With law being one of the most notoriously elite-based professions, law school rankings are closely watched each year by law students, attorneys, and law firms alike – to say nothing of the law schools. The QS World University recently released its 2013 list of law school rankings, with U.S. law schools filling seven of the top twenty spots.
While the U.S. News and World Report rankings are probably most often cited, the QS World University Rankings are an alternative source of law school rankings. Unlike some other popular law school rankings, the QS list focuses on law schools across the globe. The QS Group releases annual rankings for both undergraduate and graduate programs. Beginning in 2011, the organization began releasing school rankings based on area of discipline; its 2013 list of law school rankings is a sub-sector of its social studies division.
The 2013 list analyzed law schools by academic reputation, employer reputation, the number of citations per paper, and “h-index citations.” Law schools were judged on a scale of 0 to 100. Of the U.S.-based law schools that made the top ten, all were regulars on the annual U.S. News list. The seven U.S. schools that made the top twenty included staples like Harvard University (ranked #1), Yale University (#4), New York University (#6), Columbia University (#8), Stanford University (#9), the University of Chicago (#15), and the University of California, Berkeley (#17).
As a whole, the top ten schools from the QS list heavily favored schools from the U.S., the United Kingdom, and Australia. One might say there was an English-language bias, at least in the top ranked schools. The schools in the top ten were rated between 84 points (The University of Sydney) to 96 points (Harvard University).
Any release of new law school rankings is often excitedly discussed and dissected by media and legal professionals. This is partially because less people are now opting to go to law school in today’s tough job market, where there is often no guarantee of a job upon graduation. In the fight between law schools for a limited pool of students, law school officials will seize on the opportunity to tout their school as the premier academic institution, especially when backed up by a newly-released list of rankings. Many of the top “Big Law” firms are known for, by and large, only hiring attorneys from first-tier schools.
At the same time, many have criticized law school rankings in the criteria that they look at and the weight given to various factors. Organizations like the American Bar Association caution students to take law school rankings with a grain of salt, as merely one factor in the decision to attend a school. On its website, the ABA notes that “qualities that make one kind of school good for one student may not be as important to another.” While the bar association grants accreditation to law schools that meets its criteria, the ABA does not release its own list of rankings or ratings beyond that. In an effort to give prospective law students greater clarity, American Bar Association has come out with an annual law school guide, which contains information on its list of ABA-approved schools and what to look for in a law school.