Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

With Duke And Northwestern, Nine Of T14 Refuse To Participate In U.S. News Law School Rankings

Kerry Abrams (Dean, Duke), Withdrawal From U.S. News Rankings:

Duke Law (2022)For more than 30 years, Duke Law School has participated in the annual ranking of law schools published by U.S. News. Although Duke Law has been among the top cohort of institutions in every edition, we have long had serious concerns that the design and influence of these rankings create incentives that are not aligned with our mission and our values. At a time of critical focus on access to legal education and the legal profession, we think it’s important to recognize this unfortunate impact and push for change. Therefore, Duke Law will no longer participate in the U.S. News rankings.

We recognize that prospective students need information to guide them through the process of choosing a law school. When they were initially published, in an era when information about schools was available only through print media, the U.S. News rankings provided a helpful, albeit imperfect, service to applicants who otherwise would find it difficult to learn about the variety of existing educational programs.

Today, however, we believe that the U.S. News law school rankings are having a detrimental effect on legal education. The rankings rely on flawed survey techniques and opaque and arbitrary formulas, lacking the transparency needed to help applicants make truly informed decisions. They create the wrong incentives by rewarding schools for the amount they spend, regardless of whether this money is spent directly on the student experience, rather than prioritizing outcomes that really matter to students, such as the long-term employment of graduates. The current iteration of the rankings incentivizes merit-based financial aid over need-based aid, disadvantages schools that offer public interest fellowships to graduates, and rewards schools that place undue weight on standardized test scores in the admissions process by treating small point differences as if they reflect meaningful distinctions in academic potential. The rankings also threaten to stifle innovation by relying on past reputation over current performance.

Duke Law will continue to provide extensive data to help prospective students make informed decisions, including detailed information on the demographics of our students and  employment outcomes of our graduates. We hope that the future will bring a greater variety of approaches to ranking law schools, helping applicants to be discerning consumers of information about the educational options available to them.

Hari Osofsky (Dean, Northwestern), Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Will Not Participate in U.S. News Rankings:

Northwestern (2018)Northwestern Pritzker School of Law has decided not to participate in the U.S. News rankings because its approach does not align with our law school’s values. We remain committed to providing a high-quality legal education that prepares our graduates to lead and to pursuing innovative research and teaching that makes a difference in society. We also will ensure that law school applicants who are considering Northwestern have access to a range of relevant information as they decide whether to join our community.

Rankings can play an important role in helping prospective law students and employers make informed decisions. However, in order for rankings to do so effectively and constructively, their approach to valuation matters. We make this decision – despite our being ranked highly since these rankings began – due to our deep concerns about numerous aspects of this ranking and the effect that it is having on legal education, the profession, and our society.

Northwestern Pritzker Law believes that addressing our most pressing societal challenges requires interdisciplinary knowledge. We have long been one of the most interdisciplinary law schools in the country. Over half of our faculty holds PhDs, and we offer a range of innovative joint degree programs and interdisciplinary courses. These educational opportunities prepare our students to lead in a rapidly changing legal environment. Yet the U.S. News rankings treat students who are in joint degree or other advanced degree programs as unemployed and disincentivize schools’ support for interdisciplinary education.

The access to justice crisis in this country is profound. The Legal Services Corporation reported in 2022 that 92% of low-income people received no or inadequate legal help with substantial legal problems that impacted them in the past year. Northwestern Pritzker Law is committed to supporting our public interest students who help bridge this gap through post-graduation and summer fellowships, loan forgiveness, scholarship support, and funding for the bar exam, as well as a dedicated Public Interest Center that partners with our Bluhm Legal Clinic and externship program. The decision by U.S. News to devalue employment that is funded by public interest fellowships and to exclude loan forgiveness programs in its debt calculations does not support these efforts by our law school and other law schools to support our public interest students.

Our law school recognizes the importance of decreasing the debt burden on law students and supporting our law students with the highest levels of financial need. Our scholarships, Loan Repayment Assistance Program, and Interest Freedom Plan are among the many initiatives at Northwestern Pritzker Law that aim to do so. However, U.S. News’s approach creates problematic incentives that undermine efforts to support access to legal education for low-income students. First, by over-valuing median LSAT and UGPA, it incentivizes law schools to provide scholarships to students at their medians and above rather than to students with the greatest need. Second, by negatively counting both the percentage of students who have debt and the debt that transfer students accumulated at other law schools, it creates disincentives for law schools to admit students who have substantial financial need. Third, the way in which it counts spending per student does not focus appropriately on how schools support their students or the quality of their legal education—putting far more weight on, for example, faculty compensation than on financial aid.

Beyond specific concerns about the ranking formula, we are troubled that U.S. News relies in part on unverified data reported by law schools that can significantly impact outcomes. This approach has implications for the accuracy and fairness of the rankings. Moreover, schools can gain access to this data that they and other law schools report only by paying U.S. News.

For these and other reasons, Northwestern Pritzker Law declines to participate in the U.S. News rankings. We do not make this decision lightly. We recognize that U.S. News plans to continue to rank us and other law schools that decline to participate in the rankings. Our hope is that this decision by Northwestern Pritzker Law and other law schools will encourage an approach to law school ranking that aligns better with our values. Law schools have an important role to play in preparing the next generation of legal professionals and in advancing greater justice, and our rankings should reflect that.

U.S. News coverage:


U.S. News Response to Boycott

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