U.S. News Law School Rankings

We hope that you’re ready, because it’s almost the most wonderful time of the year for law schools. That’s right, the 2015 U.S. News law school rankings will be published on March 11.

Law school deans must be very, very afraid. They don’t want to be dethroned from their lofty positions in the ivory tower if their respective law schools slip by a just a few slots. Law students, on the other hand, are at the ready to lord their law school’s potentially higher new ranking over their friends’ heads on Facebook. As for incoming law students, all bets are off — they’ll either be happy their school maintained its place or rose in the rankings, or be devastated if their school of choice had a subpar performance.

The rankings, controversial as they are, are still a pretty huge deal to everyone in the legal profession. Just like in years past, the rankings will inevitably be published online in the wee hours of the morning, but because rankings guru Bob Morse knows that the anticipation is killing us, he likely instructed the staff at U.S. News to give his adoring public a little teaser.

Are you ready to take a look at the new, top 10 highest-ranking law schools in the nation?

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As 2013 draws to a close, let’s look back at the 10 biggest stories in the legal profession over the past year. This is an annual tradition here at Above the Law, which we’ve done in 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009. We’ll fire up the old Google Analytics machine to get data on our most popular posts, based on pageviews, and share the results with you.

Before turning to specific stories, let’s look at the top general discussion topics here at ATL. For 2013, our most trafficked category page was Biglaw, which bumped Law Schools out of the top spot — a spot that Law Schools held from 2010 through 2012. Now that the word is out about the perils of getting a law degree, leading to plummeting applications, perhaps it’s time to move on from the “don’t go to law school” narrative.

After Biglaw and Law Schools, our third most-popular category page was, as usual, Bonuses. This wasn’t a terribly exciting year for bonuses — there were no spring bonuses, and Cravath and its many followers paid out the same bonuses as last year — but people still want to know the score.

Our fourth most-popular category page was small law firms. Small firms, including boutiques, are an area of increasing focus and readership for us — and also where many of the job opportunities are these days.

Moving on from the topic pages, what were the 10 most popular individual posts at Above the Law in 2013?

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We’re still a few months out from seeing the latest edition of the U.S. News law school rankings — and the Above the Law Top 50 law school rankings — so in the meantime, we thought we’d have a little chat about the (sometimes extreme) mismatches some law schools have between their reputation and rank.

U.S. News measures reputation through peer assessment from law deans and tenured faculty on a scale from marginal to outstanding, and this score accounts for 25 percent of a law school’s overall ranking. It’s nice to know that what other people think about your law school is still more important than its job placement success (currently weighted at 20 percent).

So which law schools are doing better than their reputations suggest, and which ones aren’t living up to the hype? We’ve got the details on some of the best hidden gems and worst secret offenders for you…

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Over the summer, the American Bar Assocation announced that it would stop collecting data on law school expenditures. Ignoring law school expenditures is (counterintuitively perhaps) an important legal education reform. Law schools should be spending, and charging, as little as possible. The fact that a law school spends a lot of money on its professors really doesn’t seem to have a great effect on the quality of legal education, especially if that quality is at all measured by job placement rates.

Of course, getting the ABA on board is only part of the battle. In June, we noted that the real prize is for U.S. News to stop rewarding law schools for spending as much as possible. A law school shouldn’t be able to improve its ranking by tricking out its library or giving its faculty fat raises in a market where law school tuition is far too high.

I had expected U.S. News to follow the ABA’s lead. Law schools might not be the most transparent institutions, but they generally try to avoid lying to the ABA (at least some of them do). But without an ABA check, there’s nothing to prevent schools from lying to U.S. News to inflate their expenditure figures in an attempt to game the rankings. Reasonable people can disagree about what factors should be important in a set of law school rankings, but I had assumed U.S. News would at least want their data to be tied to reality, instead of made-up statistics offered up by law schools without any independent auditing or fact-checking.

It turns out, I was wrong…

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Ed Note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today’s article comes from our friends at Blueprint LSAT Prep. Check out Blueprint’s new LSAT book, The Blueprint for LSAT Logic Games.

We’re familiar with the fact that the number of law school applicants is down. Indeed, quite a bit of metaphorical ink has been spilled on analyzing the ramifications of this trend on law school applications. For instance, the WSJ Law Blog recently ran a story analyzing the LSAT scores at top law schools. Somewhat surprisingly, the numbers were fairly consistent with previous years, despite fewer applicants. Above The Law followed up with the analysis of a few additional schools, though all were still T14 (with the exception of ATL’s favorite whipping boy, Cooley). And, of course, we here at Blueprint analyzed these changes and discussed how to use them to your advantage.

So the implications of the decrease in law school applicants have been fairly well documented for top law schools. However, only a small minority of law students will be applying to them, and an even smaller amount attending. This begs the question: What’s going on further down the law school chain?

Read more at the ATL Career Center…

Our readers love nothing better than law school rankings, so it was kind of the National Jurist to roll out its first-ever list of the Best Value private law schools. This new ranking comes in addition to its regular ranking of Best Value schools (which is usually dominated by public institutions of learning). These lists are usually released in alphabetical order, but this time, National Jurist assigned letter grades to each school due to a post-publication error. We’re off to a great start already.

The Best Value ranking typically takes into account the following criteria: tuition, cost of living, average student debt, the percentage of graduates employed nine months after graduation, and bar passage rates.

When the National Jurist created the Best Value rankings to “honor schools that took the cost of legal education seriously,” why choose to highlight private law schools at a time when tuition is higher than ever?

We’ll explore possible answers to that question, as well as reveal the rankings, after the jump…

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In this age of plummeting law school applications, many deans must make difficult choices. They must sacrifice one of two things they love dearly: tuition dollars or their U.S. News ranking. It’s the legal academy’s version of Sophie’s Choice.

As fewer people apply to law school, deans have basically two options: they can shrink the size of the entering class, which reduces tuition revenue, or they can keep the size of the entering class the same, which results in credential dilution — a student body with lower LSAT scores and GPAs. Credential dilution can lead to a tumble in the closely watched U.S. News rankings, which can further reduce applications, setting in motion a vicious cycle.

So far, most schools seem to have opted for shrinkage. Most deans would prefer to be able to claim that they are taking a “stand for quality,” as Dean Patrick Hobbs of Seton Hall recently stated.

(Yes, we recently covered one exception. But to paraphrase Chinatown, “Forget it, Jake — it’s Cooley.”)

Interestingly enough, however, one top law school seems to be going in the other direction. It’s actually increasing the size of its incoming class over last year, even if doing so might lead to credential dilution….

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Does the amount of money a law school spends necessarily have an effect on the quality of its legal education?

Here at Above the Law, we say no. Our Law School Rankings take a look at the outcomes law schools provide for their graduates, not the inputs law schools cast into the pot.

But U.S. News still looks at many input factors in evaluating law schools. One of the most notorious factors U.S. News cares about is faculty resources. U.S. News rewards schools for spending a lot of money on the faculty per admitted student. You can kind of see the thought process there: good schools hire good professors and good professors command higher salaries.

Unfortunately, this U.S. News factor creates perverse incentives. Schools with unreasonably high tuition are rewarded for overpaying faculty, at the expense of the debt burden loaded upon their students and recent graduates. Ranking one school better than another because it engages in profligate spending is a cruel joke in this economy.

We don’t know if U.S. News will stop this madness, but yesterday the American Bar Association decided to stop asking schools to report the figure…

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It’s tough times over at U.S. News. After shedding nearly all pretense of being a news outlet, U.S. News threw all its eggs in the “telling people where to go to school” basket.

U.S. News enjoyed a virtual monopoly for years before someone came along and created a better law school ranking system. The crux of the ATL Top 50 ranking is focusing on post-graduation results rather than LSAT/GPA inputs.

Now U.S. News seems to be considering a new post-graduation component, but it doesn’t seem all that scientific…

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The headline comes from a tipster, but I think it perfectly sums up the Cardozo note in their latest alumni newsletter. Cardozo has issued an intellectually soft apology that admits what they did, but completely glosses over why they did it. “Aww shucks, we’re just goofy!”

Last week, we caught Cardozo trying to game the U.S. News ranking system by encouraging students to make token donations in order to pump up the school’s alumni participation score. The school said that alumni participation was a factor in the U.S. News law school rankings, but it turns out they were wrong.

The school is now apologizing for the error. They’re not apologizing for trying to game the rankings, they’re just apologizing for being wrong about how to do it….

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