US News changes law school ranking after backlash from top contenders

U.S. News & World Report — the organization famous for rankings, from universities to hospitals to diets —  is changing its rating system in its next law school edition. 

In November, several of the 14 law schools that have dominated the rankings for the past 30 years withdrew from the process. New Haven, Conn.-based Yale University, Cambridge, Mass.-based Harvard University and Stanford (Calif.) University were among the institutions that pulled out, alleging the current process hinders diversity measures. Among their concerns were reliance on test scores, grades and postgraduate employment as ranking metrics — which may discourage students from pursuing public service after graduation and institutions from providing need-based aid. 

This spring's 2023-24 rankings will be determined by a different system, the publication wrote in a Jan. 2 letter to law school deans. In the letter, U.S. News officials said they "have had conversations with more than 100 deans and representatives of law schools – well more than half of this academic leadership group," which have led them to review their metrics. 

Changes to the process include:

  • Publishing more detailed profiles of schools that respond to the publication's annual survey, thus "enabling students to create a more comprehensive picture of their various choices"

  • Reducing emphasis on peer assessment surveys of academics, lawyers and judges and increasing weight of outcome measures

  • Giving full weight to school-funded full-time long-term fellowships where bar passage is required or where the JD degree is an advantage, and to those enrolled in graduate studies in the American Bar Association employment outcomes grid

  • Treating all fellowships equally

  • Making more of U.S. News' collected data available to students so they can run their own deeper analyses

  • No longer considering indicators of student debt or the schools' spend per student, according to a spokesperson for the publication who spoke with The New York Times 

The letter acknowledged some schools' concerns regarding loans, need-based aid and diversity issues, but said more time was needed to address these areas. 

"We have helped expand the universe of well-known law schools beyond the club of Ivy League schools of the last century," the letter said. "But we realize that legal education is neither monolithic nor static and that the rankings, by becoming so widely accepted, may not capture the individual nuances of each school in the larger goal of using a common set of data."

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