The Chicago Syndicate: 2017 @USNews Law School Rankings: Highs, Lows And Specialties
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Monday, April 04, 2016

2017 @USNews Law School Rankings: Highs, Lows And Specialties

The U.S. News & World Report law school rankings are back, catching the attention of students, attorneys and law school administrators throughout the country. This year’s rankings reveal upgrades or downgrades for schools like the University of Michigan, the University of Cincinnati and Brooklyn Law School, as well as tuition and enrollment variations among schools.

None of the three highest ranked schools took top honors in any specialty category, but all three placed in the top ten of at least two specialties categories.

Top Ten 

The rankings reveal few changes to the ranks of the most elite law schools. Yale University remains in the top spot, followed by Harvard University and Stanford University, which share the second spot.

Columbia University and the University of Chicago share the fourth spot, while the University of California, Berkeley, Michigan and the University of Virginia share the eighth spot. (Michigan switched places this year with Duke University, with Michigan moving up from No. 11 to No. 8 and Duke moving down from No. 8 to No. 11).

The remaining top ten law schools are New York University in the No. 6 spot and the University of Pennsylvania in the No. 7 spot.

Top Twenty-Five 

The additional top 25 law schools are: Duke University (No. 11); Northwestern University (No. 12); Cornell University (No. 13); Georgetown University (No. 14); University of Texas, Austin (No. 15); Vanderbilt University (No. 16); University of California, Los Angeles (No. 17); Washington University in St. Louis (No. 18); University of Southern California (No. 19); Boston University (No. 20); University of Iowa (No. 20); Emory University (No. 22); University of Minnesota (No. 22); University of Notre Dame (No. 22); Arizona State University (No. 25); George Washington University (No. 25); and Indiana University, Bloomington (No. 25).

Indiana, Boston University, Michigan, Iowa, Vanderbilt, USC, and Arizona State moved up at least one slot.

Greatest Gains and Losses

Some law schools made significant gains this year, while others suffered losses. Within the top 100 ranked schools, Cincinnati had the most improved ranking, getting bumped up from No. 79 to No. 60.

Other schools that moved up five or more spots are Boston University (up 6 to No. 20); Indiana (up 9 to No. 25); Wake Forest University (up 7 to No. 40); University of California, Hastings (up 9 to No. 50); University of Houston (up 9 to No. 50); University of New Mexico (up 11 to No. 60); University of Oklahoma (up 7 to No. 60); Loyola Marymount University (up 10 to No. 65); Loyola University Chicago (up 6 to No. 72); St. John’s University (up 8 to No. 74); Villanova University (up 13 to No. 74); Louisiana State University, ​Baton Rouge (up 12 to No. 82); Northeastern University (up 5 to No. 82); St. Louis University (up 5 to No. 82); University of New Hampshire School of Law (up 5 to No. 82); and Wayne State University (up 8 to No. 97).

On the flip side, Brooklyn Law School experienced the greatest decline in ranking, getting downgraded from No. 78 to No. 97.

Other schools that moved down five or more spots are the University of Alabama (down 6 to No. 28); University of Washington (down 5 to No. 33); Pepperdine University (down 13 to No. 65); University of Tennessee, Knoxville (down 13 to No. 65); University of Denver (down 5 to No. 72); American University (down 7 to No. 78); University of Nevada, Las Vegas (down 11 to No. 78); Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago-​Kent) (down 8 to No. 86); Pennsylvania State University (Dickinson) (down 15 to No. 86); Pennsylvania State University, University Park (down 15 to No. 86); University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (down 11 to No. 86); Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey (down 5 to No. 92); University of Hawaii, Manoa (down 10 to No. 92); Michigan State University (down 6 to No. 100); and SUNY Buffalo Law School (down 13 to No. 100).

Ranking Criteria 

The U.S. News rankings are based on 2015 and 2016 data and calculated according to the weighted average of various measures including peer assessment scores, median LSAT scores, median undergraduate GPAs, acceptance rates, employment rates for graduates, bar passage rates, and library resources.

Enrollment and Cost

The U.S. News rankings also include information on enrollment and tuition. Of the top 50 law schools, the school with the highest enrollment is Harvard, with 1,767 students (followed by Georgetown, with 1,725 students). The school with the lowest enrollment is Washington and Lee University, with 314 students (followed by University of California, Irvine, with 334 students).

When it comes to tuition and fees, the most expensive of the top 50 law schools is Columbia, at $62,700 per year (followed by Cornell University, at $59,900 per year). The least expensive of the top 50 schools (at least for certain students) is Brigham Young University, at $11,970 per year for full time LDS members (followed by University of Georgia, at $19,476 per year for in state students).

Starting Salaries

The median starting private sector salary for 2014 law school graduates from 108 schools was between $50,000 and $74,999. Graduates of 39 schools had a median starting salary of between $75,000 and $100,000, while graduates of 30 schools had a median starting salary of more than $100,000.

For public sector jobs, graduates from 69 schools had a median starting salary of under $50,000, and graduates from 112 schools had a median starting salary of between $50,000 to $74,999.

Specialty Rankings

The following law schools each came in No. 1 for the following specialty areas of law: Georgetown for clinical programs (overall rank No. 14); Seattle University for legal writing (overall rank No. 111); Stetson University for trial advocacy (overall rank No. 103); St. Louis University for health care law (overall rank No. 82); Vermont Law School for environmental law (overall rank No. 132); Ohio State University for dispute resolution (overall rank No. 30); Berkeley for intellectual property law (overall rank No. 8); and NYU for both international law and tax law (overall rank No. 6).

None of the law schools ranked in the top three overall (Yale, Harvard and Stanford) earned the top spot in any specialty ranking. However, Harvard made the top ten for health care law, dispute resolution, international law and tax law. Yale made the top ten for clinical programs and international law, while Stanford made the top ten for clinical programs and intellectual property law.


With the rankings now in, ambitious college students can set their sights on making it into law schools in the coveted top ten. Those who aspire to practice in niche areas like environmental or tax law can hone in on the most appropriate schools for them. Meanwhile, law school administrators at upwardly mobile institutions can celebrate their accomplishments this year while their counterparts at schools heading in the other direction can assess how to reverse course and move up by the time the rankings roll around again next year.

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