Law School Specialty Program Ranking Credibility

4 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2022

See all articles by Robert R. Kuehn

Robert R. Kuehn

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Date Written: April 21, 2022


U.S. News ranks law school specialty programs solely on reputation. A faculty member teaching in a specialty area at each school is asked to assess their area at other ABA accredited schools. In 2021, U.S. News added four more specialty programs: business/corporate law; constitutional law; contracts/commercial law; and criminal law. Unlike the prior nine categories, these four new programs cover core, not special, areas of a school’s educational program.

An examination of the ranking of these core areas illustrates the continuing credibility problem with the specialty program ranking system. There are noticeable clusters of schools ranked highest by U.S. News at the top of the four new programs, and an overpopulation of lowest-ranked schools at the bottom. Analysis of the relationship between a school's reputation and its specialty program ranking show very strong correlation coefficients, ranging from .94 for criminal law to a near perfect .98 for constitutional law. Regression models for the new specialties yielded R-squared values of between 0.89 for criminal law to 0.96 for constitutional law, leaving only 4-11% of the variation in the specialty program rankings for these four areas explained by anything other than the peer score.

The very strong association between school and specialty program reputations could simply be because the highest ranked schools also happen to have the highest quality specialty programs and vice-versa for the lowest ranked schools, with schools ranked in the middle likewise having middling specialty programs. What is more likely with these extremely high correlations is that in many, if not most, instances, faculty members rating the specialty programs are using their overall opinion of the school as a proxy for the quality of the specialty area. With strong evidence that the rankings in the newer specialty areas are not independent of the rater’s general view of the school, reliance on those rankings as a valid indicator of the quality of the program at many schools is not warranted.

Keywords: legal education, law school, law faculty, law school, college rankings

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Kuehn, Robert R., Law School Specialty Program Ranking Credibility (April 21, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Robert R. Kuehn (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

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St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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