Susan Smith Blakely

What is Wrong with the USNWR Rankings?

The US News and World Report 2019 rankings of law schools is out.  See it here.  Yes, it is still early in 2018.  But, as you will read, there are some folks who benefit big time each year from this early information.

If you are a Pepperdine Law graduate, you are not going to like the new rankings.  If you are a graduate of a lot of other law schools, you may not like them either, but probably a little less than the Pepperdine folks.  At least you may see your school ranked.

My problem with the USNWR list has less to do with where my school ranks than with why we allow a non-legal entity like the US News and World Report to dictate something so important to our profession.  Every year the Report comes out with its rankings --- based on a list of criteria, some of which is, frankly, questionable --- and top-ranked law schools across the country start to genuflect to their high positions and to devise the next round of teases to attract top students to their hallowed halls to maintain those high rankings for the following year.

In other words, the dance is now on.  Top college and university students will be courted by top law schools in a contest to land the ones that will make the entering class statistics look the best and impress the Report for yet another year.  Part of the negotiations to snag those top students will be merit-based scholarships --- often full rides --- that will attract the best talent.

So, what is wrong with that, you say?  Nothing if you are the law school applicant who gets the biggest merit scholarship or if yours is the law school that maintains its prestigious ranking.

But, the results of that process benefit very few and do it on the backs of the rest of the law school student bodies across the country.  Someone has to pay for all of the tuition that is "forgiven" by the law school in the form of scholarship money, right?  And who do you think that is?  Bingo.  Law schools typically recoup that deficit by raising tuition for the rest of their students --- the not so worthy.  And, to add insult to injury ...

When tuitions go up, student loan debt goes up as well.  As you all know, student loan debt has reached crisis dimensions in this country.  The average cost of attending law school is somewhere in the range of $150K to $200K, and most law students are financing these expensive educations through debt.

So, why do we allow this to go on?  Why do we allow this beauty contest among elite law schools to adversely affect the future of thousands of law school graduates each year?  Is it to improve the bottom line of USNWR and its parent company for some unapparent reason?  Is it to continue to keep the alumni of the highest ranked law schools happy so that they will continue to be generous in their endowments?  Frankly, I don't care --- and my law school is one of those that receives a very high ranking each year. 

What I do care about is reducing the cost of law school and student loan debt.  That is where we should be putting our energy --- not in continuing to support a system of rankings that harms the majority of students and discourages many very qualified and talented students, who cannot assume high debt, from even applying to law school. 


Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker, and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Her new book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, will focus on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and will be released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

 Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including Corporate Counsel Magazine, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, Women Lawyers Journal (NAWL),, DC Spotlight,, Daily Muse, Lawyer and Statesman, and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues in business and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" for her work on behalf of women in the law, and she is the recipient of a Lawyer Monthly Women in Law Award 2016.

 Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit 


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