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by Travis Whitsitt | April 04, 2022


The big story in the 2023 rankings is, of course, Harvard dropping out of the top three. US News advertised a change in methods in advance, and it's worth looking at what they told us and how that might be impacting the rankings. The big changes both this year and in recent years are as follows:

1) The significance of a school's first-time bar passage rate was increased substantially from the last set of rankings.

2) For the last two years, rankings have increased their emphasis on the debt load incurred by a school's graduates.

3) A significant decrease in the weight given to a school's library resources and operations.

Our friends at Above The Law unearthed some significant numbers by which UChicago handily outperforms Harvard on these metrics. Compared to 71.2% of Harvard law grads, only 61.3% of UChicago JDs finished their educations with student loan debt. UChicago also outperforms Harvard in terms of relevant employment, with a gap of 94.6% vs. 88.1% at graduation, and 95.1% vs. 91.8% 10 months on. These factors together suggest that, while Harvard is hardly a bad investment, UChicago is simply a better one in terms of employment bang for your student debt buck (or lack thereof).

There were lots of interesting shuffles in the rest of the Top 50 as well. Brigham Young jumped six ranks, George Mason jumped eleven, Ohio State jumped ten, William & Mary jumped five, Texas A&M jumped seven, and Wisconsin *dropped* by fourteen. Do the new metrics account for all of that? Likely yes, in our view.

Brigham Young students, for starters, graduate with very, very little debt-tuition is super low (funded by those Mormon tithes) and the school is perennially at or near the very top of the debt-to-income ratio for its graduates. The income itself is lower, but the debt is tiny compared to its peers in the rankings. Of course, one has to live by the school's rather draconian Honor Code to take advantage, but it would certainly explain the jump if US News is emphasizing debt in its rankings.

George Mason's eleven-point jump in the rankings could be largely explained by the new emphasis on bar passage rates. The school had a whopping 95.27% passage rate in the year these rankings use, up double digits from their usual average. (Thanks again to Above The Law for those numbers).

More saliently, though, assuming the new methods do account for all these shifts, is that a good thing? Law school applications have dropped for the first time in recent memory over the last few years, as the public consciousness comes to grips with the idea that student debt isn't always worth taking on. There is little doubt in our minds that graduation debt and bar passage rate are far more practically salient to prospective students than library resources are. Further, peer reputation and lawyer and judge reputation are still the top two weighted metrics by *far,* and that isn't likely to change. We are glad to see the institution of law school being judged by more salient metrics, and we hope they focus harder on delivering real value to the students who pay so much (monetarily and otherwise) to attend.