U.S. News & World Report, or USNWR, announced Monday that it will revamp its methodology for ranking law school programs starting in the 2023-2024 academic year after various law schools, including Berkeley Law, publicly rebuked the previous system and opted out.
USNWR officials Robert Morse and Stephanie Salmon announced the changes in a letter to the deans of 188 law schools. Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said USNWR has not released enough information about the changes for Berkeley Law to consider rejoining the ranking system.
“The letter from Bob Morse does not address many of the concerns that caused Berkeley Law to choose not to participate,” Chemerinsky said in an email. “I would need to know much more before changing our decision.”
Chemerinsky announced in a Nov. 17 press release that Berkeley Law would no longer be participating in the rankings due to various factors. He alleged the ranking system penalized schools that help students launch careers in public service law, disregarded graduates pursuing advanced degrees and incentivized law schools to admit high-income applicants who can “afford to pay.”
UCLA, Yale University, Harvard University, Stanford University, Columbia University and several other law schools have also opted out from providing internal information to USNWR. Despite this, USNWR will still continue to rank these schools by relying on publicly available data.
After weeks of discussion with law school representatives, USNWR said its new methodology would give less weight to reputational surveys completed by academics, lawyers and judges and instead emphasize outcomes. According to the letter, the ranking system will give “full-weight” to school-funded public-interest legal fellowships and to students pursuing additional graduate programs.
Dave Killoran, CEO of PowerScore, called the letter “very vague.” Killoran noted the changes will not be known until the rankings are released, at the end of March or April. He added that rankings do not capture the full experience of law school programs.
“A lot of it is built upon old reputations and LSAT and GPA medians that don’t really capture the character of the school, the quality of education, the type of outcomes and the salaries that students get,” Killoran said. “It’s a very narrow view of a school.”
Killoran said there likely will not be a “huge impact” in the new rankings and predicted few differences will be made.
Angelina Paul, a first-year student at Berkeley Law, supported Berkeley Law’s decision to opt out of the previous ranking system due to the disincentivizing of schools with students in public-interest careers.
On the other hand, Paul noted rankings are useful for students when choosing which law school to attend since law firms more favorably consider students from higher-ranked schools.
“One factor that U.S. News uses to measure a school’s standing is the amount of debt a student gets into. If the debt is higher, they are ranked lower,” Paul said. “This incentivizes schools to target and admit students who can pay more quickly, and cuts against first-generation students and those from lower-income backgrounds.”