Seven top-ranked US law schools—Yale, Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford, Georgetown, Columbia, and Michigan law schools—have pulled out of the US News & World Report rankings in the past week. If this trend continues, will law students and the firms that hire them focus on a law school’s location as a selection factor even more than they do now?
Law school rankings have long been important to prospective law students. Fifty percent of respondents to a 2021 Bloomberg Law survey stated that ranking was a factor in deciding which law school to attend.
But law school location was at the top of the list, with 71% of respondents stating that it was a factor. “Location” means different things to different people when considering a law school, but it could include considerations like wanting to stay in the area long-term, what the legal market is like, and alumni networks.
Legal employers have traditionally used the rankings for hiring decisions: the higher a school’s ranking, the higher the caliber of the students, it’s assumed. But law firms also connect with local law schools, regardless of rank, and these ties benefit all parties.
So if the rankings were to disappear tomorrow, how would prospective law students decide whether and where to go to law school? Schools currently in the top ranks will continue to be sought after. But other schools not in the T10 or T20 might find their appeal growing due to the proximity of prospective employers and what the region offers after law school.
Picking the best fit would likely still involve a balancing of many of the factors currently in the US News rankings, and students and employers alike would continue to look at factors like bar passage rate and test scores. But applicants’ plans for work and life after law school could become even more important when they choose where to apply.
(Updated the first paragraph to reflect the University of Michigan’s Nov. 21 announcement.)
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