Can any other law school ever dislodge Yale University’s Law School from the top of the U.S. News & World Report ranking of the best? If so, it didn’t happen in 2013 as Yale again repeated its No. 1 position on the most watched list of the best law schools in the U.S.
Harvard and Stanford tied for second place this year, while Columbia and the University of Chicago, both tied for fourth, rounded out the top five.
Even though U.S. News weighs a dozen different metrics to crank out its annual list of the best law schools, a surprising number of ties appear on its ranking. In the latest top ten, for example, eight schools hold tied positions, from Harvard and Stanford’s tie for second to UC-Berkeley and the University of Michigan’s tie for ninth place. Eight law schools are tied for the rank of 68th on the list. It just shows you how close these schools are to each other and why you need to discount the validity of the ranking.
U.S. NEWS HAS REALLY BEEN THE ONLY MAJOR RANKING OF LAW SCHOOLS IN THE U.S.
Nonetheless, the U.S. News ranking is the most widely consulted when it comes to the best law schools in the U.S. So applicants don’t have a variety of lists to check out as they do for full-time MBA programs at business schools where there are five influential rankings from BusinessWeek and Forbes to The Economist and The Financial Times. A law school blog, Above the Law, put out a ranking of the top 50 for the first time earlier this year.
Somewhat telling is that the underlying index numbers U.S. News uses to crank out its numerical ranking show that law schools vary more greatly in their reputation and prestige than business schools. Only three index points separate the top five business schools ranked by U.S. News, but five index points alone separate No. 1 Yale Law School with No. 2 Harvard and Stanford.
The 2013 ranking–which U.S. News calls its 2014 ranking to give it more shelf time–shows remarkable stability over the past five years. Some 20 of the top 25 law schools have either maintained their rank since 2009 or changed up or down by only one or two places, an inconsequential move in a ranking. The biggest improvements among U.S. News’ top 25 schools were achieved by the University of Alabama and George Washington University which rose to a tied rank of 21 from a rank of 30th and 28th, respectively, in 2009.
LOSING GROUND IN THE TOP 25: UC-BERKELEY AND EMORY LAW SCHOOLS
The University of Virginia’s law school also showed improvement, moving up three places in the past five years, to a rank of seventh this year, a position it shares with the University of Pennsylvania’s law school. Losing ground in this same timeframe, each by three places, are UC-Berkeley’s Boalt Law School, which has fallen to a ninth-place tie with the University of Michigan, and Emory University, which also fell to a 23rd-place tie with the University of Notre Dame.
So how does U.S. News rank law schools? It places the greatest weight (25%) on its own survey of law school officials–deans, deans of academic affairs, chairs of faculty and tenured faculty members–who are asked to rate programs on a five-point scale from marginal to outstanding. U.S. News says that about 63% of those surveyed responded. Another 25% of the rankings methodology is based on “selectivity” which is measured by median LSAT scores, median undergraduate GPA and a school’s acceptance rate.
Some 20% of the weight is based on placement success, including employment rates at graduation and nine months later as well as the school’s bar passage rate. Some 15% is based on a survey of legal professionals–hiring partners of law firms, state attorneys general and selected federal and state judges. The remaining 15% weight comes from a category called “faculty resources”—expenditures per student, student-faculty ratio, and library resources.
(See following page for the actual ranking and five-year trends)