Yale Law School is continuing its two-decade run atop U.S. News's rankings of Best Law Schools. Little else changed among the top schools, as Harvard Law School, Stanford Law School, Columbia Law School, and the University of Chicago Law School round out the top five, in order, for the second consecutive year.
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A new school has cracked the top 14, otherwise known as the "T14" in the legal community. The top 14 is not an official subset of rankings, but has continued to contain the same 14 schools, in varying order, since 1990, when the first set of law school rankings based upon a comprehensive methodology were introduced. Schools in the T14 tend to be held in the highest regard by law firms and within the law school community. This year, the University of Texas—Austin School of Law tied the Georgetown Law Center for the 14th spot—both earning a total score of 77. The remainder of the T14 schools all attained an overall score of 80 or more.
While Texas's jump carries significance when viewed through a historical lens, the school only rose one spot from 2011 when it tied for 15th with the University of California—Los Angeles School of Law, and other schools made larger jumps in rank overall. The University of Maryland School of Law, for instance, jumped from 48th last year to 42nd this year and was among the biggest movers of the top 50 schools. The University of California—Davis School of Law also made a significant leap, moving from 28th overall to 23rd.
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With environmental and healthcare issues making headlines and staying on the forefront of many lawmakers' minds since the Obama administration came to power, lawyers who can ably navigate the nuances of these specialties have become increasingly valuable. U.S. News asked professors in these fields to rank schools on a specialty-by-specialty basis. Vermont Law School, Lewis & Clark College's Northwestern School of Law, and Pace University Law School all earned top billing for environmental law. The St. Louis University School of Law, Boston University School of Law, and Maryland are this year's highest ranked health law schools. Beyond environmental and health law, the surveyed faculty also ranked specialties including dispute resolution, international law, and tax law, among others.
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Though the law school rankings have been in place for more than 20 years, this year U.S. News decided to get a new perspective on which law programs should be considered the nation's elite. Hiring officials at firms that made the 2010 Best Law Firms rankings were asked to rate schools on a five point scale, and Harvard, with a 4.9 average reputation score, edged out both Stanford and Yale for the top spot, which tied for second with a 4.8 average.
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Clarified on 3/22/11: An earlier version of this story did not indicate that the "T14" schools have been in place only since the comprehensive rankings methodology was introduced.