Top Law Schools Discard School Rankings

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For over 30 years, roughly the same 14 law schools have been the most highly rated by U.S. News. Many people refer to the list as the T14. But No. 1-ranked Yale Law School and No. 4-ranked Harvard Law School recently decided to abandon U.S. News & World Report law school rankings that they have dominated for decades. 

“U.S. News rankings are profoundly flawed — they disincentivize programs that support public interest careers, champion need-based aid, and welcome working-class students into the profession,” Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken said in an official statement.

Harvard Law School echoed her complaints, saying the rankings “work against law schools’ commitments to enhancing the socioeconomic diversity of our classes; to allocating financial aid to students based on need; and, through loan repayment and public interest fellowships, to supporting graduates interested in careers serving the public interest.”

Additionally, at least four more members of the T14 — Stanford, Georgetown, Columbia, and Berkeley — joined Yale and Harvard’s move to withdraw and not submit their data for judgment.

These schools cite their concerns as ethics, equity, and mission. The rankings, with their focus on test scores, grades, and employment, created an incentive to downgrade public service law careers and to award merit aid rather than need-based aid, they said.

UC Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky stated that some aspects of the U.S. News rankings are “profoundly” inconsistent with Berkeley’s values and public mission. “Now is a moment when law schools need to express to U.S. News that they have created undesirable incentives for legal education,” he said.

And Stanford Law Dean Jenny Martinez said her institution also shared the concern that U.S. News’ methodology “distorts incentives in ways that are harmful to legal education as a whole.”

“Rankings formulas that over-emphasize GPA/LSAT scores, that refuse to credit public interest lawyers who are subsidized by school-sponsored fellowships as fully employed, that treat need-based financial aid as a disfavored use of resources, and that penalize schools that admit students who have to borrow to fund their legal educations are not rewarding quality education and are not advancing our profession’s high ideals,” Georgetown’s Law Dean, William M. Treanor said in a statement

ABA Votes to Eliminate Law Schools’ LSAT Requirement

The law schools’ boycott is part of a broader movement to increase access to law school. On Friday, the American Bar Association (ABA) voted to eliminate the longstanding requirement that schools use the Law School Admission Test or other standardized tests when admitting students.

The ABA’s decision comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is reconsidering affirmative action in higher education. But under a last-minute revision, the rule change will not go into effect until the fall of 2025—giving law schools time to plan for new ways to admit students. 

Councilmember Daniel Thies noted that the overarching goal is to open up innovation and find other ways to complement the current admissions processes to move us ahead in legal education on diversity and a host of other considerations. 

But getting rid of testing requirements may diminish the diversity of law schools’ incoming classes by increasing reliance on grade point average and other criteria potentially more infused with bias, 60 law deans warned in their letter to the ABA.

Standardized tests, including the LSAT, can be helpful as one of several criteria to assess whether applicants can succeed in law school and enhance the diversity of incoming classes. 

But, improper use of the LSAT or any other standardized test can lead to biased outcomes.

“If the proposed amendment to Standard 503 were adopted in its current form, it likely would be detrimental to law schools’ goals of bringing in diverse classes of students and, ultimately, to the diversity of the legal profession,” the deans stated in the letter. 

Law schools abandoning the LSAT in their admissions processes may put a greater emphasis on GPA, written or verbal recommendations, the reputation of undergraduate institutions, admissions officers’ familiarity with those institutions, or other subjective factors.

The deans argued that without the LSAT as a factor, law schools may be less willing to take a chance on students who do not perform well on GPA or other metrics because they worked to put themselves through school, had to care for family, or other reasons. 

Test scores may help these students determine which schools they should consider and gain admission. 

“At the very least, we believe that more data and study on the effects of this precipitous change are needed, '' they explained. “We fear their actual effects may be precisely contrary to the laudable goal of increasing diversity that the amendments are intended to have.”

Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, Columbia, and Berkeley are just a few of the top US law schools to abandon U.S. News rankings due to ethics, quality, and mission concerns.

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