Law Students For Climate Accountability, Fueling the Climate Crisis: Measuring T-20 participation in the Fossil Fuel Lawyer Pipeline:
On November 16, 2022, the Dean of Yale Law School Heather Gerken made a shocking announcement: Yale Law School would be leaving the US News & World Report law school rankings. Many law schools shared her frustrations with the rankings that Gerken called "profoundly flawed," and more than 40 law schools have followed Yale's decision to exit the rankings.
With the dominant framework for law school rankings in decline, the question arises of how we can better evaluate law schools. One important metric is the impact that graduates are having on the greatest justice issues the world faces, including, most significantly, the climate crisis.
On this metric, the law schools that have typically been ranked highest are not performing the best-in fact, they tend to perform the worst. We find that T-20 law schools-the top 20-ranked schools in the US News rankings have produced fossil fuel lawyers at over three times the rate of the average US law school. T-20 schools have produced nearly half of all US fossil fuel lawyers in our dataset.
Our findings emphasize that prestige in the legal field, including the view promoted by the US News rankings, is far too often accorded to actors advancing injustice. The same law schools that sit at the top of the US News rankings serve as linchpins in the production of lawyers who help climate polluters avoid accountability, write the contracts for climate-destroying fossil fuel projects, and lobby against environmental regulations.
In this respect, the current rethinking of the law school ranking system could provide an opening for law schools, as it may reduce pressures to promote careers at fossil fuel-friendly corporate law firms. We hope they will take it.
The climate crisis threatens-and has already begun-to produce immense harms, with its harshest impacts falling on the Global South and, within the US, BIPOC and low-income communities. Lawyers can play a vital role in addressing the climate crisis, but many use their legal skills to advance extraction of and dependency on the primary cause of the climate crisis: fossil fuels. As LSCA's annual Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard shows, elite law firms conduct far more work to exacerbate the climate crisis than to address it.
This report finds a similar dynamic exists among law schools: many of the schools that have hovered near the top of traditional law school rankings like the U.S. News rankings-which are often viewed as the most prestigious-are also the schools that produce fossil fuel lawyers at the highest rates.