The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent


The New Year Brings a New Formula for US News Law School Rankings

U.S. News and World Report is making some significant changes to the way it ranks law schools.


Today the Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. News & World Report is making some dramatic changes to the formula it uses to rank law schools, partially in response to complaints from law schools that objected to aspects of the rankings.

In a letter sent Monday to deans of the 188 law schools it currently ranks, U.S. News said it would give less weight in its next release to reputational surveys completed by deans, faculty, lawyers and judges and won't take into account per-student expenditures that favor the wealthiest schools. The new ranking also will count graduates with school-funded public-interest legal fellowships or who go on to additional graduate programs the same as they would other employed graduates.

U.S. News said its rankings team held meetings with more than 100 deans and other law-school administrators in recent weeks. They embarked on the listening tour after Yale Law School—perennially ranked at No. 1—said it would no longer provide information to help U.S. News compile its list. . . .

The shift in methodology may be due in part to necessity. Though U.S. News pulls much of its data from the American Bar Association and said it would rank schools whether or not they cooperated, it relies on schools to provide the spending figures and to complete peer-review surveys. . . .

Mr. Morse and Ms. Salmon said they also heard concerns in their meetings about how U.S. News considers diversity and loan forgiveness and potentially encourages awarding scholarships based on LSAT scores rather than on financial need. They wrote in the Monday letter that those issues "will require additional time and collaboration to address" so won't be overhauled now.

At his Excess of Democracy blog, Professor Derek Muller has some preliminary analysis of how these changes could affect the rankings, naming schools he expects to win and lose from the new formula. He concludes:

I feel fairly confident that a handful of the schools identified above as winners in several categories, including Alabama, BYU, Georgia, and Texas A&M, will benefit significantly in the end, but one never knows for sure. It also has the potential to disrupt some of the more "entrenched" schools from their positions, as the more "legacy"-oriented factors, including spending and the echo chamber of reputational surveys, will receive less value. Law schools must increasingly face the value proposition for students (e.g., lower debt, better employment outcomes), with some other potential factors in the mix, in the years ahead.