Paul L. Caron

Monday, November 28, 2022

Yale Law School’s Revolt Of The Elites

The New Republic, Yale Law School’s Revolt of the Elites:

Yale Law Logo (2020)Yale University has the most elite law school in America, an institution so central to the production of future Supreme Court clerks and legal bigwigs that, in the space of a few months last year, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker all published lengthy features about whether one of its professors served drinks to students at a dinner party. So it made the news last week when Yale Law School Dean Heather K. Gerken issued a public statement declaring that the school would no longer willingly participate in the influential U.S. News & World Report law school rankings, setting off a mini-cascade of righteous quitting as Harvard, University of California, Berkeley, Stanford, Georgetown, and Columbia quickly followed suit.

But there was something strange about the spectacle of Dean Gerken denouncing as “profoundly flawed” a rankings system that identifies Yale itself as the #1 law school in the country—an evaluation with which, one would assume, she wholeheartedly agrees. The other quitters share rarefied air as well: All are in the U.S. News top 14 [except for UCLA and UC-Irvine].

While the boycott was framed as a bold, egalitarian blow on behalf of legal education writ large, the practical effect of responding to Dean Gerken’s criticism would be an increase in the already lofty standing of Yale and its elite compatriots. That’s what happens when the nation’s top universities reject a rankings system that was essentially reverse-engineered to replicate a status hierarchy that the schools themselves created, and continue to embrace. ...

In critiquing U.S. News, Dean Gerken expressed particular ire about a provision that rates law schools based on the percentage of graduates who get jobs that require a Juris Doctor degree. Her concern is understandable. One of the odd things about Yale’s unassailable position as law school #1 is that it is famously uninterested in training people to become practicing attorneys. ...

As legal commentator (and Yale Law grad) David Lat notes, some people have attributed more nefarious motives to Dean Gerken, claiming that the boycott is an attempt to preemptively delegitimize the rankings before Yale loses its decades-long chokehold on the top spot in the face of various controversies, dinner party–related and otherwise. That could be true. But even taken at face value, the boycott seems like an attempt to promote Yale Law’s rare advantages and peculiarities under the guise of taking some sort of bold step on behalf of legal education as a whole. ...

If Yale Law School really wanted to make a difference, it would use its gargantuan horde of financial and social capital to greatly expand the number of people it teaches while developing lower-cost models of education. Instead of identifying 200 people per year as the best of the best of the best of the best, it could give 2,000 people per year an affordable legal education in a wide variety of communities and tell John Roberts to look for his clerks elsewhere.

But that would require Yale to sacrifice something it values for the greater good. It’s much easier to make a show of denouncing an outside interloper for making a few bucks identifying the long-established power structure that Yale and its graduates will continue to enjoy. 

U.S. News coverage:


U.S. News Response to Boycott

Law School Rankings, Legal Ed News, Legal Ed Rankings, Legal Education | Permalink