by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Yale Law School dean Heather Gerken is framing the school’s decision to pull out of the U.S. News & World Report law-school rankings as an altruistic one, arguing that the “profoundly flawed” rankings “disincentivize programs that support public interest careers.”
But a closer look at those rankings suggests that Yale, which has over the past year been the locus of a fierce debate about free speech and drawn unwanted attention for its response to campus controversies, may have had a selfish reason to jump ship. The elite law school was starting to slip on one of the key indicators that determine a law school’s overall ranking, according to U.S. News & World Report‘s published methodology, raising questions about how long it would continue to occupy the number-one slot.
The “peer assessment” score is a measure of how deans and tenured professors across the country rate a law school’s quality on a scale of 1 to 5. Accounting for 25 percent of each school’s overall rank, this metric is the single most important factor in U.S. News & World Report law-school rankings—and one reason why Yale consistently lands at the top of them.
For many years, the law school’s peer assessment score hovered between a 4.8 and a 4.9, which meant it usually tied or exceeded Harvard and Stanford’s scores. But in March 2022—amid the free speech controversies, including the administration’s abuse and intimidation of a second-year law student, that thrust the top-ranked school into the national spotlight—Yale’s peer assessment score dropped to 4.6, its lowest in over a decade.
Though the drop didn’t dislodge Yale from its number-one position overall, it did put the school behind Harvard and Stanford in the reputational rankings, a sign that the law school’s perch was more precarious than it once seemed.