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Dive Brief:

  • U.S. News & World Report said Monday it will rework how it determines its influential ranking of law schools after several institutions, including many top-placing ones, late last year stopped cooperating with the list.
  • The ratings will give more weight to schools whose graduates transition to an advanced degree program, or school-funded fellowships in which they may be working for low pay. This change responds to criticism that the law school rankings have punished institutions that promote public-service careers. 
  • The publication’s methodology will also stop relying so heavily on a survey academics, lawyers and judges complete about their perceptions of law schools, which counted for 40% of schools’ scores for the 2023 rankings. It did not share its exact new formula. 

Dive Insight:

U.S. News’ tweaks to its formula intend to stem the flow of law schools rejecting the rankings, which began with Yale and Harvard universities in November.

Since then, many other law schools — including most in the top 15 spots of U.S. News’ latest list — have said they would no longer send data for the rankings. Their reasons for revolting vary. But often, the schools say that rankings disadvantage those that want to lift students into public-interest jobs. 

The magazine responded by saying it would still rank those law schools. Much of the information used to create the database is available through the American Bar Association. 

In a new statement Monday, U.S. News officials said they’d met with more than 100 deans and law school representatives in recent weeks and landed on a new blueprint for the rankings. They reiterated they will still rank all law schools, but said they plan to publish deeper profiles for those that willingly provide their data. 

“We have helped expand the universe of well-known law schools beyond the club of Ivy League schools of the last century,” Robert Morse, U.S. News’ chief data strategist, and Stephanie Salmon, its senior vice president of data and information strategy, wrote in a letter to law school officials. 

“But 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,” they wrote.

In a separate missive to prospective law students, U.S. News leaders said they would not halt rankings completely, as some critics have demanded.

For now, the law school rankings changes have not appeased all detractors. 

Yale Law School will still not return to the rankings, Dean Heather Gerken said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

“Having a window into the operations and decision-making process at U.S. News in recent weeks has only cemented our decision to stop participating in the rankings,” Gerken said.

A Harvard Law School spokesperson declined to comment on U.S. News’ announcement.

U.S. News’ rankings, particularly those geared toward undergraduate students, have long come under fire for using flawed and easily gamed metrics, like reputational surveys.

Further, while colleges often tout high placements on U.S. News’ lists, they also privately rant against them for too drastically shaping institutional decision making as leaders attempt to climb the ladder.

Experts have said the weakening of the law schools rankings will likely not kill off the widely watched undergraduate Best Colleges list, though it may cause U.S. News to adjust the methodology for it as well.

Not every law school turning away from the rankings has been high on the list. In fact, low-ranking colleges may have more to lose from eschewing the rankings, as they often don’t attract as much attention as the Ivy League and similar counterparts.

Megan Carpenter, dean of the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law, said in an emailed statement that U.S. News’ modifications are “too little, too late, and too vague.” Carpenter noted the magazine has not released precisely how it will change its formula. 

The University of New Hampshire Law School is tied for No. 105 in U.S. News’ latest rankings. Yale is No. 1.

Carpenter also criticized U.S. News for not addressing perceived problems with its ancillary rankings of law schools, which rate particular academic programs within schools. These are all entirely determined by peer assessments, Carpenter said. 

“They do not measure substantive factors such as the breadth and depth of curricular offerings, the quality of the student experience, employment outcomes, or employer satisfaction,” Carpenter said.