Yale Law Holds Top Spot in U.S. News Ranking

University of Chicago Law School

Where Yale Law struggles, however, is placement. Just 83.5% of graduates had landed work within 10 months of graduation. In reality, just two students – or 1% of the Class of 2017 – were still seeking jobs after graduation (with another 3% either pursuing graduate school or choosing to defer job start dates to focus on other pursuits). Instead, a large cohort either pursued law school funded jobs in teaching and research or chose corporate or public sector work that didn’t require law degrees. U.S. News’ employment formula is also skewed by Yale Law’s tradition of placing a high percentage of graduates in judicial clerkships after graduation. With the Class of 2017, for example, 37.26% of the class accepted clerkships, a higher percentage than graduates who landed work in law firms (36.32%). To put that number in context, 28.3% of Stanford Law grads clerked, with the percentage being 20.3% among Harvard Law grads.
Overall, Stanford Law and Harvard Law were close in nearly every category. This year, Stanford boasted advantages in undergraduate GPA, acceptance rates, and faculty-to-student ratio. In contrast, Harvard edged their Palo Alto rivals in LSAT scores, placement rate and bar passage. Of course, two is company and three is a crowd. In the 2019 ranking, the University of Chicago appeared poised to bounce Harvard Law out of the top three, thanks to higher job placement, bar passage, and GPA. However, Harvard Law distanced itself substantially from Chicago Law in 2020. The big differentiator: survey results. Here, Harvard Law outpointed Chicago Law in both peer assessment (4.9 vs. 4.7) and legal professional assessment (4.8 vs. 4.6). On top of that, Harvard Law attracted stronger academic candidates in terms of LSATs (170-175 vs. 167-173) and GPAs (3.80-3.97 vs. 3.73-3.96). With such measures making up 60% of the ranking weight, Chicago Law had no realistic shot of replacing Harvard Law. Better luck next year.
Chicago Law wasn’t alone in losing ground among Top 10 programs. Michigan Law and Berkeley Law, for example, each lost a spot despite marked improvements. Notably, Berkeley Law rose in both LSATs (165-170 vs. 164-168) and placement (90.2% vs. 87.6%). Still, it tumbled thanks to a much higher acceptance rate (26% vs. 20%). These schools were also casualties of similarly-ranked schools enjoying banner years. Case in point: Virginia Law scored higher in both peer assessment (4.4 vs. 4.3) and law professional assessment (4.5 vs. 4.4), along with reporting improved results in GPA (3.59-3.97 vs. 3.57-3.89), acceptance rate (15% vs. 18%), and placement (93.9% vs. 90.3%).

University of Notre Dame

Virginia Law had plenty of company when it came to posting historic numbers. Notre Dame Law surged three spots to 21st, thanks to a decrease in the school’s acceptance rate (30% to 25%) and a rise in its placement (79% to 86%). The University of Florida used the same combination to vaulted 11 spots: a 3% drop in acceptance rate followed by a 3.7% boost in placement. For the University of Washington, the school’s double digit tumble remains a baffling mystery. While the school’s undergraduate GPA sank slightly, its numbers rose with its all-important acceptance and placement rates.
Overall, the splashiest debut in 2020 came from Pepperdine Law, which entered at #51 – the result of a reporting error that left the school unranked in 2019 (after finishing 52nd the year before).  The University of Tulsa, Hawai’i-Manoa, Florida International, Hofstra, and Drexel, and West Virginia returned to the U.S. News ranking in 2020, with Lewis & Clark – last year’s #95 – being the biggest name to skid out of the Top 100.
The U.S. News law school ranking has never been particularly sharply constructed. This year’s list features 103 law schools, including 20 sets of ties. For example, there are six schools each ranked 52nd, 71st, and 77th. What’s more, the list features nine schools ranked 91st.  While this trend is more prevalent in the Bottom 50 schools, you’ll still find three schools bunched together at 10th and four more at 27th. Such clusters represent a failure in methodology, one that doesn’t clearly demarcate law schools from each other.
That has an impact on rankings. Take Fordham Law, which is among four schools clustered together at 39th. Just one index point separates the school from the next cluster, which starts at 34th. Even more, just two points mark the difference between ranking 39th and 31st. Those same two points separate Yale Law from Stanford Law, with just a point differentiating Stanford Law and Harvard Law. In other words, the differences between schools are less stark and more miniscule than U.S. News makes them out to be.
Of course, these slight differences are ironed out over time. Looking over a five year window, it is easier to see which programs are surging – and which are struggling. Not surprisingly, the L14 schools are locked in place, with their five-year average rank nearly identical to their 2020 performance. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been movement below the surface, however. Take USC Law, for example. It has climbed three spots since the 2016 ranking.  The University of Florida and Wake Forest University shared the 47th spot five years ago. Now, they’re again tied…for 31st, an impressive feat considering both have improved nearly every year over that timeframe. The news hasn’t always been positive over a five year span, however. Exhibit A: The University of Iowa and Emory University. Both schools were consistently ranked among the Top 20 law schools five years ago. Now, they’ve fallen behind upstarts like the University of Minnesota and the University of California-Irvine.

Georgetown Law Center

Along with law schools, U.S. News also ranks legal specializations. Much like its quality surveys, these rankings rely heavily on opinion – and reputation by extension. Each year, U.S. News asks faculty to select 15 schools in their fields of study that they believe set the bar. In other words, these respondents are subject to the same lack of awareness and even bias that dogs the quality surveys. That means these rankings gauge brand reputation more than anything – reputations are deeply ingrained in the rankings and hard to shake.
This year, the change was more robust than normal. Ohio State, for example, upended Pepperdine as the top law school for Dispute Resolution – at least in the opinion of survey respondents. Pace Law School also replaced the University of Vermont in Environmental Law, while Berkeley Law wrestled the top spot away from Stanford Law in Intellectual Property Beyond that, the usual suspect remained the standard bearers for their particular specialization, including Clinical Training (Georgetown Law Center), Health Care Law (Saint Louis University), International Law (New York University), Tax Law (New York University), Trial Advocacy (Stetson University), and Legal Writing (University of Nevada-Las Vegas).
In addition, U.S. News also publishes an annual ranking of part-time law schools. Like 2019, Georgetown Law retained its crown as the top law program for part-time students – earning a perfect index score in the process. To rank these programs, U.S. News focuses on three measures: Quality Assessment, Selectivity, and Part-Time Focus. The quality portion, which accounts for half of the weight, is a simple survey given out to the dean and three faculty members to score peer programs, using the same 1-5 scale. Selectivity is divided into two measures: LSAT or GRE scores and undergraduate GPA. a category that includes section size and the number of students who participate in areas like law clinics, seminars, simulations, field placements, law journals, competitions, and independent study.
Overall, Georgetown Law dominated the peer assessment score, posting a 4.3 – far higher than its nearest competition: George Washington (3.6), Fordham University (3.4), and George Mason (2.9). Accepting just 5.3% of applicants, Georgetown Law Center was also the most selective law program (edging out George Mason by three points). It also reported the highest LSAT scores, with a 161-168 range from the 25th to the 75th percentile. That said, it wasn’t the largest part-time program. That honor belonged to the 35th-ranked Hamline School of Law, which enrolls 712 part-time students during the 2018-2019 school year.
To see how your favorite law schools have fared over the past five years in the U.S. News ranking, go to the next pages.