It doesn’t matter how close the score was. The only thing people remember is who won!
Every spring, law faculty, students, and alumni wonder if this will be the year. Will Yale Law finally yield the top spot in the U.S. News ranking? It is a tradition that stretches back to 1990, when U.S. News published its first law school ranking. Back then, Yale Law was the inaugural #1 – and hasn’t relinquished that honor even once in the past three decades. The margins may have been slim, but the result has always been the same: Yale Law was the best law school in the United States.
And it remains that way with U.S. News’ 2022 ranking.
THE METHODOLOGY GETS TWEAKED
For the 32nd year straight, Yale Law claimed the #1 spot – despite tweaks to the ranking methodology. That wasn’t the only tradition upheld this spring. Stanford Law and Harvard Law rank 2nd and 3rd for the 5th straight year. For the second year, the University of Chicago and Columbia Law tied at 4th. Overall, the Top 10 held steady, with the notable exception of Duke Law kicking Northwestern Pritzker into the wilderness.
In past rankings, U.S. News’ Law School Ranking was divided into four buckets with the following weights: Quality Assessment (40%), Selectivity (25%), Placement (20%), and Faculty Resources (15%). In 2022, the weights were parsed more finely. Quality Assessment remained 40%. However, Selectivity was shaved four points to 21%, while Placement added over 5 points to 25.25%. By the same token, Faculty and Library Resources’ weight shrunk from 15% to 13.75%.
What do these categories mean? Start with Quality Assessment, which is divided between Peer Assessments (25%) and Professional Assessments (15%). The former is a survey given to law school deans, faculty chairs, and tenured faculty, where they rate peer programs on a scale of 1 (marginal) to 5 (outstanding). That scale is also used in the Professional Assessment given to legal professionals such as judges, practicing lawyers, and law firm hiring partners – who evaluate law schools based on the alumni they encounter from them.
CHANGES SPARK CRITICISM
In other words, 40% of the U.S. News ranking is based on personal opinions of people aren’t physically present at schools. As a result, they may not be aware of the caliber of teaching and resources students enjoy. Not only does U.S. News give heavy credence to survey respondents who are oblivious to the day-to-day operations of the schools they evaluate, but the outlet also leaves itself open to mischief and bias from respondents with ulterior motives – such as keeping their alma maters ranked high to maintain their professional reputations (or undercutting competing institutions to hold onto their schools’ high rankings). What’s more, these score can act as lagging indicators that don’t take into account new programming that elevates the quality of education received by more recent graduates.
Selectivity – 21% overall – is divided into three categories. First, 11.25% of the weight is given to LSAT and GRE scores received during admission from full-time and part-time members of the Class of 2020. Another 8.75% is attached to undergraduate GPAs for the same class – with the remaining 1% tagged to a school’s acceptance rate. The third broad category, Placement, encompasses job placement, bar passage, and debt. 10-Month (14%) and graduation (4%) employment rates make up the majority of Placement. However, U.S. News also added debt service for another 5%, which is allotted between average student debt (3%) and percentage of class debt (2%) for the Class of 2020. Bar passage makes up the remaining 2.25%.
The remainder of the ranking is based on a catch-all: Law School and Library Resources. Covering 13.75% of the ranking overall, the category includes it includes “average spending on instruction, library and supporting services” (9%) and spending on financial aid (1%). In addition, the measure allots 2% for faculty-to-student ratio and 1.75% for areas such as number of hours where library services are available, number of titles available, ratio of student seats to library space, and ratio of library staff presentations to full-time students.
This year’s shifts in methodology stirred controversy before the rankings release. Notably, law schools discovered a flaw in the school’s library metric pertaining to library hours. While the measure represented just 2% of the weight, the revised data tweaked the ranking of several schools in previous years. In addition, as the TaxProf Blog points out, the 2022 ranking still contains inconsistencies related to course credits from classes taught by librarians. At the same time, U.S. News had to remove a hastily-introduced diversity ranking, which excluded multiethnic and Asian students. Even U.S. News’ introduction of student debt into the methodology spurred criticism. Mikey Spivey, founding partner of The Spivey Consulting Group, worries that some schools may be tempted to enroll students from wealthier backgrounds.
“It’s almost inconceivable to imagine admissions officers rejecting someone because their personal statement discusses their impoverished background,” Spivey explains. “But it’s more possible to think that after a few years fighting this metric in the rankings that a school changes its recruitment strategy somewhat, or that a bit of unconscious bias creeps in.”
HOW YALE LAW REPEATED
U.S. News’ changes in methodology reduced the importance of admissions inputs – one of Yale Law’s biggest strengths. How was the school able to repeat? It helps to compare Yale Law to its top rivals: Stanford Law and Harvard Law. The great irony: One of U.S. News’ tweaks may have actually saved Yale Law’s reign.
Start with Peer Assessment and Professional Assessment survey. Here, Yale Law again hit 4.8 and 4.7 marks respectively. However, Stanford Law, while maintaining last year’s 4.8 score with peers, bumped up its professional average to 4.9 – giving it an early advantage over Yale Law in a category that accounts for 25% of the ranking. The same was true for Harvard Law, whose 4.8 professional score also topped Yale Law’s 4.7.
However, Yale Law made up ground when it comes to admissions criteria. With a 173 median LSAT, Yale Law bested Stanford Law (171) and tied Harvard Law in a category with an 11.25% weight. Yale Law also fared better with median undergraduate GPA, which accounted for 8.75% of the weight. In this category, Yale Law’s 3.94 median GPA edged out Stanford Law (3.89) and Harvard Law (3.88). While acceptance rate has nominal impact, Yale Law topped all comers with a 7% rate, which bested both Stanford Law (10%) and Harvard Law (13%).