Guide to US Law School Rankings

Fire! Fire! Noise and distractions! U.S. News & World Report recently released its much-anticipated law school rankings for the 2017 school year. Whether you love them or hate them, the U.S. News rankings are hard to ignore — and they command the attention of legal employers and candidates alike. Here’s a snapshot showing this year’s top 20 schools:

2017 Law School Rankings

Top 20 Schools — Excerpts from U.S. News Rankings

1. Yale University

2. Harvard University (TIE)

2. Stanford University (TIE)

4. Columbia University (TIE)

4. University of Chicago (TIE)

6. New York University

7. University of Pennsylvania

8. University of California — Berkeley (TIE)

8. University of Michigan — Ann Arbor (TIE)

8. University of Virginia (TIE)

11. Duke University

12. Northwestern University (Pritzker)

13. Cornell University

14. Georgetown University

15. University of Texas — Austin

16. Vanderbilt University

17. University of California — Los Angeles

18. Washington University in St. Louis

19. University of Southern California (Gould)

20. Boston University (TIE)

20. University of Iowa (TIE)

(To view the full list of the 145 top law schools across the nation, view the U.S. News findings.)

How does U.S. News determine law school rankings? According to the publication’s “methodology” section, U.S. News “…factors in data on reputation, LSAT scores, job placement success and more when ranking the top law schools.”[1]

The rankings’ most heavily weighted factors (together accounting for .4 of the overall score) are “Quality Assessments.” These are subjective ratings among two broad groups: 1) Peers (law school deans and selected academic leaders); and 2) Lawyers and judges. Quantifiable factors (LSAT score, undergrad GPA, acceptance rate, and job placement rate) also are considered.

Who cares about law school rankings?

Tell auntie that e-mail that was a political cosmos outing today.

Jeff Thomas, Executive Director of Test Prep at Kaplan Test Prep, lends this perspective:

We do understand why the rankings remain so important to students though, as there’s a strong correlation between a school’s ranking and starting salary. That matters a great deal to those eager to pay off their student loans. But there are so many more important factors that should go into choosing the right law school.

How do law school rankings affect employment prospects? It depends. In essence, the analysts at U.S. News (and the schools’ admissions committees) have provided prospective employers with an extensive “pre-screening” of the candidate pool. Armed with this analysis, hiring managers can make informed generalizations and inferences about the capabilities of a prospective employee.

This doesn’t mean you’re flat out-of-luck if you didn’t come from Yale Law School; only that you may well have to present other compelling assets in order to overcome an employer’s bias for graduates of top-rated schools.

Ironically, some law firms (and corporate legal departments) seeking to contain costs may view the graduates of top law schools as simply too costly. Also, some hiring partners may believe that graduate of some leading schools wouldn’t be a good “fit” with that employer’s corporate culture. In these cases, graduates of certain “name-brand” schools may be screened out of the hiring process. Again, it all depends.

Want the most useful law school information? It’s in the details:

Although the law school rankings generate headlines and “buzz,” the survey data themselves (underlying those rankings) are where the more useful, granular information can be found. By digging deeply into the background of numerous schools, you can generate insights about trends beginning to shape legal markets and careers.

U.S. News provides its basic ranking information free of charge. But if you want to do a “deep dive” into the data, you may want to sign up for “Law School Compass,” a U.S. News service offering more extensive background information. A year’s access ($29.95) to the “Compass” site allows: expanded profiles for all law schools; average LSAT scores; starting salary; and average student debt.

U.S. News also segments its data into numerous subsets, including best schools for: Part-time Law; Clinical Training; Dispute Resolution; Environmental Law; Health Care Law; Intellectual Property Law; International Law; Legal Writing;Tax Law; and Trial Advocacy.

Learn more about law schools and legal employment

If you’re competing for employment or advancement in the legal profession, knowing about developments in law schools could help differentiate you from your competition. And if you’re interested in exploring these trends through the lens of legal employment professionals, why not contact Special Counsel? We’d love to hear your thoughts, and we’ll share ours — on how you can maximize your post-law school employment opportunities.

1. U.S. News & World Report | “Methodology: 2017 Best Law Schools Rankings” | March 15, 2016 schools/articles/law-schools-methodology ↩
2. Kaplan Test Prep Survey: Pre-Law Students Put Heavy Emphasis on U.S. News & World Report’s Rankings, but Most Law School Admissions Officers Want Them Gone | News Release releases/kaplan-test-prep-survey-pre-law-students-put-heavy-emphasis-on-u-s- news-world-reports-rankings-but-most-law-school-admissions-officers-want-them-gone

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