November 16, 2022 may not have been the single most pivotal day in law school decision-making, but it was likely up there.
Yesterday, in a matter of hours, both Yale and Harvard Law Schools disclosed that they would cease reporting data to the U.S. News & World Report rankings. While most of the data the rankings utilize is publicly available (or generated by U.S. News itself) and thus doesn't require law schools to actively participate in order to be ranked, there is some highly-important data that cannot be gleaned from any other source (e.g. expenditures per student, which accounts for 10% of the rankings) that these law schools now won't be submitting. Thus U.S. News can now only use a proxy for this data, at best, and not the data itself.
All of this may sound a bit wonky, but what are the actual implications of this move, for both law school and law school admissions? We've received a great many questions about this over the past 24 hours, so here are our best answers:
Will other law schools also withdraw from the rankings?
Almost assuredly yes. It won't be in a matter of hours like YLS and HLS.
Will all law schools withdraw from the rankings?
Almost certainly no. Again, it is a slow process, but keep in mind that some law schools are favored by the privately-submitted data. You could see a school shooting way up in the rankings if U.S. News doesn't change its methodology (which it will almost have to if more schools follow).
Will the influence of the U.S. News law school rankings diminish?
Here's the huge question. It's almost impossible to say, but they have held such a stranglehold on rankings, people by nature love rankings, and the legal community probably more so than most. So, while the metrics may be tightened up, U.S. News will most assuredly keep publishing law school rankings, and our best guess (and keep in mind this is very much just a guess at this point) is that they will continue to be very influential. I'd reference this podcast with Gibson Dunn Global M&A co-chair Jeff Chapman, though, as firms often don't hire based on rankings but on longer-term reputation.
Will the weight of the LSAT diminish?
To be determined. The dynamics of the test-optional debate have changed as of yesterday. Test-optional is a very complicated, nuanced question that we haven't sided with as a firm (for business reasons of course we'd love test-optional, but out of principle we don't think we are experts enough in this arena to express any public opinion). The Law School Admissions Council has used almost every piece of political capital they have to try to kill test-optional. And there is a growing chatter that LSAC should try to focus less on this small issue that won't have short-term impact, and more on making the process affordable to applicants—as accessibility is something they claim to support publicly, while privately they seem fixated to the point of acting irresponsibly on the revenue of the LSAT. This has been increasingly agitating to various schools and entities, because schools can still choose to require the LSAT, and the majority of schools will stay LSAT-dependent unless U.S. News changes that metric.
Which brings us to the new question(s); will U.S. News change that metric? Likely no, as it is third-party verifiable (all law schools must report their entering class data, including LSAT medians, to the ABA in the form of 509 required disclosures). But—and here is the crux of it all—if U.S. News' influence becomes diminished, so too will the LSAT. Especially when it comes to merit aid. Schools basically have three buckets of expenses (salaries for employees, merit aid, and all other), so it would help schools tremendously in terms of expenses to get off the rankings carousel. Which seems to be where we might be heading. This is the sine qua non question, but impossible to predict.
Will the pace of admission this cycle slow down?
Likely. Uncertainty tends to cause a pause. But schools also still need to make admits, and without clarity on whether and how the rankings will change, it probably won't be as much of a pause (or for as many schools) as people might think.
Will other rankings fill this vacuum?
Hard to say. We still like ours (I'm sure there is no bias there) because it is free and you get to weight whatever you want, not have the relative importance of the various metrics dictated to you.