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What Does It Mean for the Top Law Schools to Leave the US News Law Schools Rankings? 

As you may be aware, a significant number of law schools are opting out of the US News Law School Rankings. At the time of writing, nine of the “T-14” (Top 14) law schools—Yale, Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, UC Berkeley, Georgetown, Michigan, Duke, and Northwestern—have explicitly opted out. 

Although law schools are opting out, this does not mean that those schools will not be ranked by US News. Rather, this just means that they will not provide certain information to US News in order to assist with their ranking determination. Historically, when schools have not provided such information, US News has made its own estimates to fill in the gaps. Moreover, most of the data that US News uses for its rankings is publicly available. This means—at least for the near future—it is unlikely that there will be a massive shakeup in the T-14. Nevertheless, the fact that so many of the top schools are publicly electing to opt out will likely diminish the US News Law School Ranking’s credibility. This is significant because, unlike most other graduate programs where there are multiple rankings, the consensus “official” law school rankings have always been dictated by US News. It is possible that prospective students and employers will begin to look at other sources to determine the relative competitiveness of a given law school.  

Why Are Law Schools Leaving

Since its inception, many law schools have taken issue with the US News rankings. A primary complaint is that such rankings, while valuable, incentivize schools to overemphasize factors such as LSAT scores, which inhibits a holistic approach for admissions and creates a barrier to entry for many prospective law students. However, before Yale publicly opting out of these rankings there has not been such a concerted effort. 

In its initial withdrawal, Dean Gerken of Yale Law School stated that “[o]ne of the most troubling aspects of the US News rankings is that it discourages law schools from providing critical support for students seeking public interest careers and devalues graduates pursuing advanced degrees.” Additionally, since US News places a particularly high value on LSAT scores and undergrad GPAs, law schools are strongly incentivized to offer scholarships to high test takers over students that they might feel are otherwise promising despite lower numbers. Dean Gerken argues that “[t]his heavily weighted metric imposes tremendous pressure on schools to overlook promising students, especially those who cannot afford expensive test preparation courses. It also pushes schools to use financial aid to recruit high-scoring students.” Other top law schools have echoed a similar sentiment. For instance, in opting out, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law stated that “by over-valuing median LSAT and UGPA, it incentivizes law schools to provide scholarships to students at their medians and above rather than to students with the greatest need.” Likewise, UC Berkeley chose to opt out because the US News “ranking penalizes schools that help students launch careers in public service law.”

As a result, US News will be updating its ranking criteria. Some key updates include:

  • Decreasing the weight of the peer assessment scores.
  • Increasing the weight of outcomes measures (employment and bar passage)
  • Ranking all law schools using publicly available data, which leads us to conclude that they will be entirely eliminating the expenditures and debt metrics.
  • No longer penalizing schools for school-funded employment outcomes relative to non-school-funded jobs, at least for this upcoming rankings edition. They will also give full weight to grad school as an outcome, at least for this upcoming rankings edition.

How Will This Affect My Odds of Admissions?

Although it is too soon to say, the schools that are highly competitive will remain highly competitive. It should come as no surprise that, in order to get into Harvard, you will still need a high LSAT score or GRE score, great grades, a fantastic personal statement, and glowing letters of recommendation. Nevertheless, if law schools are less beholden to the factors that US News emphasizes, we might see a more flexible approach to admission. In particular, promising students who do not have the best raw numbers may be more competitive for scholarships. Additionally, while the LSAT will likely remain a key factor in determining a student’s odds of admission, students with other strong factors will have a greater shot at overcoming a comparatively lower score.

How Will This Affect Employment Opportunities?

Once again, it is too soon to be certain. That said, independent of the US News rankings, there is a general understanding in the legal profession of which schools are more competitive. Although applicants may be viewed more holistically, employers will still value students who graduate from more prestigious law schools. Accordingly, employment opportunities for students who attend law schools that have opted out of the US News rankings are unlikely to change. 

Want to get into a top law school? See our complete guide to getting into a T-14 law school.