Harvard drops out of top 3 in annual law school rankings

A man walks through Harvard Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge
A man walks through Harvard Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts November 16, 2012. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi
  • Harvard Law School has been among top three in U.S. News rankings for three decades
  • NYU Law, Georgetown among other schools moving in the rankings

(Reuters) - Harvard Law School was ranked No. 4 in law school rankings published Tuesday by U.S. News & World Report, marking just the second time in more than three decades that the elite school was not among the top three on the annual list.

Longtime No. 1 Yale Law School still heads up the list of top-ranked schools, and Stanford kept its No. 2 spot. The University of Chicago Law School moved up one spot to supplant Harvard at No. 3, while Columbia Law School tied with Harvard at No. 4.

A Harvard Law spokesman declined to comment on the rankings.

U.S. News does not publicly disclose its full rankings formula. Available data shows a slight decline from last year in Harvard’s “peer assessment” among legal academics and a slight dip in its graduate employment rate.

“Is Harvard worse of a school today than it was yesterday? Of course not,” said law school consultant Mike Spivey. “But Harvard will be the buzz.”

U.S. News started ranking American Bar Association-accredited law schools in 1990, which was the only other year that Harvard landed outside the top 3. (It was No. 5 that year.)

The current ranking is based on peer assessments by law faculty and ratings by lawyers and judges, as well as Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores, undergraduate grade-point averages, employment and bar passage rates, student borrowing, and per-student expenditures, among other factors.

Law school administrators have criticized the rankings, saying they incentivize schools to funnel financial aid to applicants with high LSAT scores over those most in need. But they are closely watched within the legal academy and among prospective law students and alumni.

Harvard was not the only school to move places in the latest list.

Among the so-called T-14 schools, which are the top 14 in U.S. News’ ranking, New York University School of Law slipped one spot to No. 7 after being No. 6 since at least 2011. Duke Law School and Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law each fell one position to No. 11 and No. 13, respectively.

Georgetown University Law Center rejoined the T-14, ranking at No. 14 after falling to No. 15 for the first time last year.

The single largest gain on this year’s rankings was the University of Montana School of Law, which moved up 31 spots to No. 103. The City University of New York School of Law (CUNY) had the largest decline, dropping 21 places to land at No. 133.

(Note: This story has been updated to clarify a comment by Mike Spivey.)

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com