Yale, Harvard, UC Berkeley, Colombia, Georgetown, Stanford, Michigan, Duke, Northwestern, and UC Irvine have pulled out of the U.S. News & World Report rankings, a highly influential and controversial tool used by prospective students, employers, and Law School Deans and Council. One central message from Law School is that the rank disincentives programs that support public interest careers champion need-based aid, welcome working-class students into the profession, and disregards advanced degree students. However, paying attention to and solving these issues while supporting marginalized groups is often contingent on the prestige of the Law School (or Programs), compliance with ABA standards, or dean preferences, not rankings.
During my studies in three different law schools, I saw the U.S. News rankings as more informative rather than a decisional factor of which universities had the programs that best fit my academic, professional and personal goals. Moreover, I (as well as many students, lawyers, and academics) view the rankings, and other tools, such as the LSAT and state bar exams, as inaccurate measures of how successful you will be in the profession. Forbes, Niche, Princeton Review, Fulbright Scholars, and Times Higher Education, among others, offer alternative law school rankings to US News providing information from different points of view on what to expect from certain law schools.
The fact that the rank discourages law schools from admitting and providing student aid (i.e., loans, scholarships, stipends) would be accurate in the past as most of the students and attorneys were middle-to-high-income families who put their kids through private or prestigious public schools. A counterargument and good practice of the Ivy League schools is that these provide relief to needy students in emergencies, amend admittance policies, and implement “affirmative action plans.” For instance, during the Muslim ban, the war in Ukraine, COVID, and Hurricane Maria, Ivy League schools provided tuition, housing, and food. This proves that law schools can decide to admit low-income students and provide them with aid without the peer pressure of rankings.
Along those lines, one point that all the law schools should have addressed is the disregard for advanced-degree students under the current U.S. News ranking system. Most law schools focus on the number of J.D. students who enter the workforce but then push aside LL.M. and S.J.D. students. There are some exceptions where LL.M.s get attention because the student graduates prepared in various things: to take the Bar Exam, a specialization, and general US law. Similarly, there are Ph.D. programs that get funding because students are encouraged to pursue academia. I went to law schools that fit those exceptions, and even then, there was an active push for the law school to include LL.M.s and S.J.D.s in “J.D. activities.” For example, the S.J.D. at Indiana University Maurer School of Law allowed me to refine my practitioner skills by doing pro bono hours at the Intellectual Property law clinic, internships, and exploring other subjects in other Schools at I.U. and around the world. In addition, S.J.D.s were included in regular J.D. activities and programs like the Deans’ Council, Faculty Town Hall meetings, Student associations, and law school journals.
LL.M. and S.J.D. financing, promotion, and awards are not given little thought if some prestige is involved. This disregard stems from students “disappearing” when embarking on graduate programs because research, work, and family make up their lives instead of the traditional J.D. activities. However, leaving out or classifying LL.M.s and S.J.D.s as unemployed, especially when most of the student body are international students, is discriminatory and highly unfair. Such action tokenizes foreigners and puts them at a disadvantage in their home countries: in some countries, it is deemed shameful to have an “unemployed, gap year”; in turn, foreigners have no other choice than to perpetuate the “brain drain” of students opting to leave their home countries to live in the US. In addition, with most students being foreigners, using a standardized American tool exacerbates the lack of consideration of soft, non-academic, non-professional, and creative skills.
Law school rankings need to be revised along with the issues pointed out, specifically toward graduate students. The rankings and other tools apply a one-size-fits-all calculation on the premise that people will base a crucial decision solely on a score. The issues discussed here need to be considered and revised so law schools fit more into the realities of prospective, current, and graduated students. Although these decisions and revisions take a lot of work, the work should have happened proactively rather than reactively.