Following Recent Protest, US News Will Revise How It Ranks Law Schools

Following Recent Protest, US News Will Revise How It Ranks Law Schools

In the wake of sharp public criticism and a recent boycott by several of the country’s leading law schools, US News and World Reports will be revising the methodology it uses to rank law schools in the future.

According to a letter to law school deans posted on Monday, Robert Morse, US News’ Chief Data Strategist, and Stephanie Salmon, its Senior Vice President for Data & Information Strategy, wrote that the publication would make several changes in its methodology for the next rankings – the 2023–2024 Best Law Schoolss – scheduled to be published this spring.

The changes represent a significant concession by US News to concerns expressed by the law deans at such prominent universities as Yale, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Northwestern, Georgetown, Columbia, University of Michigan, and the University of California, Berkeley, all of whom said that they would no longer participate in the rankings because they were flawed and did not represent the values ​​of legal education they wanted to instill in students.

Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken’s explanation for withdrawing from the rankings were illustrative of these sentiments: “…the US News rankings are profoundly flawed — they disincentivize programs that support public interest careers, champion need-based aid, and welcome working-class students into the profession. We have reached a point where the rankings process is undermining the core commitments of the legal profession. As a result, we will no longer participate.”

According to the letter, US News officials have had conversations with more than 100 deans and representatives of American law schools in recent weeks to discuss the rankings process and possible revisions that would address some of the concerns that had been prompted last year’s outcry.

The letter acknowledged that “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.”

Following the discussions with the deans, the publication indicated it was making the following changes:

  • it will reduce the emphasis placed on peer assessment surveys that are completed by academics, lawyers and judges (how much the weighting would be reduced was not specified in the letter);
  • it will increase the weight it gives to various outcome measures (amount also unspecified);
  • it will no longer consider schools’ per-student expenditures, which favor wealthier institutions;
  • it will credit employment outcomes it had previously not included such as public-interest legal fellowships and graduate school attendance;
  • it will continue to “work with academic and industry leaders to develop metrics with agreed upon definitions” concerning areas such as financial aid, diversity and socioeconomic indicators.

Whether these changes will cause the boycotting law schools to change their stance on future participation is not clear at this time.

US News said it would “rank law schools in the upcoming rankings using publicly available data that law schools annually make available as required by the American Bar Association whether or not schools respond to our annual survey.” In an apparent bid to encourage schools to participate, it added that it would publish more detailed profiles for those who completed the survey.

The letter was released just before the start of the annual meeting of the American Association of Law Schools, which is being held in San Diego from January 3-6. Morse and Salmon concluded by saying that they welcome additional discussions about the rankings process at that gathering.

One obvious question raised by US News‘ the decision to revise the law school ranking methodology is whether related criticisms might prompt changes to its methods for ranking undergraduate colleges. Several of the objections raised by the law deans – eg, the subjectivity of peer assessments and the bias in favor of wealthy institutions – apply to the undergraduate rankings as well.

The law school boycott was powerful because it was led by very institutions that have benefited the most from the rankings over the years. But its full effects are not yet known.

Will it be confined to legal education, or will it cause a chain reaction that encompasses collegiate rankings in general? Will university presidents stand pat, press for more changes, or follow their law deans’ lead and end their school’s participation in ranking surveys? Will the preemptive move by US News quell the backlash, or is an anti-ranking movement going to gain momentum?

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