, the 2017 rankings grow increasingly volatile after Penn. Historically, four schools – the University of Virginia, the University of California-Berkeley, Duke University, and the University of Michigan have vied for spots 8-11. Last year, there was a three-way tie for 8th, with Michigan tumbling down to 11th. This year, Michigan returned the favor, pushing its way to the logjam and knocking Duke to the 11th spot. And this ascension was based on several factors. First, Michigan outpointed Duke by a 4.4-to-4.2 margin in the all-important peer assessment metric (25% of a rank), while also nipping Duke in the judges and lawyers survey (15% of a rank). In terms of LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs, Duke preserved its traditional advantage over Michigan. However, the schools split the difference in bar passage (Duke) and placement rate (Michigan), which is why Michigan finds itself back in the Top 10.

Overall, Yale dominated the field in terms of inputs like highest LSATs and GPAs and lowest acceptance rate. At the same time, Penn won out when it came to outputs like highest first time bar passage rate (99.3%) among schools with a state bar exam and 10-month placement rate (97.8%).


University of Iowa College of Law

University of Iowa College of Law

Some might argue that moving into the Top 20 of U.S. News’ law school rankings is nearly as difficult as firing a government bureaucrat. Survey results are lagging indicators. A right-sized legal market with tepid hiring makes it difficult to jumpstart placement rates (especially with U.S. News closely monitoring school affiliated jobs). And every school is fighting fiercely to keep their inputs up, some even going so far as to chop down enrollments. And this year was no different.

There won’t be many corks popping in the administrative wing or faculty lounge. Instead, you’ll hear a collective sigh of relief, as your friendly neighborhood deans go about their day, rather than polishing their resumes. Aside from the fireworks between Duke and Michigan, this year’s ranking is more of the same, at least among the upper echelon. In the final analysis, Vanderbilt gained a spot (to 16th) while UCLA lost one (to 17th). Both schools were equals in the eyes of academics and practitioners and their GMATs and undergraduate GPAs were nearly spot on too. The difference was an 11.8% difference in bar results, with UCLA cursed by the California exam (A 60.2% overall first-time passage rate compared to 72.2% in Tennessee). That said, USC’s Gould School of Law crept up from 20th to 19th, buoyed by a far higher 10-month placement rate over the previous year (85.7% vs. 72.4%).

However, the Top 20 did welcome two new members: Boston University and the University of Iowa. Boston University jumped from 26th to 20th, while Iowa climbed from 22nd to 20th. Boston University sliced its accepted rate from 39.2% to 37.9%, all while holding its average LSAT and undergraduate GPAs steady. Like Gould, Boston University rallied its placement rate from 68.1% to 80.5% — an especially impressive achievement considering BU placement hovered at 57.5% just two years ago.


For the University of Iowa, the Top 20 was simply the culmination of a longer trend. Five years ago, the program ranked 29th. Then, it inched up to 26th and 22nd over the previous two rankings. Like BU, Iowa has enjoyed a renaissance in placement, going from 77.3% to 86.9% in just the past year. More impressively, just 1.7% of Iowa’s 2014 law graduates were found in university-funded positions within 10 months of graduation (a far cry from the 8.1% of BU grads).

Of course, the joy found in Boston and Iowa City this morning came at the expense of Emory University and the University of Minnesota (which had already lost the Floyd of Rosedale – a bronze trophy shaped like a pig – to Iowa this past football season). Emory stumbled thanks to recruiting students with slightly lower LSATs and undergraduate GPAs. Ironically, Emory actually increased placement by 11.3% to 89.9%. To add insult to injury, the school boosted median starting salaries in the private sector by $20,000 to $120,000 (and public sector salaries by $2,000). Minnesota struggled in different areas. On the plus side, the school experienced small upticks in LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs – not to mention a 6.3% increase in placement. At the same time, its acceptance rate rose to 44.4%, while its bar passage rate plunged from 96.5% to 89.9%.

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