The latest law school rankings from U.S. News & World Report are out, and the list is pretty ho hum — at least among the elite schools.

There was no movement among the top six schools, with Yale Law School, Harvard Law School and Stanford Law School maintaining their positions at the top of the list. In fact, the only changes among the top 10 were that the University of Michigan Law School moved up two spots to No. 7, and that the University of California, Berkeley School of Law moved down two spots to No. 9. The University of Virginia School of Law inched up one spot to tie for No. 9.

The real attention-getter on this year’s list, which the magazine was scheduled to publish on March 15, will likely be the extension of numerical rankings beyond the top 100 and elimination of the old alphabetically listed third and fourth tiers. Instead, the rankings are now broken into two sections: the top-ranked 145 schools as determined by their numerical scores, and a second tier of 45 schools listed alphabetically but not given an overall rank.

U.S. News research director Robert Morse hinted in January that the magazine was considering extending the law school overall rankings to maintain consistency with its Best Colleges rankings.

The ranking of law schools by tier by the U.S. News has had plenty of supporters and detractors over the years. Detractors have said the tier system creates artificial distinctions between the quality of the schools at the bottom of the numerical rankings and those that would have had the highest overall scores among the alphabetically listed third tier. Others have argued that the differences between most schools are so minor that it is essentially worthless to assign them overall ranks at all.

On this year’s list, Chapman University School of Law fell 11 spots to No. 104, to tie with Saint Louis University School of Law and the University of South Carolina School of Law for the top of what would have been the third tier in the past. The City University of New York School of Law (No. 121), Florida International University College of Law (No. 132), John Marshall Law School (No. 140) and Campbell University Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law (No. 143) all moved up from what had been the fourth tier to receive an overall ranking.

At the bottom of what would have been the third tier last year are Campbell, Loyola University New Orleans School of Law and the University of New Hampshire School of Law (formerly Franklin Pierce Law Center), which tied at No. 143. The University of Missouri School of Law fell 14 spots this year to land at No. 107, which would have placed it in the third tier under the old system. It is the second straight year of bad rankings news for the school, which placed No. 65 on the U.S. News list two years ago.

Suffolk University Law School, The University of South Dakota School of Law and the University of Toledo College of Law each dropped from the third tier to what would have been the fourth tier, but now is called the second tier.

While there were no major moves among the top 10 schools on the list, there were some major jumps and declines among the schools ranked Nos. 50 to 100. In the most dramatic change, both St. John’s University School of Law and the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law dropped 23 spots, from No. 72 last year to No. 95 this year. Villanova University School of Law, which caused a stir last month when administrators disclosed that they had reported inaccurate admissions data for a number of years, plummeted 17 spots in the rankings, to No. 84. The University of Miami School of Law also dropped 17 places, to land at No. 77. Other significant declines include Syracuse University College of Law, which dropped 14 spots, to No. 100, and the University of New Mexico School of Law and the University of Kansas School of Law, each of which dropped 12 spots to tie at No. 79.

There were also a number of large leaps up the rankings. Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law (No. 79), the University of Richmond School of Law (No. 67), and Chicago-Kent College of Law (No. 61) each jumped 19 spots. Northeastern University School of Law moved up 15 spots, to land at No. 71, and DePaul University College of Law gained 14 spots, for the No. 84 position.

Movement was less pronounced among the top 50 schools, where the biggest change was the University of Colorado School of Law’s nine-spot drop to No. 47. Emory University School of Law fell eight spots, to No. 30, while both The University of Georgia School of Law and the University of Wisconsin Law School fell seven spots, from No. 28 last year to tie for No. 35 this year.

Conversely, the University of Maryland School of Law saw the largest gain among the top 50, moving up six spots to No. 42. The University of California, Davis School of Law gained five spots to nab the No. 23 position. Indiana University Maurer School of Law — Bloomington (No. 23), Fordham University School of Law (No. 30), the University of Washington School of Law (No. 30), Washington and Lee University School of Law (No. 30), and Florida State University College of Law (No. 50), all moved up four spots.

The annual release of the U.S. News law school ranking prompts plenty of complaints and grumbling among administrators and other legal educators about their accuracy and usefulness. The chorus of griping is likely to be extra loud this year, since the debate over law school transparency has gone mainstream with articles about college rankings and law school data appearing recently in The New York Times and The New Yorker. U.S. News has responded by agreeing to supply more detailed graduate employment data on its Web site.

Just last week, U.S. News Editor Brian Kelly wrote asking law school deans to submit accurate employment and admissions data — and that they not attempt to game the rankings. Earlier, Morse put law school administrators on notice that U.S. News was changing the way it calculates graduate employment, presumably because a growing number of schools failed to provide information about the number of students who had jobs at graduation. Placement success accounts for 20% of each school’s overall ranking. Employment nine months after graduation counts for 70% of that figure, with employment at graduation making up another 20%, and bar passage rates accounting for the last 10%.

Diversity advocates would like to see far more changes to the rankings. The State Bar of California’s Council on Access & Fairness is finalizing a proposal that U.S. News make diversity account for 15% of the overall rankings.

U.S. News compiles a separate index of law schools with the most diverse student bodies, but that measure is not part of the overall rankings.

This year, the University of Hawaii’s program is listed at the top of the diversity index. It replaced Florida A&M University College of Law, which moved from first to third this year.

There were few major changes near the top of the part-time law program rankings. Georgetown University Law Center maintained its position at the top of the list.
 
Karen Sloan can be contacted at ksloan@alm.com.