The newest U.S. News law school rankings are out. The timing is not ideal for us here at Above the Law, since we just launched our latest Law School March Madness contest with seeding based on last year’s now superseded rankings. But as law school deans well know, you don’t control U.S News; U.S. News controls you.

As previously announced by rankings guru Bob Morse over at his blog, Morse Code, the new law school rankings were scheduled to be published online tomorrow, Tuesday, March 13. But just like last year and the year before last, they arrived a few hours early. Oh joy!

There’s a surprising amount of movement among the top law schools. And there are some interesting tidbits from elsewhere within the rankings. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Based on the magazine’s historical practice, these should be called the “2013 law school rankings.” But perhaps the folks at U.S. News have dropped that somewhat confusing custom, since the website merely states at the top that these are the “Best Law Schools – Ranked in 2012.”

So here are the top 14 law schools in the nation, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report in the year 2012. We have noted how each school’s ranking differs from its ranking last year.

1. Yale: no change.
2. Stanford: up 1.
3. Harvard: down 1.
4. Columbia: no change.
5. Chicago: no change.
6. NYU: no change.
7. Berkeley: up 2.
7. Penn: no change.
7. UVA: up 2.
10. Michigan: down 3.
11. Duke: no change.
12. Northwestern: no change.
13. Georgetown: up 1.
14. Cornell: down 1.

This list may not seem to reflect a lot of movement to the untrained eye, but law school rankings connoisseurs will recognize that there’s actually a lot going on here. Some observations:

  • Although this has happened before, Stanford overtaking Harvard for the #2 spot is still big. Will Stanford’s yield skyrocket this year as a result? (And is Justice Elena Kagan quietly gloating?)
  • The “CCN” band — Columbia, Chicago, and NYU — remains stable. And so does Penn at #7. But below that, all hell breaks loose: Michigan, Berkeley, and UVA all play musical chairs. (In fairness, they did this last year too.)
  • Georgetown and Cornell trade places. This is also big, since historically G-town has been the “14″ in the so-called “T14″ (i.e., the top 14 law schools). Congrats, Hoyas.
  • Texas, which tied its way into the T14 last year, has been banished outside the walled garden, tying with Vanderbilt for #16. (UCLA takes #15.)

Here are some noteworthy moves from outside the top 14:

  • Arizona State makes a big jump, going from #40 to #26 (“reminiscent of Indiana’s big leap a couple years back,” according to the tipster who pointed this out to us).
  • Illinois falls from #23 to #35. Guess that admissions scandal didn’t help.
  • A source observed to us, “Somehow Cooley is in the bottom tier once again. How does that happen?”

Check out the full rankings via the link below (or click here). If you want to compare the latest rankings to historical rankings, the past few years of rankings are helpfully collected over at Top Law Schools. We’ll also have additional coverage and commentary later this week — and in the weeks ahead, as law school deans whose schools dropped in the rankings go into “spin mode.”

How did your law school or alma mater fare? Please share your observations in the comments.

UPDATE (3/13/12, 1:30 AM): Constitutional Daily has put together a great table showing all the moves in the top 50. The biggest gainers in the top 50 are the University of Washington (+10, from #30 to #20) and Arizona State (+14, from #40 to #26). The biggest losers in the top 50 are Illinois (-12, from #23 to #35), William and Mary (-8, from #27 to #35), and UNC (-8, from #30 to #38).

UPDATE (3/13/12, 10 AM): You can see a comparison of academic peer reputation rankings versus overall rankings over at TaxProf Blog.

UPDATE (3/13/12, 12:30 PM): U.S. News itself has this commentary on the latest rankings, which contains some interesting historical tidbits (e.g., Stanford beat Harvard for the first time since 2007; in 2008 and 2009, the schools tied).

UPDATE (3/13/12, 1 PM): For commentary criticizing the U.S. News rankings — their validity, their utility, and their methodology — see generally Brian Leiter. Professor Leiter has, for many years, been an outspoken (and very informed) critic of the rankings. (And it’s certainly not sour grapes; he teaches at the University of Chicago Law School, which does quite well for itself come U.S. News-time.)

Best Law Schools (Ranked in 2012) [U.S. News & World Report]
In 2013 Best Law School Rankings, Top Schools Switch Spots [U.S. News & World Report]
Law School Rankings [Top Law Schools]
Overview of the 2012 US News Law School Rankings [Constitutional Daily]
2013 U.S. News Peer Reputation Rankings (v. Overall Rankings) [TaxProf Blog]

Earlier: The 2012 U.S. News Law School Rankings Are Out!
ATL March Madness (2012): The Most Honest Law School


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