Yale Law has beaten Harvard for the past 23 years in US News rankings -- and it's not entirely clear why

Yale Law SchoolYale Law School/FacebookYale Law took the highest award as the No. 1 law school in the country.

On Tuesday, US News & World Report released its annual ranking of top law schools. Yale Law took the highest award as the No. 1 law school in the country.

This makes Yale Law the reigning champion every single year US News has rated law schools based on data metrics.

“Yale has been No. 1 every year since 1994. US News may have published law rankings before that based only on reputation, but our data team doesn’t have rankings that go back further,” Sophia Sherry, communications and PR coordinator at US News, told Business Insider.

Yale is clearly one of America’s best law schools, but its consistent No. 1 ranking might be partially due to the subjective nature of the US News rankings.

While Yale has been the unequivocal winner for the past two decades according to US News, its stats are remarkably close to two other top law schools — Harvard and Stanford.

Take a look at the data reported for the 2018 US News & World ranking:

Employed at Graduation

1. Stanford — 88.2%

2. Harvard — 87.3%

3. Yale — 84.5%

Employed 10 Months After Graduation

1. Harvard — 91.0%
2. Stanford — 89.2%
3. Yale — 84.5%

LSAT Score 25th-75th percentile

1. Harvard — 170-175

1. Yale — 170-175

3. Stanford — 168-173

Undergrad GPA Score 25th-75th percentile

1. Yale — 3.79-3.97

2. Harvard — 3.76-3.94

3. Stanford — 3.75-3.95

When you compare these data points, it’s difficult to choose a clear winner among the top three law schools.

The rankings don’t just consist of quantitative data, though. The US News methodology uses various measures to rank top law schools, and the weighted average of these scores determines the ranking.

While quantitative measures like GPA and LSAT make up 60% of the weighting, 40% of the ranking looks to assessments of “quality.” Those qualitative assessments are based on feedback from law school deans, law faculty, and practicing attorneys, who rate programs on a scale of 1, for marginal, to 5, for outstanding.

Since the data-driven measures for the top schools are surprisingly close, Yale may inch out Harvard and Stanford in the subjective ratings bestowed upon the university by academics and legal professionals.

To be sure, Yale has many features that set it apart from other law schools — even top schools like Harvard. For one thing, Yale doesn’t have traditional grades and its classes have fewer than 20 students, both of which arguably create a more inviting learning environment.

“Students get to not only have the advantage of having some of the best law professors in the world instruct them, but they also get to benefit from that sort of tremendous exposure in a more collegial and less cut-throat environment,” Jack Zaremski, president of New York attorney placement firm Hanover Legal Personnel Services, told Business Insider.

Robert Morse, the Chief Data Strategist at U.S. News & World Report, pointed primarily to faculty and employability as reasons Yale ranks No. 1.

“Yale University has consistently ranked the No. 1 Best Law School in the U.S. News rankings because the university has exceptional faculty resources and career placement success, which account for 35 per cent of the methodology,” Morse said in a statement provided to Business Insider.

“Yale also enrolls the top law school applicants in the country, and has maintained the highest reputation among both academic peers and lawyers and judges/hiring partners,” Morse continued, circling back to subjective assessments that factor into the ranking.

Yale also has an alumni list containing the likes of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and three sitting Supreme Court justices, which probably contributes to its high qualitative assessments.

It’s also possible that Yale Law’s consistent No. 1 ranking is self-perpetuating. Yale’s No. 1 ranking likely contributes to its excellent reputation, which boosts qualitative rankings by legal professionals — which in turn helps it keep its No. 1 ranking.

Still, some critics of the US News & World Report’s law school ranking system have a more cynical theory for Yale’s preeminence. Yale only trumps other schools because its expenditures per student are greater than other schools, Brian Leiter, a law professor at The University of Chicago, argued to National Jurist magazine in 2013.

And these per capita expenditures don’t have anything to do with Yale providing better services or course to students. It’s solely a function of its small size, Leiter posited.

Regardless of the exact reason for Yale’s superiority in the ranking, it’s hard to argue that a law degree from Yale isn’t one of the most powerful you can hold.

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