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The "New" Law School Rankings


I was just about to write about something that would be very helpful to all those LSAT students preparing for the big test, but someone at the BP office just dumped the new U.S. News & World Report law school ranking on my desk. And, thus, I have fallen prey to the same mistake that plagues LSAT students. Instead of worrying about why #13 was (D) and why they missed yet another classic example of a composition fallacy, students generally concern themselves with why getting that question wrong will lead to them going to a lower-ranked law school and stymie their chances of ever scoring a high-paying job and good-looking mate. Not a good idea, by the way. Just focus on the test and worry about the other crap later. But I digress.

If you have not heard of the U.S. News rankings, then you must be new to this law school thing or new to this country. They are the most important and influential law school rankings out there. Law schools will tell you that they don’t matter, but they do. It is my belief that the deans of law schools all get together in secret meetings (probably wearing dark robes and carrying staffs) and discuss how to improve their ranking.

There are a number of criteria that U.S. News uses to rank the schools (you can see the complete rankings here). But it can basically be broken down into five categories (with how much they are weighed):
1. Reputation among peers and lawyers/judges (the most important)
2. Average incoming GPA and LSAT (very important)
3. Acceptance rate (nearly meaningless)
4. Employment rate after graduation (pretty important)
5. Bar passage rate (not so much, but it counts)

So, drumroll please….

The top five:
1. Yale
2. Harvard
3. Stanford
4. Columbia
5. NYU

Well, that was a letdown. Just shocking. Who would have thought that those would be the top five? Oh wait, those have been the top five for the last few millennia. Harvard and Stanford are fighting this little battle for second place that is about as interesting as the third place game in the college basketball NIT. Basically, if you can make it into one of these schools, you are cool. Enjoy life.

The rest of the top ten:
6. Berkeley/Chicago (I went with Logic Games notation here for spots 6 and 7)
7. Chicago/Berkeley
8. U Penn
9. Michigan
10. Duke/Northestern/Virginia (a three way tie, how exciting)
11. Northwestern/Virginia/Duke
12. Virginia/Duke/Northwestern

At least we get a little bit of change. Duke jumped into the top ten (tied for 12 last year). But still, not much movement.

So let’s go a little deeper:
13. Cornell
14. Georgetown
15. UCLA/Texas (two of my favorite schools in a tie, cute)
16. Texas/UCLA
17. Vanderbilt
18. USC (as a Bruin, I think they are heavily overrated)
19. Washington U in St. Louis (odd but okay)
20. Boston/Emory/Minnesota (another three way)
21. Emory/Minnesota/Boston
22. Minnesota/Boston/Emory
23. Indiana/Illinois/Notre Dame (apparently they just come in sets of three now)
24. Illinois/Notre Dame/Indiana
25. Notre Dame/Indiana/Illinois

Okay, I am seeing a trend here. The rankings are essentially the same as they were last year, and the year before, and the year before. I think they could just do this once every five years or so to make sure nothing major has changed (Shocking headline: Yale still #1!).

There are some schools that made some changes. For instance, UC Davis moved up from 44 last year to 35 this year (cow tipping must be a big draw these days). On the other end of things, George Washington dropped from 20 to 28. But, overall, there was not much change.

I still think there is a lesson that can be learned from this little overview. Don’t listen to anyone who says things about the rankings of schools “going up” or “falling quickly”. There are slight changes from year to year, but rarely does anything dramatic happen. The largest factor in the rankings is the reputation of the school among peers, lawyers, and judges. Let’s be honest, reputations do not change quickly. If you are known around town as an easy lay or a bad drinker, that tag does not go away with one Sunday at church.

Until next year’s rankings…