The Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) continues to oppose the ranking system used by U.S. News and World Reports (USNWR). CLEA exists to advocate for clinical legal education as fundamental to the education of lawyers, and one of our core points of advocacy is to pursue and promote justice and diversity as core values of the legal profession. CLEA has long recognized that the USNWR ranking system is at odds with our central mission, as it rewards schools who rely on high standardized test scores in admissions decisions and punishes schools who offer public interest fellowship programs to their graduates. CLEA’s recent restatement of our opposition to the standardized testing requirement in law school admissions before the ABA Council reiterated our position that the use of standardized tests to assess students and schools negatively impacts legal education and is racially discriminatory.
With regard to clinical rankings, the current USNWR ranking system places us in competition with each other, when we as a group see ourselves in a shared struggle for social justice and equity in legal education. Second, there are no articulated factors for ranking clinical programs, including whether to recognize the work of externship programs, so the voting can be arbitrary and inconsistent. Third, some schools may unfairly suffer because they do not have the budget or the support of their administration to market their program or send their clinical faculty to annual conferences.
For clinic faculty who are in a position to take action against the use of USNWR rankings, possible alternatives to participating in the ranking of clinical programs could include: (1) declining to submit a ballot at all and sending a letter to USNWR explaining why; (2) requesting that USNWR remove the school from the clinical ranking survey; (3) submitting a ballot in which the response for every school is "no answer;” and/or (4) making a public statement against the use of USNWR rankings requesting that others do not rank the school in the survey.
We understand that each law school has a unique set of needs and priorities. Some clinical programs outside the top-tier rankings have achieved recognition of their respective programs through the USNWR; and this, in turn, has allowed them to further advance the goals of their clinical education programs. Individual faculty may choose to continue to participate, or may not be in a position to refuse to submit a rankings ballot or ask that their program not be ranked. If faculty do vote, CLEA urges those ranking clinical programs to focus on factors that promote the principles for which CLEA advocates, namely the increased presence of clinical education (law clinics and externships) in law school curricula, security of position for clinical faculty, and diversity and equity. In evaluating clinical programs, CLEA urges voters to consider: 1) the number of law clinic and externship slots available relative to the student population at a school; 2) the breadth and quality of clinical curricular offerings available to students; 3) the school's security of position, academic freedom, and governance rights for faculty who teach clinics or externships; and 4) the extent to which the school has committed to pursuing racial justice in its clinical program through its course offerings, impact on the community, and demonstrated commitment to diversity and equity in hiring and promotion of clinical faculty.
CLEA urges voters to score only those programs for which they have sufficient information to make informed decisions. It urges voters to choose the “No Answer” option when they have insufficient information to assess a particular clinical program. Last, CLEA also urges those who receive ballots to consult their clinical colleagues for their views to increase the range of informed opinions reflected in the balloting.
We are grateful to the growing list of law schools who have removed themselves from the rankings system for their advocacy and for raising awareness about the destructive consequences of the current system. We hope that our collective efforts move legal education towards greater equity and accessibility for future students and the legal profession.