On Wednesday, Yale and Harvard Law Schools announced their withdrawal from the U.S. News and World Report rankings. University of California Berkeley Law School joined them on Thursday — making it the third top-10 law school to pull out.
Prospective applicants to universities across the country use the annual U.S. News and World Report rankings to evaluate the characteristics of the universities they apply to. However, in recent years, the criteria of the rankings, as well as the validity of their methods of selection, have been called into question.
Yale Law School Dean Heather K. Gerken issued a statement saying the decision to pull out of the rankings came from the incongruity of the “flawed commercial rankings system” with the school’s mission and core values. Yale Law has consistently ranked first among law schools in the U.S. News rankings since 1994.
“The U.S. News rankings are profoundly flawed — they disincentivize programs that support public interest careers, champion need-based aid, and welcome working-class students into the profession,” Gerken wrote in her statement. “We have reached a point where the rankings process is undermining the core commitments of the legal profession. As a result, we will no longer participate.”
Harvard Law explained their decision in a statement to the law school community — citing that in employment rankings the magazine tends to discount the professional positions held by students in public interest fellowships funded by their home schools. Harvard Law has consistently ranked in the top five of the U.S. News and World Report law school rankings.
“We at HLS have made this decision because it has become impossible to reconcile our principles and commitments with the methodology and incentives [that] the U.S. News rankings reflect,” wrote John F. Manning, dean of Harvard Law, in his statement to the Harvard Law School community. “These jobs not only provide lawyers to organizations for critical needs, they also often launch a graduate’s career in the public sector.”
U.C. Berkeley Law has also consistently been ranked as a top law school, and decided to withdraw due to similar concerns regarding the mission of the school.
With the recent decisions from these top schools, other law schools are reconsidering their participation in the rankings.
“While useful in some ways, the rankings don’t provide a clear or complete perspective into institutional priorities for educating future lawyers,” said Ted Ruger, dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s Carey School of Law, to the Wall Street Journal. “We are evaluating this issue and assessing a process for our own decision-making.”
Russell Korobkin, interim dean at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, told the Wall Street Journal that the school cannot afford to opt out of the rankings. However, he noted that if its close competitors dropped out, he suspects that they would seriously consider it.
A spokeswoman for Northwestern University also told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday that its law school, ranked 13th, is currently evaluating the issue.
On the other hand, other law schools maintain the benefit of prospective students having access to the list of rankings.
“Rankings also can help demonstrate that a lesser-known school deserves consideration by students and employers,” Ken Randall, the dean of George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School, which is currently ranked 30th in the 2023 U.S. News and World Report law school rankings, wrote in a statement to the Wall Street Journal.
Late Thursday evening, U.S. News and World Report issued a statement saying that they will continue to rank all fully accredited law schools, even if they do not agree to submit data.
“We respect each institution’s decision to choose whether or not to submit their data to U.S. News,” the publication wrote in its statement. “However, U.S. News has a responsibility to prospective students to provide comparative information that allows them to assess these institutions. U.S. News will therefore continue to rank the nearly 200 accredited law schools in the United States.”
Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky told the Wall Street Journal that he is aware the withdrawal could lead to a drop in their ranking in U.S. News.
“We could fall dramatically in the rankings,” Chemerinsky said. “They could choose to punish the schools that are making this choice. We’re taking that risk. Obviously my alumni, my students [and] my faculty will be very upset if we fall in the rankings. But we have to stand up for what we believe in.”
Cornell Law School is ranked 12th in the 2023 U.S. News and World Report law school rankings. The University declined a request to comment on the matter, and has not issued a statement.