(Timothy Vollmer/Flickr)

How exciting. The U.S. News and World Report annual ranking of law schools is out. The usual suspects dominate the top 10 list. And (snore) Yale once again is number one.

Frankly, I wasn’t even going to list the top 10 schools because I assume everyone knows them by heart by now. But my sense of duty dictates that I give you the official list:

1. Yale
2. Harvard
3. Stanford
4. Columbia
4. Chicago
6. NYU
7. Penn
8. UVA
9. Berkeley
10. Duke
10. Michigan

The top six schools rarely change, though they do move around a bit. The news flash is that Duke managed to squeeze itself onto this coveted list. So welcome to the big time!

As everyone knows, if you get into a top 10 school, you go. I won’t waste your time debating the merits of going to Notre Dame (26th-ranked) versus Chicago or NYU. I know there are scholarship issues and hometown ties to consider, but if you’re in the game to get a Big Law job, a federal clerkship or some similar plume in your cap, going to a top 10 school is kind of a must. (By the way, Above the Law’s Elie Mystal fielded a question about whether to go to Vanderbilt or Berkeley recently—and I totally agree with his reasoning).

To me, the really juicy part of this annual report is the horse race with the lower-ranked schools—where the rankings are much more volatile. As you can imagine, a rise or fall in the school could really change its enrollment and status. Here are some changes that Karen Sloan notes in The National Law Journal:

1. Emory University School of Law is now #19. “Emory had been hovering on the cusp of the top 20 for the past two years.”

2. College of William and Mary Law School is now #24, moving up nine spots. The school’s job placement figures improved: 85 percent of 2012 grads got jobs within nine months of graduation, compared to 68 percent in 2011.

3. Washington and Lee University School of Law fell 17 spots from 26 last year to 43 (only 57 percent of its 2012 graduates got jobs versus 63 percent the previous year). NLJ says this was largest change among the top 50 schools.

And then there are the law schools that are bottom scrapers. Above the Law offers an interesting chart that shows how schools have climbed up or down on the rankings ladder. (For instance, CUNY climbed from #132 to #116, and Suffolk Law in Boston dropped from #144 to unranked status.) Above the Law also offers this analysis about New York Law School’s latest transformation:
NYLS has climbed out of the pit of sodomites and gone from unranked to #140 on this year’s list. It’s tied with Pace Law in White Plains, New York.
The vagaries of U.S. News means that there are a lot of reasons NYLS could have jumped up, but spending money on things U.S. News likes generally helps . . . They’ve got a pretty building in Manhattan, and they charge people an arm and a leg. U.S. News is rewarding NYLS for spending money.
But unless you have a morbid fascination with law school rankings, I wouldn’t spend much time thinking about schools at the bottom. To me, the real value of the ranking is that it helps you decide where you should cut your losses. If you’re aiming for Big Law, I wouldn’t bother with most schools beyond the top 20 and possibly top 25. And if you just want a decent job, I’d draw the line at the top 50. As for those schools ranked between 51 to 100—well, I hope you really want to be a lawyer—any kind of lawyer.
And if you’re thinking of going to a law school ranked below 100? I hope you come to your senses.