Welcome back to our series of open threads on the latest batch of U.S. News law school rankings. Last time, readers weighed in on the law schools that ascended to the tippy-top of the rankings — the Top 14 Top 13 law schools. With Harvard and Stanford resolving last year’s second-place tie, Duke’s rise to tenth place, and Georgetown’s tie with Cornell, there was certainly a lot to talk about.

Today, we’ll be looking at some additional top-tier law schools that sit just below the coveted “T14.” And much like the ups and downs we saw play out among our nation’s most elite law schools, there were some pretty significant moves worth noting in this segment of the rankings…

Here are the schools ranked #15 through #31, per U.S. News & World Report. For your convenience, we’ve noted the difference between last year’s ranking and this year’s ranking parenthetically:

15. Texas (no change)
16. UCLA (+1; ranked #17 last year)
16. Vanderbilt (-1; tied at #15 last year with Texas)
18. Washington University in St. Louis (+1; tied at #19 last year with Minnesota)
19. Emory (+4; tied at #23 last year with Notre Dame)
20. George Washington (+1; tied at #21 last year with Alabama)
20. Minnesota (-1; tied at #19 last year with Washington University in St. Louis)
20. USC (-2; ranked #18 last year)
23. Alabama (-2; tied at #21 last year with GWU)
24. University of Washington (+4; ranked at #28 last year)
24. William & Mary (+9; three-way tie last year at #33 with Georgia and Wisconsin)
26. Notre Dame (-3; tied at #23 last year with Emory)
27. Boston U. (+2; tied at #29 last year with Arizona State)
27. Iowa (-1; tied at #26 last year with Washington & Lee)
29. Georgia (+4; tied at #33 last year with William & Mary)
29. Indiana-Bloomington (-4; ranked #25 last year)

First things first: let’s talk about the schools that moved into — and fell out of — the top 25. Our condolences go out to Notre Dame and Indiana-Bloomington. That sucks, sorry. Our congrats go out to William & Mary and the University of Washington. Both schools made big moves this year, especially W&M, which managed to increase its class size while maintaining its LSAT and GPA numbers. Perhaps it was the school’s strong performance in employing its students (and yes, we know, many of them were in school-funded jobs) that pushed it into the Top 25. As for Washington, which just came off a really bad year (it sank eight spots in the 2014 rankings), perhaps U.S. News computed the number of students who were former bank robbers with D.C. Circuit clerkships in its methodology.

This section of the rankings is also famous for its sports rivalries. On the West Coast, it looks like USC has started to lose ground on UCLA, a school which continues to rise not only in the rankings, but also in its alleged instances of racism on campus. On the East Coast, BU moved up three spots, and BC is… nowhere to be found. Last year, the schools were only separated by two spots. Now it’s at No. 36. What happened here? The dean is blaming it on “a decline in some key data points,” like the school’s peer assessment score and employment statistics. Hopefully more time will be dedicated to improving the jobs issue, but knowing law schools as well as we do, we have a feeling it could easily go the other way.

Something else to note about this segment of the rankings is the sheer number of law schools named after a “Washington.” Each one of them featured here managed to move up by a spot or more — except for Washington & Lee. Last year, the school dropped out of the Top 25, and this year, it’s nowhere to be found inside of the Top 30. Its new home is at No. 43, and we’ll discuss that hot mess in a few days. All we can say for now is that a 19-place drop over two years no es bueno.

All in all, it looks like there’s a moral to be had in the story of this year’s rankings. The fact that students are merely employed after graduation means nothing — they have to be employed as lawyers, which apparently still comes as a shock to some law deans, despite the push for “experiential” learning. In the end, we’re left wondering whether these law schools are worth their sticker prices. They might not be as exalted as the Top 14, but many of them charge just as much.

Is going to one of these schools an investment worth making? Feel free to sound off in the comments.

Earlier: Open Thread: 2015 U.S. News Law School Rankings (1 – 13)
The U.S. News 2015 Law School Rankings Are Here: Smell The Prestige


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