There’s an old legal maxim which says, “Common observance is not to be departed from.” (A communi observantia non est recedendum.)
That maxim has been cast to the side by American law schools in recent months. First, the American Bar Association, which controls law-school accreditation, voted to eliminate the LSAT from the admission process. The LSAT, a standardized entrance exam, has been used by U.S. law schools to evaluate applicant competence since 1948.
At the same time, deans from some of the country’s elite law schools (Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia and several others) penned a self-righteous letter to U.S. News & World Report criticizing the publication’s law school ranking system. The U.S. News’ ranking system has assisted perspective law students in their decision making for over 30 years.
The current ranking system is based on objective data such as LSAT scores and bar passage numbers. It also includes more-subjective criteria such as surveys submitted by law school faculty, law firms, and even judges.
Yale Law School, which is invariable #1 in the ranking, was the first to state its opposition to the system. Dean Heather Gerken, whose “work focuses on federalism, diversity, and dissent” according to her Yale bio, openly criticize the ranking system as
profoundly flawed—they disincentivize programs that support public interest careers, champion need-based aid, and welcome working-class students in the profession.
In response to such criticism, U.S. News released a statement yesterday announcing that significant changes would be made to the ranking system. It states,
We will rank law schools in the upcoming rankings using publicly available data that law schools annually make available as required by the American Bar Association whether or not schools respond to our annual survey. For schools that do respond, we will publish more detailed profiles, enabling students to create a more comprehensive picture of their various choices. For the rankings portion, there will be some changes in how we weight certain data points, including a reduced emphasis on the peer assessment surveys of academics, lawyers and judges, and an increased weight on outcome measures.
We maintain that data beyond the rankings – whether collected by U.S. News or the American Bar Association – is an essential resource for students navigating the complex admissions process and seeking to evaluate the important but costly education that you deliver.
U.S. News rightly points out that
We have helped expand the universe of well-known law schools beyond the club of Ivy League schools of the last century.
The statement concludes by reiterating U.S. News’ mission and its ranking systems’s role in the law school admission process:
Our core mission is to help perspective law students make the best decisions for their educational future. We have consistently stated that the law school rankings should be just one component in a prospective student’s decision making process.