The New 2024 Law School Rankings: The Sociology of Law

“Thinking is not a matter of making definitions in one place, classifying things in another, inferring in a third, and making practical judgments in some fourth place. How these activities are organically related to each other and to the use of language, a systematic exposition of the nature of thinking should make clear.” — Arthur L.H. Rubin, University of Chicago[1]

“Those who proclaim a multiplicity of Laws understand by “Laws” nothing other than Legal Provisions, and these are different in every country. On the other hand, those who emphasize the common element in the midst of this variety are centering their attention not on Legal Provisions but on the Social Order, and this is among civilized states and peoples similar in its main outlines, and many of its features are in common with uncivilized custom.” — Eugen Ehrlich, Professor of Law at Czernowitz[2]

 

Abstract:

The basis of all law, in all places, is society. That makes the law school a function of society as well. If that is true, then all global law schools are transmitters of all legal social custom in a total social-legal network; they cannot be ranked as law schools proper, unless you are judging one culture a superior legal platform over others, or assessing individual law schools rather than the network they create. If law schools compete for rank as institutions, they are competing over non-law categories through corporate branding, which is a device of perceptual management in consumerism.[3]

 

Essay:

Last year, I published an essay on law school ranking methodology, which suggested a new way to rank and placed less emphasis on traditional sources of ranking hierarchy—especially by relying on law professors who patronize each other. An ordinal ranking or arrangement may have some merit, however, if it consists of a set of views that take a more socially expansive, top-down approach.

By top-down, I mean a consideration of law schools, first by their host country and what those different countries may represent as far as how the degree is structured, what the curriculum consists of, and who is managing the law program as far as quality of leadership. It also includes historical context and culture, which is where law comes from. That makes “top-down” actually into “bottom-up,” which means the people in a society who have worked out their own customs, expectations, trading manner, property ownership, methods of resolving disputes, and punishing crime.[4]

For example, the U.K. was and remains my preferred location for primary common law training for two reasons.

One, in the U.K., law is taught as an undergraduate program and is accelerated over a three-year degree track. This cuts time and expense in half compared to the U.S. The U.K. has a deep tradition in teaching law, and its academy are noteworthy for their more astute understanding of legal history, jurisprudence, and the linkages between law and philosophy. The U.K. is really the “mothership” of the Western legal tradition. Its influence extends to many parts of the world that uphold the U.K. law training model.

The second reason why the U.K. stands out as a superior host country for law training is its use of the graduate degree as an actual specialized degree in applied areas of law —ULondon hosts about 30—rather than in the U.S., where the graduate law degree—the LL.M—is generally used to qualify certain foreign lawyers in U.S. common law—which they really don’t need, but the ABA uses this as a “tax.” Moreover, the U.K. is also light years ahead of the U.S. in its recognition of prior experience, including non-law degrees, in order to more efficiently convert law applicants into law degree holders. For example, they manage a 1-year “conversion” program and also offer recognition of prior learning (RPL). In the U.S., you can have a Ph.D. in economics, but if you want to qualify in law, you still have to go back into a 3-year graduate law degree program—which is merely an inflated U.K. undergraduate degree.[5]

My argument in a nutshell is that if we can train and certify nuclear, aerospace, molecular or petroleum engineers in undergraduate degree tracks, surely the lawyer can be so trained, and then get to work; gaining experience, rather than sitting in a law library writing papers.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said that “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” But the quote is often misunderstood: the word “life” is the important distinction, which experience serves. Sitting in school for seven years only serves the law schools and the law professors— their life, not yours. The best law schools are accelerated and efficient, but you won’t find them currently in the U.S.

Below is a ranking that reflects my previous method of assessing institutional and cultural quality, program efficiency, and comparative depth. I leave the country and regional rankings the same, as well as the corruption index, and here offer a “Top 25” set that includes two or three previously listed last year, while introducing many new law schools in a wider global catchment and that are deserving of consideration. In many ways, it really does not matter where you study law in the U.S.—you can literally make a random selection and do as well or better than following the USN&WR and Times consensus, which is intellectually corrupted in methodology, and ultimately misleading because it merely provides opinions on institutions, based on someone else’s opinions, and has no insight into teaching content, or institutional efficiency. That is exactly how consumer marketing works; it is not how you should assess law schools however—or any other schools.

So, here is the 2024 Law School Selections:[6]

 

  1. University of London, Cambridge University, Edinburgh University
  2. University of Hamburg, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
  3. The Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology: Law & Development
  4. Saint Petersburg State University
  5. University of Bologna, University of Glasgow
  6. University of Tehran
  7. Tel Aviv University, University of Carthage
  8. University of Tokyo, Kobe University
  9. Universidad Panamericana , Monterrey Institute
  10. University of Oslo, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Universität Hannover
  11. Queens University, McGill Faculty of Law
  12. University of Buenos Aires, University of Frankfort am Main
  13. University of Stellenbosch, SA
  14. Albany Law School, North Dakota
  15. Istanbul University, Marquette University
  16. University of Helsinki, Kutafin Moscow State Law University
  17. National University of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar
  18. ESADE (Spain), University of Baltimore
  19. Stetson Law, U. Colorado Boulder, Northwestern
  20. Prince Sultan University (PSU) College of Law
  21. University of Geneva (Switzerland)
  22. Renmin University of China Law School
  23. Reykjavik University (Iceland)
  24. University of Texas, St. Mary’s, Stanford
  25. UCLA, Illinois, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile

A few words otherwise about some of the schools and their ranking.

In the modern university—or from any period going back to Plato’s academy—a student must “thread the needle” through all the distractions that may present themselves and focus on specific subjects and specific professors that you should thoroughly interview before you take their class, or of course write any thesis—you also need to come to the table with your own ideas and skills, and often they are much better, or different, than any “professor”: they need you as much as you may need them. But students should never underestimate the power of one individual at one school—or peers—and how they can become a “thought partner.” All it takes is one or two outstanding individuals at any law school, anywhere, to make a material difference. A robust and independent dean is also important— and rare—but still secondary.[7]

My overall perspective that I’m otherwise trying to present by these law schools is that law is a concept, discipline, and practice that is profoundly tied to, or even consists strictly of, the culture in which it operates; that includes the U.S., of course.

The world is obviously—or perhaps not so obviously—intimately interconnected in business, trade, and in many other strictly social ways, yet actual transnational capability and knowledge—including comparative law—is very limited in the U.S., and this limitation shows up in poorly executed business deals, and incompetent trade and foreign policy—listen carefully to Tucker Carlson’s recent interview of Russia’s president.

Understanding that world requires a competence—or at least a workable facility—with some foreign law regimes, including their languages, which are crucial to understanding the meaning of their legal language and its basis in history, anthropology, science, as well as evidence, textualism, and methods of pleading, including delict and tort.[8]

I include law schools like UCLA and Illinois because they benefit from the larger university that they are part of. For Los Angeles, that includes entertainment and media law. At Illinois, science and engineering. Texas makes the list because, well, it’s Texas: a state with a GDP bigger than all of Canada and a rich and deep infrastructure of agriculture, oil and gas, real estate, and science, all informing law. But Texas state law is also essential American law, as it borders Mexico, a natural trading partner and, in some ways, a joint economic zone wherein the law is drawn into an economic dynamic that will become one of the most important in the U.S.[9]

St. Mary’s in San Antonio—tied for 24th—makes the list for their specific Catholic perspective in law; it is a perspective central to understanding American law, and our Constitution, and St. Mary’s incorporates this perspective in its legal culture along with innovative, leadership.

Stanford is listed because of its engineering prowess, but also from its programs in symbolic systems, for example, and its business school, which law students can draw on. Stetson makes the grade because of its very focused capabilities in trial advocacy, its important role in the dynamic Tampa business market, and its strong culture and alumnae network in legal defense (they’re not afraid of Malum in se). Legal defense is what makes law work; it makes law into law: Without it, there is only pronouncement and diktat.

Glasgow is a historically rich law platform, and it teaches a dual common-civil law program leading to an efficient undergraduate LL.B. I mention Albany Law because it is private, generally well-supported, and nested in the New York state legal system, and its central history in American legal development—and legalism—which includes downstate New York City of course, but also the diverse upstate regions.

While I have reservations about the integrity of Chinese law vis-a-vis the PRC—a uniform codification that stems from a synthetic “national unity” may lead, to paraphrase von Savigny, to the eradication or suppression of the cultural distinctiveness in an organically developing legal system, and legal science. It is interesting to note that it has set about building a Chinese civil code, conceptually modeled on a German Pandectist general statute, forming a General Rules of Civil Law (GRCL). Understanding Chinese law is a rarity in the U.S.—it shouldn’t be. Attending a law school there should be no more onerous than Chinese students coming to Urbana, Illinois to earn a degree in electrical engineering in English.

Edinburgh is a special case because Scotland operates an effective Roman civil law mixed system, and in my view, if you want to know law, you have to internalize Roman legal theory by putting it to work in modern practice (along with the history of Germanic and Anglo-Saxon law). It is fascinating in and of itself, and far more influential even today than we normally assume. Moreover, there really isn’t anything known today as true “common law” because statute law, regulations, and procedural law make its practice, outside of writing motions and briefs that cite some cases for “precedent,” more of a polite customary acknowledgment: judges look first to rules and statutes, and really don’t feel comfortable interpreting cases or engaging in syllogistic reasoning. They work off of—and are partly insulated in liability—by civil law. But many of these law schools, for example in South Africa, all work off of a mixed legal system—with fascinating varieties of incorporation of local history and external influence—which in my view is what the U.S. has become, especially at a state level.

Consistent with my thesis that location matters more than the law school proper, the region of Mongolia is set to become one of the most envied and contested regions in the world. But what can an American common lawyer do there—one who can’t speak their dialects, or even Russian, and has no sense about its people or customs, but is rather more interested in being a clerk for a judge in a government building in Washington, sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen? Lawyers need to get outside and work—with all due respect to the bookworm C.C. Langdell, Harvard Law’s first dean.

Lastly, there really is no difference among law schools from 1 to 25—or perhaps among any, really, as far as conveying certain legal principles—this ranking is merely a convenience and accommodation for those who need to rank things cognitively. The human mind works this way semantically and symbolically.[10] But what it does convey, is the deeply varied, inherent nature of law, and why law schools and the law, must be seen and directly learned in the full social richness of its manifestations.

Most American law students will be biased against most of these schools, largely because of language and custom. But the first question they should ask themselves is why they can’t read, speak and write Russian, or Mandarin, German or Farsi, Japanese or Hebrew, Arabic, or even French—like they can all speak English—and whether the American common law school may be an antiquated, insufficiently comparative and economically inefficient legal training platform.

And yet, how well do American law students actually understand their own law—classical liberalism as American legal culture? And who will teach them?


[1] Rubin, Arthur L. H. (1938) Review of “How Lawyers Think,” University of Chicago Law Review: Vol. 5: Iss. 2, Article 21.

[2] Ehrlich, Eugen, and Nathan Isaacs. “The Sociology of Law.” Harvard Law Review 36, no. 2 (1922): 130–45.

[3] By ranking law schools as institutions, one is also employing an antiquated “theory of the firm,” from economics, where individual companies compete for customers, rather than forming a cooperative network that more effectively serves all consumers.  I effectively argue that all law schools form a global network, and the network cannot by definition be “ranked” unless the network is abandoned by separate “coalitions” which results in precisely the traditional ranking methods of individual and regional schools, falsely pitted against other individual and foreign ones.  See Burt, Ronald S. (1995). “Structural Holes: The Social Structure of Competition.” Cambridge: HUP, and Telser, Lester G. 1994. “The Usefulness of Core Theory in Economics.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 8 (2): 151-164. See also the brilliant argument by University of South Wales professor S.B. Chrimes, in his 1939 Introduction to “Kingship and Law in the Middle Ages,” by University of Bonn professor Fritz Kern, concerning the “seamless web” of history, culture and law, and the misleading nature of institutionalism in constitutional history.

[4] This is another way of describing what “legal sociology” of the Sociological School means, including doctrine and method. This is a fairly complicated subject, but I point to its general coherence even in how one may “rank” law schools: it is fascinating that, as popular as legal sociology is, in all its manifestations, it has little if any visibility in how legal pedagogy is generally organized as an institutional phenomenon; that is, if law is fundamentally sociological, and there is a sociological jurisprudence, then there must be a sociological legal pedagogy that is itself a product of various societies, as its law is. Therefore, the proper realization of legal sociology in the context of law school analysis, must directly locate law’s sociology by recognizing its manifestation across the entire law school set, on a global, “social” level. Put another way, if law is sociology, then all law schools together must transmit all legal sociology, and the entire global set of law schools is necessary to the entire set of law. Sociology is also economics, and together they explain social networks: In that regard, there can be no true ordinal rank of law schools because we would have to rank societies, while violating network theory. While I effectively rank some law school programs, I do not assert a social ranking per se, but rather a list consisting of a set within a network, and a set that flows both top-down and bottom-up itself, depending on student fit criteria. The ranking is therefore dynamic, not a static resolution based on a “methodology” that traditionally consists merely of opinion and viewpoint samples. Traditional law school rankings are a psychological manifestation of classic bias escalation, and ideological group ordering. They have nothing to do with actual law, or with law as sociology. See Ehrlich, “The Sociology of Law” in 36 H.L.R. 130, and “Montesquieu and Sociological Jurisprudence,” 29 H.L.R. 583 (1926). See also, Eugen Ehrlich, Grundlegung der Soziologie des Rechts, translated by W.L. Moll, by HUP, 1936, and review by Gerhart Husserl in U Chi L Rev Vol. 5 (1937) Iss. 2

[5] Other countries also offer an undergraduate law qualification, and in civil law, rather than common law, while Canada combines them both, as does South Africa, and other countries in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and North Africa. Students are also held to dual-language requirements, and to comparative, international law and business content, that is difficult or impossible to duplicate in the U.S. Interestingly, Israel offers an undergraduate law degree, and it qualifies its graduates to take the New York bar exam in the U.S. This should be a flashing “red light” that something is fundamentally amiss in the extended 7-year American law degree track (BA+JD).

[6] The primacy of this list is the “silent curriculum” that comes from location, business custom, culture, and language. Some of the law schools are simply listed in couplets (with the exception of 1, 19, 24, and 25 as a triplet), but that doesn’t mean a “tie” with an implied ordinal skip; I simply treat them as a set, and rank the set (USN&WR and THE can’t make that cognitive leap, and are commercially motivated to rank each individual school as a “contest” for its simplistic marketing that appeals to advertisers). You could invert their list and it wouldn’t make much difference; indeed it may improve, depending on you.

[7] Another key selection factor is quality of and access to non-law subjects, and exposure to a robust business culture, regardless of how “business” is defined or applied (everything is business in any economy). It is also important to appreciate that this list is mostly addressing first law degrees. Most also host true graduate degrees as well, including the Ph.D, D.Phil, JSD or DCL. In those cases, other universities may be appropriate, if a student is sufficiently experienced and independent, to undertake studies without a vulnerability to ideology. Schools including UChicago, Harvard or Yale may be attractive, maybe not. Your call: They are fascinatingly corrupted, but so is nearly all social organization, and all university institutions; perhaps you can be a corrective factor.  As former University of Chicago Booth School of Business dean and Yale professor Edward A. Snyder recently stated, “Yale is nearly fully disconnected from much of US society.”

[8] Some may be surprised to see Russia included in the list, but Russia is actually a fascinating source of classical liberalism and law (Russia that is, not the former Soviet Union per se). Russia is among the “great power triad” including China and the United States. It is also a country with complex business arrangements, advanced science and technology, and a future, poised on a land mass with India and China, that is a formidable economic and geopolitical center of gravity. Ignore its law and economics at your peril, as they say.

[9] The University of Texas Law also has very good links to its Government department which appears to have an intellectual stability and maturity not usually seen among its peers (the fact that it’s also the richest university in America from its “PUF” or permanent university fund from oil and gas revenue, doesn’t hurt either).

[10] Rank order is also hierarchical, which is the academy’s mode of technical “enframing” or Gestell. Its institutional sociology is vertically organized. In the end, however, you must tailor your ambitions to the non-institutional, vital extra-legal applications (or as Karl Popper said of philosophy, to the “vital substrate” without which there is no philosophy, or law). Law is not made by law schools, or by institutions. Ideology may be reinforced there, and this may distort law, but law itself is a bottom-up social phenomenon, or Volksgeist, See Andreas Rahmatian (2007) Friedrich Carl von Savigny’s Beruf and Volksgeistlehre, The Journal of Legal History, 28:1, 1-29, DOI: 10.1080/01440360701237327, and “Law, Resistance and the State: The Opposition to Roman Law in Reformation Germany,” Gerald Strauss, PUP, 1986

Photo by William W. Potter — Adobe Stock — Asset ID#: 471815306

Author

  • Matthew G. Andersson

    Matthew G. Andersson is a corporation founder and former CEO, management consultant and author of the upcoming book “Legally Blind,” concerning law education. He has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, The Guardian, Time Magazine, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Journal of Private Equity, the National Academy of Sciences, and the 2001 Pulitzer Prize report by the Chicago Tribune. He has been a guest on CBS, ABC, CNN, Bloomberg, Public Television, and the BBC, and received the Silver Anvil award from the Public Relations Society of America. He has testified before the U.S. Senate, and Connecticut General Assembly concerning higher education. He attended Yale College where he studied Russian language under department chairman Alexander Schenker; the University of Texas at Austin, Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, and the LBJ School of Public Affairs where he worked with economist and White House national security advisor W.W. Rostow. He received an MBA from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business in Barcelona, Spain and the U.S. He is the author of a text on law and economics used at Northwestern University, DePaul University College of Law, and McGill University Faculty of Law. He has lived and worked in Russia and Eastern Europe for a Fortune 100 technology company in strategic joint ventures.

2 thoughts on “The New 2024 Law School Rankings: The Sociology of Law

  1. Of our current Supreme Court, three went to Harvard, three went to Yale, and one went to Notre Dame — none of which made this list. By contrast a few American ones I’ve never heard of did — It’d be interesting to profile the American schools which made your list, why they did, and how they are different from the over 200 other law schools in the US (196 ABA approved, along with others that are not).

    I also noticed that no American school made the top 23, although I’d question the University of Tehran on grounds of religious tolerance (could any member of any of the world’s 5 major religions — Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism — safely go there?!?).

    I’m not so sure about Istanbul (Turkey) these days, I share your concerns about Russia (and would include China) — but Iran (and North Korea) are places where no sane person would ever go… See: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/iran-travel-advisory.html

    I also question the relevance of international law (and foreign languages) when you realize that only 42% of Americans have a passport — up from 27% in 2007 when you didn’t need one to go into Canada, and a lot of young people are getting them for liquor IDs as states are increasingly refusing to accept out of state driver’s licenses for that purpose, the “full faith & credit” clause notwithstanding.

    With esoteric exceptions such as admiralty and international trade, the overwhelming majority of the legal needs of Americans involves American law, the majority of which is practiced in state courts. Get divorced, kill your neighbor, steal from your employer or the local store — that’s all state law and state courts, only getting into Federal court when Constitutional issues arise under the auspices of the 14th Amendment (or where Congress has meddled under the auspices of the Commerce Clause). Israeli law, Icelandic law, or even Iranian law really aren’t relevant in cases decided by American judges under American law….

    And as to US courts recognizing Sharia law — that reminds me of the dark days when Massachusetts was a theocracy, hanging Quakers (for being Quakers) in the 1660s and hanging purported witches in the 1690s. If separation of church & state means anything it is that the civil law is separate from religious law…

    Notwithstanding that, I fully agree with you on the ABA-imposed 4+3 waste and will go further — the JD itself is a fraud, it is not a doctorate and should not be considered the academic equivalent of a PhD! It’s a second bachelor’s degree, and was called a LL.B. (Legum Baccalaureus or Bachelor of Laws) until the 1960s. It’s at most a master’s degree — not a 5-7 year doctorate which involves both writing and defending a dissertation about a unique topic that contributes to the field.

    Nor is the JD a terminal degree, with both the LL.M (masters) and S.J.D./D.J.D (doctorate) beyond it. The Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School is a legitimate master’s degree (and it only awards the LL.M.) because one has to already have a civilian law license to be admitted, but otherwise everyone ought to be awarding LL.B.s….

    The other thing to remember about the ABA is that it was founded in the late 19th Century in an attempt to reduce the number of lawyers (so as to increase lawyer pay) and that it has both been found in violation of the Sherman Anti Trust Act in 1995 and then violating the consent decree in 2006, where it then paid a $185,000 fine to the DOJ.
    https://www.justice.gov/atr/case-document/competitive-impact-statement-23
    https://www.justice.gov/atr/case/us-v-american-bar-association

    And hence I come back to where I started — what does it mean when America’s “best” law schools do not make your list? Judge James Ho was quite clear why he didn’t think that Yale should — and I agree. That cancer is far deeper and far more extensive than a lot of people realize, and it’s starting to affect the legitimacy of the judicial system as a whole as certain people and causes increasingly can’t obtain legal representation.

    But is there more? In no particular order, what are your top 50 (and only 50) law schools?

    With the exception of Canadian schools (which are also considerably cheaper), most Americans aren’t going to attend a foreign law school. Before Covid shut everything down, Betsy Devos (Secretary of Education) was pursuing alternative accreditors, which would eventually include breaking the ABA’s monopoly over law schools. Another accreditor could conceivably accredit a combined 4-year BA/LL.B. program — I’d argue that it should be a 5 year program which nursing once was, and which engineering really should be, particularly as we have shortened what was once a 17-week semester (exclusive of finals) to a 13/14-week semester. (We are creating issues of student mental health in our unreasonable expectations of what we now expect them to learn in the time we now allot, and I say this as someone who has seen this happen…)

    A state can let whomever it wishes take its bar exam, and the state in which such a BA/LL.B. program was located likely would permit its graduates to take its bar exam — the question involves other state’s and their bar exams. (As states approve academic programs, maybe it’s time for a “full faith and credit” suit…)

    The other question one always has when discussing law schools involves the alternative route of apprenticeships which California still allows and is how lawyers traditionally became members of the bar. Is that the solution here?

    Or is a larger antitrust suit against the ABA?

    1. These are astute observations you make, and obviously from critical reflection. To answer some of your questions, I would respectfully refer you to the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal article (s), linked in this essay, which generally addresses the “T14,” as well as other MTC essays also linked. Your point concerning local, regional law is well taken, and may be appropriate for many students. This set here is an example of an international network that reflects most legal regimes, while especially underscoring, as you note as well, the inefficiency of US schools, and a deficiency in comparative law and language. US law schools may otherwise eventually be absorbed or organized (as they are in certain UK and UK-EU influenced regions such as South Africa for example), under schools of commerce (or business) and reestablished in undergraduate colleges, as US higher education responds to macroeconomics; consumer demand and tuition constraints; excessive institutional fixed costs; low or duplicative faculty labor utilization, and operational throughput opportunities (time to degree). The hybrid schools of public policy will eventually be dismantled or effectively absorbed as well. The rankings of 26-50 include many fine regional US schools (some in the previous JGMC essay) and other international ones in France, India, Denmark, the Baltics, Oceania, and other areas. Thank you for your careful reading and thoughtful, provocative comments.

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