Yasmine Halmane, Photo Editor

A Jan. 2 letter from U.S. News and World Report addressed law school deans across the country after Yale, Harvard and a slate of peer law schools withdrew from consideration for the decades-old ranking system.

The letter pledged a series of changes to the website’s ranking criteria following a series of conversations with over 100 law school administrations. The changes promised include decreasing the weight of factors such as peer assessment surveys and increasing the weight of outcome metrics.

“Having a window into the operations and decision-making process at U.S. News in recent weeks has only cemented our decision to stop participating in the rankings,” Dean Heather Gerken commented to multiple press outlets following the announcement of changes.

Yale Law School was the first in a group of elite law schools now reaching seven to withdraw from consideration, after Gerken publicly denounced the system as “perverse” and antithetical to progress in legal education in November. Gerken’s announcement was followed by statements to similar effect by Harvard University, Columbia University, Georgetown University, New York University, Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley. 

YLS’ decision to withdraw from the rankings largely stemmed from perceived disincentives for law schools to invest in providing need-based aid and support for students pursuing careers in public interest law as opposed to higher-paying jobs in private practice. While the letter made some allusion to ongoing conversations about these issues, no concrete promises for change were detailed.

“The conversations revealed other factors, such as loan forgiveness/loan assistance repayment programs, need-based aid, and diversity and socio-economic considerations, which will require additional time and collaboration to address,” the letter reads. “In these areas we will continue to work with academic and industry leaders to develop metrics with agreed upon definitions.”

The magazine reiterated their intention to release rankings based on publicly available data even for those institutions that chose not to fill out U.S. News’ self-report survey. The American Bar Association currently requires ABA-accredited law schools to publish certain information about their schools on their websites and to the ABA as part of a “Standard Information Report.”

ABA mandated information includes acceptance rate, enrollment rate, data on the distribution of undergraduate GPAs for accepted students, distribution of LSAT or GRE scores for accepted students, racial demographics of the student body and scholarship/grant information among other categories.

U.S. News has yet to clarify whether schools that have publicly withdrawn from the ranking will continue to be incorporated on the official list based on such ABA-mandated information.

While acknowledging some negative feedback U.S. News had received from law school deans on the efficacy of their annual report, the magazine’s editors doubled down on the importance of ranking systems for prospective law students considering the financial and time costs of matriculating into a JD program.

“We received feedback — both positive and negative — on the rankings and methodology,” the letter explains. “We are encouraged by how many [law school deans] appreciate that a big part of our mission is to help connect students with schools and help students make the best decision for selecting a particular law school.”

Despite these announced changes, no law schools have back-pedaled their decision to withdraw from consideration, with YLS doubling down on its decision in statements to the press following the open letter.

Yale Law School spokesperson Debra Kroszner confirmed that YLS had no intention of changing its decision to abstain from the process following the announcement.

Prior to withdrawing from the rankings, YLS placed first on the list for more than three decades.

Ines Chomnalez writes for the University desk covering Yale Law School. She previously wrote for the Arts desk. Ines is a sophomore in Pierson College majoring in History and Cognitive Science.