A Closer Look at the 2013 US News & World Report Law School Rankings

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As I’m sure you are aware, the 2013 US News & World Report law school rankings are out. And thus starts the celebrating of 1Ls who picked an up-and-comer, the head shaking of 1Ls who picked Illinois, and the hand wringing of those of you who thought you knew where you were attending next year. The US News & World Report law school rankings can throw a wrench into that decision.

Two quick notes before I start my evaluation.

First, the law school rankings aren’t the end-all/be-all of where you should go to law school. Use them as a guide. Recognize what they are – a reflection of a reflection. They use a formula to incorporate, among other things, perceived prestige of the institution. That doesn’t mean that you’ll fit in and learn more at a higher ranked school. However, don’t totally disregard the law school rankings, as they do play a role in your employment chances after graduation.

Second, look to the main rankings, not the specialty rankings. While those rankings reflect somewhat on a school’s specific programs, those areas of law that have special programs are usually just another type of law in disguise. Entertainment law is contracts and labor (and some copyright). International law is generally just corporate litigation with harder choice of law decisions.

On to the law school rankings!

US NEWS & WORLD REPORT TOP 14 LAW SCHOOLS

As usual, little changed in the Top 14. Harvard and Stanford switched places (because of trickery, I assure you). There was some jockeying between Michigan, Penn, UVA and Berkeley near the top of the top 10. UT-Austin, after surprising people last year with its inclusion, fell back to 16 (with UCLA sneaking into 15th place). Overall, nothing too big.

US NEWS & WORLD REPORT TOP 30 LAW SCHOOLS

The biggest news in the top 30 (and what many were waiting to see) is Illinois’ drop from 23 to 35. They were involved in a scandal this year based on misreporting data on their incoming classes. It hurt them badly. They’re no longer in the top 30, and they suffered the biggest loss of ranking of anyone in the top 50.

This will most likely cause a number of people to rethink their decision to go there next year. At least one of my students has already contacted me about it.

In more celebratory news, Arizona State made a huge leap from 40 to 26, breaking into the top 30.

University of Washington also made a very impressive leap from 30 to 20.

US NEWS & WORLD REPORT TOP 50 LAW SCHOOLS

While not a huge leap, Pepperdine broke into the top 50 (from 54 last year). If they keep rising, no one will be able to compete with a school that’s well-ranked and sitting in beautiful Malibu.

US NEWS & WORLD REPORT TOP 100 LAW SCHOOLS

Lots of interesting stories in the top 100.

First off, University of Richmond and Lewis & Clark College both jumped from 67th to 58th this year. Congrats.

University of New Mexico jumped ten slots, from 79 to 69.

St. John’s University made a huge gain, going from 95th to 79th.

Michigan State is up from 95th; they’re now ranked 82nd.

University of Louisville rose 11 slots, from 100 to 89 (probably motivated by fear of dropping out of the top 100).

And two law schools made it into the top 100 this year: University of Missouri at Columbia (79th) and University of Tulsa (99th).

THIRD TIER LAW SCHOOLS

The Third Tier found three new schools among its members. The first two, University of Toledo and Suffolk University, came from the Fourth Tier.

The other school, Drexel’s Earle Mack School of Law (founded in 2006), debuted at 119. However, I personally think that this school is under-ranked. Their GPA and LSAT medians put them higher. I think that their peer assessment and job statistics (31%) are pulling them down. Once they get more alumni out there, I expect to see them enter the top 100.

BIG LOSERS

As mentioned before, University of Illinois’ drop from 23-35 makes them the biggest losers, in this writer’s estimation.

Villanova’s drop from 84 to 101 (for similar reasons) is also a blow to that school.

Other schools with huge drops:

University of Tennessee at Knoxville plummeted thirteen spots (from 56th to 69th).

Penn State University went from 60th to 76th. Ouch.

University of Oklahoma now sits at 82nd, down from 71st.

Kansas dropped an even 10, from 79 to 89.

Santa Clara held onto the second tier, but drops from 84th to 96th.

A closer call is Rutgers-Camden’s drop from 84th to 99th. Rumors of a merger with Rowan University might have contributed. This might also put those plans on hold.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Two thoughts jumped out at me as I looked over the law school rankings.

First, there was very little movement as far as GPA and LSAT medians are concerned. I looked at a random assortment of schools, and their numbers, for the most part, stayed the same. There were some minor fluctuations here and there, but not an across-the-board drop in numbers. I expect to see this change a bit next year since the number of applicants decreased significantly this year. However, it could be possible that it’s just that the bottom is being raised, so to speak, and we’ll only see numbers drop off around the overall cutoff point for law school (at those schools who accept those who otherwise wouldn’t attend).

Second, despite new reporting guidelines on job statistics from the ABA, the law schools are still inflating their numbers. Most schools are still over 90% employed after graduation (hint: those aren’t all legal jobs), and almost every school still wants you to believe that at least 4/5 of their graduates find legal employment within a year after graduating. While I don’t expect the lawsuits being filed against law schools for false reporting to have a huge effect on this trend, I do believe that awareness is being raised and something will be done.

So that’s it for me. Chime in on the comments with your thoughts, especially if you’re in the process of deciding on a law school for next year.

2 Responses

  1. Jordan Clark says:

    Where’s University of Washington’s shout out? Not attending, but I was really impressed by their huge jumps over the last 2 years

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