The new law school ranking are out by U.S. News & World Report and there are the usual winners and losers. Indeed, I have connected to both. George Washington University, where I teach, is down 6 slots to 30 (the continuation of a trend where GW dropped 3 spots the year before and 2.5 slots that year before that). Northwestern, my alma mater, was one of the big winners in breaking into the top ten law schools. While professors overwhelmingly express contempt over the ranking, I have long been in the minority. I view the rankings as very helpful for students. (There was no such resource when I applied to law school). Moreover, they are generally reliable in my view, though I would disagree with some specific rankings.
Northwestern tied with Duke Law School. Duke is also back in the top 10, though it only moved to the 11th spot last year. The loser is University of California, Berkeley School of Law, which fell from No. 8 last year to No. 12 this year. Georgetown also dropped — failing out of the so called T14 but taking the 15th slot. University of Texas moved into the cherished T14 at 14.
Harvard and Columbia fell one slot each the T14 that now stands as follows:
3) Harvard (-1)
4) U Chicago
5) Columbia (-1)
10) Duke (+1)
10) Northwestern (+2)
12) Berkeley (-4)
14) UT Austin (+1)
Among other changes high on the list, the University of Texas School of Law and Georgetown University Law Center flipped, leaving Texas at No. 14 and Georgetown at No. 15. Notre Dame moved to the 20 slot.
The biggest numerical loser (if you discount the removal of the Charlotte School of Law entirely from the rankings) was the University of Maine School of Law which dropped a staggering 28 spots to No. 139 with a mix of declining peer reviews, LSAT scores, and graduate employment.
Some schools made controversial moves that appear to have paid off. The merger of the Rutgers-Newark and Rutgers-Camden’s law schools is a case in point. Rutgers Law School jumped from No. 92 to No. 62 in the country – a 30 spot rise.
As for our drop, we clearly have work to do. Our peer assessment is slightly higher so the trend appears driven by other factors like scores, bar passage rates, and placements. The current ranking is clearly too low and not reflective of the school. However, we have to look seriously at these factors as a faculty and move aggressively to deal with the most sticky data points.
I am confident that GW will be able to tweak our programs to remain these slots. There are other schools that have faced such roller coaster rides on the USNWR. Washington & Lee University in 2014 fell from 26th to 43rd. This year it moved from 40th to 28th.
Even for those faculty members who continue to dismiss the USNWR as superficial and arbitrary, it is clear now the single most influential factor in law school applications and also impacts employment and clerkship opportunities. It is like complaining about the weather. You deal with it or face the consequences.