A FLAWED RANKING RIDDLED WITH TIES
To calculate rankings, U.S. News weighs various factors on a scale of 100.The 2017 ranking is technically U.S. News’ 2016 ranking, with inputs coming from Class of 2015 data and outputs from Class of 2014 data. In a nutshell, it measures school quality, selectivity, placement, and faculty resources.
25% of the ranking is derived from assessments from law school administrators and faculty. Another 15% results from similar surveys with judges and lawyers (i.e. practitioners). LSAT scores and GPAs account for 12.5% and 10% of the rank, respectively, with acceptance rates given 2.5%. Placement success, particularly employment within ten 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). This year’s methodology is nearly identical to the one used for the 2016 rankings, though placement was measured in a 10 month increment compared to nine months previously.
Such an approach contains some obvious drawbacks. For one, personal opinion—which can be tainted by limited exposure, reputation, or outright bias – amounts to 40% of a school’s rank. While placement comprises 20% of a rank, U.S. News neglects to confer greater weight to jobs that require bar passage. Obviously, no methodology is perfect, but the sheer number of ties in this year’s ranking strains credibility. Just 11 of the 102 law schools ranked were not tied with another program. And there are several bottlenecks, including six schools each tied at 65th and 86th.
INDEX SCORES IMPROVE EVEN IF RANKS DON”T SHOW PROGRESS
While schools are often bunched, there is a definite hierarchy. In terms of the U.S. News index, Stanford and Harvard are three points better than Chicago and Columbia. Despite chatter about the T14, 13th–ranked Cornell is actually five points better than the Georgetown Law Center, which is only separated by a point from the University of Texas. Similarly, 3-4 points differentiate 19th-ranked USC Gould from the five schools bunched up at 20th-22nd.
And the landscape is growing more competitive. While two-thirds of the Top 20 schools retained their same ranking, 16 of these 21 schools actually scored higher index scores – meaning they technically performed better than the previous year (and that excludes Yale, which earned a perfect mark). Compare that to schools ranked 21-40 (12 out of 24), and 41-60 (4 out of 20). Simply put, the top school may be choosing more judiciously and innovating more heavily, but such investments are simply necessary to keep pace.
ONLY TWO NEW SCHOOLS MAKE THE TOP 100
Unlike the 2016 rankings, where the University of California-Irvine came out of nowhere to rank 30th, there were few surprise entrants into this year’s rankings. Just two schools, Wayne State University and Indiana University of Indianapolis, entered the Top 100 – at 97th and 100th, respectively. They replaced Santa Clara University and the University of Mississippi, which were tied for 94th last year.
While the overall rankings remained relatively steady, there was some upheaval among the top schools for certain legal specializations. Most notably, Vermont Law School beat out Lewis & Clark as the top program for environmental law. Equally intriguing, UC-Berkeley Law unseated Stanford atop the intellectual property rankings. At the same time, St. Louis University replaced the University of Maryland in health care law, with Ohio State taking over for Pepperdine in dispute resolution.
However, some schools managed to fend off the upstarts. Those schools retaining their top rankings include: Georgetown Law Center (Part-time law and clinical training), New York University (International and tax law), Seattle University (Legal writing), and Stetson University (Trial advocacy).
(See Following pages for the actual rankings and five year trends)