U.S. News & World Report has sent the following letter to law schools regarding methodology changes for the upcoming 2023-2024 rankings. This comes in the wake of 20+ law schools announcing they will no longer submit their data for rankings purposes.
There are a few key takeaways that we can draw from this statement:
- U.S. News will decrease the weight of the peer assessment scores.
- U.S. News will increase the weight of outcomes measures (employment and bar passage).
- U.S. News will rank all law schools using publicly available data, which leads us to conclude that they will be entirely eliminating the expenditures and debt metrics.
- U.S. News will no longer penalize schools for school-funded employment outcomes relative to non-school-funded jobs, at least for this upcoming rankings edition. They will also give full weight to grad school as an outcome, at least for this upcoming rankings edition.
The full letter is below.
Dear Law School Deans,
We are writing to inform you of our plans for the publication of the 2023–2024 Best Law Schools this spring. In recent weeks, we have had conversations with more than 100 deans and representatives of law schools – well more than half of this academic leadership group. Based on those discussions, our own research and our iterative rankings review process, we are making a series of modifications in this year’s rankings that reflect those inputs and allow us to publish the best available data.
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.
We appreciate the work that law schools have done to contribute to the U.S. News law rankings over the years. From completing extensive surveys to providing us feedback, we have worked cooperatively to create fair and objective standards for an important academic discipline while providing students with a broad array of choices among nearly 200 schools. We have helped expand the universe of well-known law schools beyond the club of Ivy League schools of the last century. But we realize that legal education is neither monolithic nor static and that the rankings, by becoming so widely accepted, may not capture the individual nuances of each school in the larger goal of using a common set of data. In that spirit, we engaged all schools that wanted to talk to us. We received feedback – both positive and negative – on the rankings and methodology. This concerted outreach has been particularly helpful and respectful. We were encouraged by how many of you appreciate that a big part of our mission is to connect students with schools and help students make the best decision for selecting a particular law school.
Your concerns were not identical, but did focus on a handful of areas. The main points included per student expenditures, the weight of the peer assessment surveys, and indicators of student debt. We also received broad feedback that the rankings should place more weight on outcomes, such as bar passage and employment outcomes, thereby reflecting students’ concerns when making law school decisions. We largely agree, as demonstrated by changes made to the methodology over the years.
Some law schools that are able to offer fellowships felt they were being undervalued, thus discouraging public service careers. For the next year, we will be giving full-weight to school-funded full-time long-term fellowships where bar passage is required or where the JD degree is an advantage, and we will treat all fellowships equally. We will also be giving full-weight to those enrolled in graduate studies in the ABA employment outcomes grid.
The conversations revealed other factors, such as loan forgiveness/loan assistance repayment programs, need-based aid, and diversity and socio-economic considerations, which will require additional time and collaboration to address. In these areas we will continue to work with academic and industry leaders to develop metrics with agreed upon definitions.
More data benefits everyone. To that end, we plan to make available to students more of the data we already have collected so that they can run deeper comparisons among law schools. Similarly, we call on all law schools to make public all of the voluminous data they currently report to the ABA but decline to publish, so that future law students can have fuller and more transparent disclosure.
U.S. News & World Report and its journalists have an important job – to inform the public, to hold powerful institutions accountable and to foster a free and fair exchange of ideas. We take our role as a journalism-based enterprise seriously, and we approach the law school rankings from that perspective. We have been following legal education and the profession for more than 30 years. We routinely and consistently talk with legal professionals and legal academics, and stay abreast of changes in the legal education landscape.
Our core mission is to help prospective 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.
Chief Data Strategist