There’s something comforting in consistency. These days, people are wrestling with complexity, disruption, and uncertainty. The consistent offer a respite, comfort that they will always be there, ever accountable and never disappointing. Their greatness comes from repeating the fundamentals and meeting the same standards, ever vigilant against taking shortcuts. That’s how you know they are elite: they remain true to their mission and value the people they serve.
In 1990, U.S. News & World Report launched its inaugural law school ranking. Back then, Yale Law topped this list. Here’s the real story: Yale Law has since held the top spot for 30 consecutive years – a marvel of consistency. This week, U.S. News announced that Yale Law had remained #1 for the 31st year in a row.
Of course, consistency defines the U.S. News Law School ranking. Stanford Law held onto the #2 spot for the 4th-straight year, while Harvard Law has remained #3 for four years running as well. Columbia Law was spared Harvard Law’s fate. It climbed to 4th after being stuck for three years at the #5 spot. The school also tied the University of Chicago, which has stayed at #4 as long as Stanford Law has claimed #2.
A FLAWED METHODOLOGY
Sounds pretty stodgy, right? That’s by design, with U.S. News placing particular emphasis on survey results and student inputs and outputs. Big picture, the rankings’ weight is divided across four categories: Quality Assessment Survey (40%), Selectivity (25%), Placement Success (20%), and Faculty Resources (15%).
The Quality Assessment is undoubtedly the most controversial measure. Here, a quarter of the ranking is devoted to surveys conducted with law school deans, faculty chairs, and tenured professors. In other words, competing programs evaluate each other, mainly off reputation since respondents often possess little day-to-day knowledge of their peers. Another 15% is devoted to assessment scores of judges and attorneys – who are basically evaluating the quality of teaching and students from a bygone era. In both cases, schools are measured on a five-point scale where 5 is the highest mark.
Selectivity encompasses median LSAT and GRE scores (12.5%), median undergraduate GPA (10%), and acceptance rate (2.5%) for all 2019 entrants. In contrast, placement covers the employment rate of 2018 grads. This gap makes the ranking a lagging indicator of school success. Bar passage rate – again from 2018 – was also incorporated into this category at a 2% rate overall. The final category, Faculty Resources, is a mishmash of measures that include expenditures per student (including financial aid), student-faculty ratio, and library resources. This methodology has remained the same since 2015, though U.S. News sidestepped including a Scholarly Impact Rating in this year’s benchmarks.
A WINNING FORMULA
How does Yale Law manage to repeat as the top law school year-after-year? Simple, they hold their own against their peers’ strengths and dominate in terms of inputs. In the Peer Assessment, which is 25% of the weight, Yale Law matched the 4.8 mark posted by Stanford Law and Harvard Law. This was key, as both peer schools saw their score fall by .10 of a point in this measure. Yale Law also maintained its 4.7 score in its Assessment Score from judges and lawyers. That fit the previous year’s pattern, preventing Yale Law from losing ground.
In median LSAT scores, Yale Law’s 173 tied Harvard Law and bested Stanford Law (171). Yale Law also boasted a decisively higher bar passage rate in its jurisdiction than Stanford Law (98.0% vs. 90.4%) and a far better student-to-faculty ratio than Harvard Law (4.3:1 vs. 7.2:1). At the same time, the school’s acceptance rate (8%) edged out both Stanford Law (10%) and Harvard Law (13%).
Alas, Yale Law’s Achilles Heel is well-documented. The school reported an 83.3% placement rate within 10 months of graduation – lower than both Stanford Law (90.2%) and Harvard Law (90.7%). However, those numbers are deceiving. Just 5 of the 215 members of Yale Law’s 2018 class were either unemployed or not actively seeking work. Instead, many sought short-term positions that are penalized by U.S. News. Notably, 40.8% of the class chose to clerk for judges after graduation, a far higher rate than Stanford Law (30.1%) and Harvard Law (31.1%).
In terms of financial aid, Yale Law also technically lags behind peers. On average, law students receive $28,005 in aid, a lower rate than both Stanford Law ($32,072) and Harvard Law ($28,060). Despite this, Yale Law is better at spreading its aid around. 37.8% of Yale Law students enjoyed aid. That’s a higher rate than either Stanford Law (24.2%) or Harvard Law (27.3%), making it another example of how Yale Law masks its weaknesses.