To see the updated 2016 U.S. News rankings, click here.
When it comes to dynasties, sports fans imagine John Wooden’s ten championships at UCLA or the Boston Celtics hoisting nine banners during the 1960s. But those reigns pale in comparison to Yale Law, which has ranked #1 in the U.S. News and World Report rankings since they were launched in the late 1980s. And it should be no surprise that Yale repeats this feat in the 2015 U.S. News rankings.
This year’s rankings reflect “Déjà vu all over again,” to quote Yogi Berra. Harvard and Stanford again tied for second place, with Columbia, the University of Chicago, New York University, and the University of Pennsylvania holding down spots 4-7. However, there was movement at the bottom of the top 10, with the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan sliding from 7-to-8 and 9-to-10, respectively. Duke University joined the top 10, after being a #11 ranked bridesmaid for the past four years. Despite maintaining its ranking, the University of Pennsylvania dropped an index point, suggesting it might be vulnerable to losing its #7 spot, which it has held for the past four years.
EMORY JUMPS INTO THE TOP 20
The top 20 overall was relatively consistent, though a three-way tie at #20 expanded the list. Emory University, which ranked #30 just three years ago, jumped into the #19 spot over perennial powers USC and the University of Minnesota. George Washington also cracked the top 20 after a one year absence. Otherwise, there was little ground gained or lost here. Georgetown, UCLA, Washington University each moved up a spot, while Vanderbilt and the University of Minnesota dropped one. USC lost two.
Unlike business school rankings, where outlets ranging from Bloomberg Businessweek to The Financial Times vie for authority, U.S. News is generally the only law school ranking that matters. The 2015 rankings, which is technically its 2014 ranking based on 2013 data, measure school quality, selectivity, placement, and faculty resources. 25% of a ranking is derived from assessments from law school administrators and faculty, with another 15% resulting from similar surveys with judges and lawyers. LSAT scores and GPAs account for 12.5% and 10% of the rank, with acceptance rates given 2.5%. Placement success, particularly employment within nine months of graduation, is factored in at a 20% clip. The formula is rounded out by a 15% weight to faculty resources (Expenditures per student, Student-to-faculty ratio, and library resources).
While the formula is theoretically transparent, it has plenty of critics. For some, such as Dean David Yellen of Loyola Law, the emphasizing student expenditures can motivate schools to raise tuition to cover added services needed to help them rise in the rankings. For others, assessment surveys, given to educators and professionals who aren’t on campus, are subjective and often lagging indicator of school gains.
LITTLE VOLATILITY IN THE TOP 50
The legal profession is conservative by nature…and the top 50 reflects that. In fact, only two schools dropped out of the top 50: U.C.-Hastings and the University of Houston (and that stems from 52 schools being in last year’s top 50 due to ties). The College of William & Mary represented the largest gain in the top 50, leapfrogging 9 spots to #24. Conversely, Washington & Lee University dropped 17 spots, going from #26 to #43,
Overall, six new schools – the University of Seattle, Stetson University, Florida International, Wayne State, St. Louis University, and the University of New Hampshire, joined the top 100 (which is technically 103 schools due to ties). Four schools – Catholic University, Syracuse, St. John’s, and Santa Clara University dropped out. Catholic experienced the biggest drop, tumbling from #80 to #107.
However, there were changes at the top for three legal specialty programs that U.S. News measures. The University of Maryland unseated the University of St. Louis as the top program for health care law. Stanford also replaced Boalt Hall atop the intellectual property rankings, while Lewis & Clark claimed the top spot in environmental law from the Vermont Law School. Seven programs repeated as the #1 school for the remaining specialties: Georgetown (Clinical Law and Part-Time Programs), Pepperdine (Dispute Resolution), New York University (International Law and Tax Law), the University of Seattle (Legal Writing), and Stetson University (Trial Advocacy).
(See following page for the actual ranking and five-year trends)