US News Law School Rankings: A Comparison With 1998 And 1995

Not surprisingly, there’s been some discussion of the new US News rankings here, here, here, here, and here. In an effort to produce entertaining, if ultimately useless, information, I decided to dig into my US News archives to produce comparisons between the new list and some older rankings. I refer to the rankings by year of publication, so that the new rankings are 2006 (though they are marketed as 2007.)

I’ve tried to do three things in this post. First, I’ve listed the schools that experienced the greatest shifts in reputational numbers comparing the 1998 rankings to the new list. I chose 1998 because that year US News switched to a 1 – 5 scale for measuring reputations. Second, I’ve produced a comparison of the ranking of law schools, by academic reputation, between the 1995 rankings (the oldest material in my personal files) and the new list. In 1995, US News expressed academic reputation in terms of rank nationally, rather than absolute numbers. Third, I’ve compared overall US News ranking of the top 30 schools in 1995 with the new ranking.

Comparing the academic reputation numbers from 1998 and 2006 (although US News is marketing the new list as “2007 rankings”, I will refer to all rankings based on year of release), no school moved more than 0.3 points up or down. Here is a list of the schools that moved up or down 0.3. Note that only only school – Michigan State, which had just acquired Detroit College of Law – moved up 0.3. The rest all dropped.

Baylor (-.3)

Case Western Reserve (-.3)

Duquesne (-.3)

Kansas (-.3)

Michigan State (+.3)

Nebraska (-.3)

Richmond (-.3)

St. Mary’s (-.3)

South Dakota (-.3)

SMU (-.3)

Wayne State (-.3)

West Virginia Univ. (-.3)

Wisconsin (-.3)

What about those schools that had big overall moves – like George Mason (from second tier, unranked, to 37), Washington University in St. Louis (from 29 to 19), or the University of Toledo (from fourth tier – bottom 20 – to 93)? Mason moved up 0.2, Wash U went up 0.1, and Toledo actually dropped 0.1. Hawaii, which moved dramatically from 50 to 93 maintained exactly the same faculty repuation numbers.

The lawyer and judge reputation numbers showed more variation. Here are the top movers over that eight year span:

Michigan State (+1.0)

Widener (+.9)

Arkansas – Fayetteville (+.7)

California – Western (+.7)

South Dakota (+.7)

Creighton (+.6)

George Mason (+.6)

Houston (-.6)

Penn State – Dickinson (+.6)

Indiana – Bloomington (+.5)

Missouri – Columbia (+.5)

Missouri – Kansas City (+.5)

Ohio Northern (+.5)

William Mitchell (+.5)

Arkansas – Little Rock (+.4)

Capital (+.4)

Detroit Mercy (-.4)

Indiana- Indianapolis (+.4)

Iowa (+.4)

Mercer (+.4)

Nova Southeastern (-.4)

Ohio St. (+.4)

Oklahoma (+.4)

Pepperdine (+.4)

Richmond (+.4)

Samford – Cumberland (+.4)

Seattle (+.4)

Texas Wesleyan (+.4)

Toledo (+.4)

Tulane (+.4)

Washington Univ. in St. Louis (+.4)

Some take-aways:

1. Lesser known schools acquired by big-name universities enjoy a big bump from practitioners.

2. There is far more volatility in lawyer/judge reputation numbers. And quite the opposite of academic reputation, almost all the lawyer/judge reputation movement is upward.

3. Not surprisingly, there is far more volatility among regional law schools than the national programs. There are probably two reasons for this. First, since the top national schools receive numbers close to 5, it would be nearly impossible for them to increase reputational numbers much. And because most of these schools are widely known and respected, they are more likely to be viewed positively by any random selection of voters. On the other hand, there will probably be more variance from voting pool to voting pool with respect to less known regional schools. Think of it this way: virtually every voter in any randomly selected pool has heard of Harvard and knows it’s good; many voters have never heard of Washburn Law and those that have are less likely to have a consistent impression of its quality.

4. Somebody forgot to survey lawyers and judges in Arkansas and Missouri back in 1998.

Finally, here are the 2006/1995 comparisons. Although the 1995 rankings didn’t provide absolute numbers representing school reputation, they discussed school reputation in terms of their overall rank nationally. Using that data, I’ve compared the 1995 and 2006 rankings of the top 30 schools by reputation among academics. I cribbed Brian Leiter’s restatement of the U.S. News list of law schools in order of reputation among academics. Note the remarkable stasis. All the top 30 are identical, except for the recent addition of W&L and the drop-out of Hastings. Note also how the new system tends to overstate small differences by using absolute values rather than clusters. The final chart is side by side overall rankings in 2006 versus 1995. It pretty much speaks for itself.

1. Harvard University (4.9) 1. Columbia
1. Yale University (4.9) 1. Harvard
3. Stanford University (4.8) 1. Michigan
4. Columbia University (4.7) 1. Stanford
4. University of Chicago (4.7) 1. Yale
6. New York University (4.6) 1. University of Chicago
6. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (4.6) 7. NYU
8. University of California, Berkeley (4.5) 7. UC Berkeley
8. University of Virginia (4.5) 7. Virginia
10. University of Pennsylvania (4.4) 10. Cornell
11. Cornell University (4.2) 10. Duke
11. Duke University (4.2) 10. Northwestern
11. Georgetown University (4.2) 10. Pennsylvania
14. Northwestern University (4.1) 10. Texas
14. University of Texas, Austin (4.1) 15. Georgetown
16. University of California, Los Angeles (4.0) 16. None Listed
17. University of Southern California (3.8) 17. Minnesota
17. Vanderbilt University (3.8) 17. North Carolina
19. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (3.6) 17. Vanderbilt
19. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (3.6) 17. Wisconsin
21. George Washington University (3.5) 21. Iowa
21. University of Iowa (3.5) 21. Southern California
21. University of Wisconsin, Madison (3.5) 23. Illinois
21. Washington University, St. Louis (3.5) 23. UC Hastings
25. Boston University (3.4) 25. Boston College
25. Emory University (3.4) 25. Boston University
25. University of California, Davis (3.4) 25. Emory
25. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (3.4) 25. George Washington
25. Washington & Lee University (3.4) 25. UC Davis
30. Boston College (3.3) 25. Univ. of Washington
30. College of William & Mary (3.3)
30. University of California, Hastings (3.3)
30. University of Notre Dame (3.3)

1. Yale 1. Yale
2. Stanford 2. Harvard
3. Harvard 2. Stanford
4. Columbia 4. Chicago
4. NYU 5. Columbia
6. Chicago 6. NYU
7. Pennsylvania 7. Virginia
8. UC Berkeley 8. UC Berkeley
8. Michigan 8. Michigan
10. Virginia 8. Duke
11. Duke 11. Pennsylvania
12. Northwestern 11. Northwestern
13. Cornell 13. Georgetown
14. Georgetown 14. Cornell
15. UCLA 15. University of Southern California
16. Texas 16. Vanderbilt
17. University of Southern California 17. Texas
17. Vanderbilt 18. Minnesota
19. George Washington 19. Iowa
19. Minnesota 20. Illinois
19. Washington University in St. Louis 21. Washington & Lee
22. Boston University 22. George Washington
22. Iowa 23. Wisconsin
22. Notre Dame 24. UCLA
22. Washington & Lee 25. Emory
26. Emory 26. Boston College
27. Boston College 27. Georgia
27. William & Mary 28. William & Mary
27. Illinois 29. Washington University in St. Louis
27. North Carolina 30. UC Davis
27. Washington 30. Arizona

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6 Responses

  1. FXKLM says:

    Can you explain the “None Listed” item in the 1995 rankings? I can’t figure out what that means.

  2. Brian Leiter says:

    The 1995 ranking formula was so different from the 2006 one that this is like comparing two wholly different sets of rankings.

  3. Brian — Your point about the vastly different ranking formulas makes Dan’s comparison even more interesting. Despite a decade of time and a very different ranking formula, the overall ranking results aren’t very different. Perhaps US News starts with its rough sense of the ranking order and then crafts a ranking formula to get roughly the results it wants. I’m reminded of Jerome Frank’s quote: “[J]udicial judgments, like other judgments, doubtless, in most cases, are worked out backward from conclusions tentatively formulated.”

  4. “Perhaps US News starts with its rough sense of the ranking order and then crafts a ranking formula to get roughly the results it wants.”


  5. Alison B. says:


    Begging your insight–the list mentions the schools I am considering in terms of move ratio– but you dont actually go that far in the listings. I am having to make a decision once & for all between St. Mary’s Univ. and Texas Wesleyan Univ……yes, I realize, not the most earth shattering decision– both 4th tier, etc- who cares, — however, this is quite likely an excessively important decision for my life, so Im trying desperately to get a finite, qualitative answer as to which is the bottom line “better” school. Opposing opinions abound– yes, Wesleyan is newer & has less of an alumni base, or reputation in the industry– however I have been advised that St. Mary’s has had a serious drop in quality over the past 6-8 years, having a low bar pass rate, etc…and also unless I plan to focus on international business w/ Mexico or immigration, not really any more to offer than Wesleyan…so at this point in time– what to believe? I have to decide by Wed….thank you for any educated advice…


  6. Louie says:

    Stumbled on this (rather old) post and felt compelled to comment, if only to say this: Poor Alison, who was choosing between those two schools, would be entering the legal market right . . . now. Let’s all take a moment to mourn her stillborn legal career.