Columbia Law School
Columbia Law School (NYLJ/Rick Kopstein)

While New York’s top three law schools kept their place in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings, a few schools managed to edge up the list as several others saw their positions slip.

Chart of New York Law Schools placements on the U.S. News rankings

Overall, this year’s edition of annual rankings, released Monday, brought far fewer large moves—unlike last year, when a methodology change involving graduate employment produced a major shakeup in the middle ranks.

Last year, 18 of the nation’s law schools law their rankings change by 20 spots or more. This year, only eight schools saw changes of that magnitude.

Still, 37 schools saw their rank go up or down by 10 spots or more, including five New York schools.

Of the New York schools, seven decreased in the rankings while four increased. Another four held onto last year’s spots.

The Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University saw the largest ranking drop in New York, sliding 22 places to No. 135. This was the school’s second sharp decline in a row: last year, it fell 24 spots, to 113 from 89.

Other major declines in the state were the University at Buffalo School of Law with a 14-place drop to 100 and Syracuse University College of Law with an 11-place drop. Other schools’ declines were marginal.

The City University of New York School of Law gained the most spots of any New York school. It went up by 19 places to No. 113, reclaiming the place it held two years ago after dropping to No. 132 last year.

Albany Law School’s ranking climbed 14 places to 118, the largest rankings jump in at least 10 years. Dean Penelope Andrews said in an email that she was “pleased” with the ranking, even though the numbers “do not … truly reflect the quality of education that our students receive.”

“However, these numbers have implications for potential applicants, and for that reason it is important—and gratifying—that our ranking has improved,” she added.

CUNY Dean Michelle Anderson did not comment on the school’s overall improvement in its ranking. Instead, she said she was most proud of the school’s placement on two other U.S. News lists: CUNY came in fourth in the nation for its clinical programs and eighth for most diverse student body.

“We are committed to graduating practice-ready, public interest attorneys and to diversifying the legal profession, and it is great that U.S. News & World Report recognized our efforts in these areas,” she said in a statement.

Hofstra Law dean Eric Lane echoed Andrews’ sentiment that the quality of its legal education is not properly measured by the rankings.

“We have extraordinary professors and innovative new curricular offerings such as the Gitenstein Institute for Health Law and Policy, the Access to Justice Incubator and expanded externship and clinical programs, all of which offer our students unique opportunities to stand out in the legal market, and none of which are directly measured in the rankings,” he wrote in an email.

Syracuse Law and Buffalo Law declined to comment on their ranking drops.

U.S. News assigns numerical ranks only to the top 147 schools. The others it lists alphabetically in what is dubbed the “second tier,” where schools are not ranked. New York Law School fell into the second tier for the first time last year. But this year, it managed to climb out, reaching No. 140.

The magazine introduced a methodological change this year in the way it found the lawyers, judges and legal recruiters that it surveys about law school quality and reputation, said Bob Morse, U.S. News director of data research. In the past, U.S. News randomly selected survey recipients by pulling names off various lists. This year, it asked law schools to provide up to 10 names of lawyers, judges and recruiters familiar with the school, and surveyed them.

“It resulted in a higher response rate,” Morse said. “We had a 32 percent response rate using the names the schools provided, compared to 9 percent last year. Additionally, we think the names they gave us resulted in surveying people more knowledgeable about the law schools.”

These assessments accounted for 40 percent of a school’s overall ranking.

New York Law School Dean Anthony Crowell credited the school’s improved employer assessment for its ranking boost. The school doubled its clinical offerings this year to 26 from 13, which garnered compliments from fellow deans, lawyers and judges throughout the country, Crowell said.

“Given all those efforts, we have to assume that, at least in part, our clinical and experiential learning expansion contributed to our improved quality assessment,” he said in an interview. “We were really pleased with that and it’s a real validation for what the school’s doing to give our students every possible advantage.”

The school’s ranking is a “work in progress,” he added. He hopes that it will rise in future years as the school’s employment outcomes and bar passage rates for recent graduates also improve.

Graduate employment data accounts for 20 percent of a law school’s rank. Until last year, U.S. News counted graduates in any type of job equally. Then it began to assign 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 those for which a law degree is not required or preferred.

The change was possible because the American Bar Association began requiring law schools to report far more detailed graduate employment information.

Selectivity—measured by Law School Admission Test scores, undergraduate grade-point averages and acceptance rates—accounted for another 25 percent of the ranking. Graduate job placement and bar passage rates accounted for 20 percent and faculty resources (determined by spending-per-student and student-to-faculty ratios) made up the final 15 percent.

There were only a few minor shifts within the nation’s top 10 ranked schools (actually the top 11, due to a tie for the No. 10 spot). Yale stayed put at No. 1. Harvard Law School pulled ahead of Stanford Law School to claim the No. 2 spot, after both tied for No. 2 last year. Columbia Law, at No. 4, and New York University School of Law, at No. 6, maintained last year’s spots.

Legal educators have long criticized the U.S. News rankings for creating incentives for schools to focus scholarship money on high-performing applicants rather than those in the greatest financial need; encouraging schools to spend more money rather than promoting efficiency; and for applying a one-size-fits all formula to law schools with very different missions.

Law School Transparency executive director Kyle McEntee summed up those concerns in a recent op-ed piece for New York Law Journal affiliate law.com.

“The unfortunate irony is that these rankings adversely affect the decision-making process for law school administrators and prospective law students alike,” McEntee wrote. “The stakes are high. Our profession and society need law schools that don’t figure inefficient metrics into annual budgets. Dollars spent chasing U.S. News rankings diverts funds away from students’ education. It also stands in the way of reducing tuition.”

Morse defended the expenditure-per-student measure, saying it’s more important than ever at a time when law schools are no longer considered university cash cows and are slashing spending as fewer tuition dollars come in.