Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that the University of Illinois College of Law dropped 12 spots on U.S. News & World Report‘s rankings.
U.S. News & World Report‘s latest law school rankings are out, and Yale Law School has maintained its stranglehold on the top spot.
In fact, there were few changes among the top 10 schools, although Harvard Law School moved from the No. 3 spot to tie Stanford Law School at No. 2, and the University of Chicago Law School rose up one spot to tie Columbia Law School at No. 4.
The real story was a high number of large jumps up or down the list by schools in the No. 50 to No. 144 range. Eighteen law schools saw their rankings change by 20 spots or more, compared to four last year. Fully 39 schools moved up or down the list by 10 spots or more, although only one of those moves occurred among the top 50 schools. (The University of Illinois College of Law nearly fell out of the top 50 after declining by 12 spots to land at No. 47, after losing 12 spots the previous year following an admissions scandal.)
Bob Morse, director of data research at U.S. News, attributed much of the churn to a revised methodology involving the weight given to schools’ success at landing their graduates in jobs. That portion accounts for 20 percent of a school’s overall score.
In the past, U.S. News counted graduates in any type of job equally. This year, the magazine gave greater weight to graduates in permanent, full-time jobs that require bar passage or in which a J.D. is an advantage. It assigned a lower weight to graduates in part-time or short-term jobs, or jobs for which a law degree is not a requirement or preferred. The change was possible because the American Bar Association last year began requiring law schools to report far more detailed graduate employment information.
"It was an important change and an important adjustment, because we think [full-time lawyer jobs] are the type of jobs prospective law students have a goal of obtaining," Morse said. The new methodology better indicates which law schools send the most graduates into the jobs prospective student most often aspire to, he said.
Morse declined to detail how the magazine weighed the different types of jobs, saying that information might allow law schools to "game the rankings."
The new placement formula did not appear to have affected the top schools much, given that they send a high percentage of their graduates into full-time lawyer jobs, Morse said. Outside the top 50, it was a different story. Schools in the Midwest and Southeast tended to see the largest gains, while the biggest drops almost universally hit schools in the East and on the West Coast.
For example, the University of Nebraska College of Law moved up 28 spots to land at No. 61. The University of Arkansas School of Law and the University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law both gained 21 spots to tie at No. 68.
The University of Mississippi School of Law saw the largest gain overall, moving up 33 spots to No. 102. The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law moved up 26 spots to No. 109. Samford University Cumberland School of Law gained 29 spot to nab No. 113, in a tie with the University of Montana School of Law, which moved up 32 spots.
Nebraska dean Susan Poser said administrators worked hard to bring in a 2011 class with high academic credentials, which likely helped boost the school’s ranking. (Law School Admission Test scores and undergraduate grade-point averages account for 25 percent of a school’s overall score.) A relatively low unemployment rate in her state may have helped a higher percentage of graduates obtain full-time legal jobs—the type given full weight in the in new ranking formula, she said.
"Historically, our students have been getting those type of jobs, and it may be that elsewhere placement rates went down further," she said. "I’m glad that U.S. News has kind of evened the playing field in that way."
Although Poser has plenty of reservations about the law school rankings, she was pleased about Nebraska’s improvement, considering that students and legal employers pay attention.
The news wasn’t so good for other law schools. Schools that declined by 20 spots or more included Lewis & Clark Law School; the University of Pittsburgh School of Law; Seattle University School of Law; Hofstra University Maurice A. Deane School of Law; the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law; Quinnipiac University School of Law; and the University of Baltimore School of Law.
The University of San Francisco School of Law saw the largest decline, losing 38 positions to land at No. 144. The only coastal schools that bucked the trend by increasing their rank by 20 spots or more were the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law and the University of New Hampshire School of Law.
Seven schools moved from the unranked second tier, to land in the top 144 to earn a numerical rank. They were Campbell University Norman Arian Wiggins School of Law; Hamline University School of Law; Southern Illinois University School of Law; St. Mary’s University School of Law; Duquesne University School of Law; South Texas College of Law; and the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
New York Law School; The John Marshall Law School; Southwestern Law School; the University of Toledo College of Law; and Willamette University College of Law fell from the top 145 ranked schools into the unranked second tier.
While most of the major moves happened outside the top 50, there were few notable changes among the highest-ranking schools.
The University of California, Berkeley School of Law dropped two spots from No. 7 to No. 9, while the University of Michigan Law School gained one spot to tie Berkeley. Washington University in St. Louis School of Law moved up four spots to No. 19—cracking the top 20. The University of Alabama School of Law moved up 8 spots to land at No. 21.
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