Law Schools Dropping Out Of US News Rankings Like It’s A Crypto Exchange

USNWRIt’s been two days since Yale publicly bailed on the U.S. News and World Report law school rankings and schools are rushing to hop on the bandwagon. Harvard joined the exodus later the same day and since then Berkeley and Georgetown have joined in. By this time next week, it’s hard to imagine any of the T14 will still want their names tied to the ranking. It’s like having a blue checkmark in a post-Elon world: at a certain point, you don’t want the stigma of people thinking you paid that goober $8.

Georgetown’s statement echoed the concerns raised by the other schools:

Since our founding, public service has been at the heart of Georgetown Law’s mission. We have strived to live by the Jesuit motto of “People for Others” – educating lawyers, legal scholars, and citizens committed to the struggle for justice and protecting the rights of the most vulnerable among us. As we have pursued these goals, we have also dedicated ourselves to providing the resources needed for the most promising students to attend the law school, regardless of their means.

For decades, the U.S. News & World Report rankings have used a scoring system that reflects a different set of priorities. Most significantly, the U.S. News scoring system discourages schools from devoting resources to helping students pursue careers in public interest, and it discourages schools from devoting resources to helping students of limited means undertake a legal education.

“For decades” these schools couldn’t have cared less about the scoring system. Now they’re claiming the rankings penalize schools for helping students get into public interest which seems… suspect. It’s not like U.S. News dings public interest jobs — they count for USNWR just as much as any other legal gig. What bugs the schools is that USNWR doesn’t count school-funded public interest jobs. Which it shouldn’t! If schools could put students on the payroll to juice employment statistics then schools would immediately shell out to get a 100 percent employment rate and then drop the grad as soon as the 10-month reporting period ends. Public interest work is always a good thing, but this isn’t a particularly robust long-term strategy.

If schools want to provide more graduates the opportunity to take low-paying work, just lower tuition. It will certainly help the school in the Above the Law Rankings!

We have pursued them despite the fact that the U.S. News law school rankings discourages them. Rankings formulas that over-emphasize GPA/LSAT scores, that refuse to credit public interest lawyers who are subsidized by school-sponsored fellowships as fully employed, that treat need-based financial aid as a disfavored use of resources, and that penalize schools that admit students who have to borrow to fund their legal educations are not rewarding quality education and are not advancing our profession’s high ideals.

Debt is a tricky factor because admitting a bunch of rich people can game this and make the school look better despite high costs. That said, the rankings penalize schools for forcing students into debt because it’s generally not good to force people into debt and prospective students need to consider how much the school plans to dump on them. Using sticker price tuition is probably a better figure, but it’s not perfect either because it cannot capture where schools use resources to lower the cost for some slice of students.

But… average debt and percentage of graduates incurring debt make up a combined 5 percent of the ranking so let’s not go overboard on how much this matters.

The more compelling argument for the schools is that the rankings encourage higher tuition by considering per student spending and create perverse incentives by weighting GPA/LSAT inputs rather than professional outputs. Alas, that doesn’t sound as noble as pretending that law schools are on the cusp of solving the access to justice gap if it weren’t for those meddling kids over at U.S. News.

But it might be more noble than the schools are saying. As our former Above the Law colleague and fellow member of the FedSoc enemies list Elie Mystal notes, these moves may be setting up law schools for a post-affirmative action world:

Without “race-conscious” admissions, schools will have to do a better job of not just providing opportunities for low-income students, but also providing the kind of professional outcomes those students want. That means more financial aid, more post-graduate debt forgiveness programs, more public interest fellowships, and less concern about the standardized test-taking abilities of incoming students eager to take advantage of these programs. All of these things would depress a school’s ranking in the eyes of US News. Yale and Harvard are setting themselves up to compete in a post-affirmative action world by providing the kinds of assistance and opportunities that will incentivize the broadest cross section of students to apply to their schools in robust numbers.

Perhaps. I’d like to think law schools already pursued all of these steps during the era of race-conscious admissions and managed to stay atop the rankings the whole time anyway. But if they haven’t, this is a strong reason to step away from the rankings at this moment.

However this shakes out, the dominance of the USNWR rankings is over.

Is the “US News” Ranking System Finally Starting to Crumble? [The Nation]

Earlier: Yale Law School Pulls Out Of U.S. News Rankings Like Michael Jordan Skipping Slam Dunk Contest
ATL Top 50 Law Schools 2022

HeadshotJoe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.


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