Is Stanford Law Making a Move on Yale?

For years, Yale Law School has been untouchable at the top of law school rankings. Armed with a prized faculty, an esoteric grading system, and lofty GPA/LSAT percentiles, acceptance rates, and yield numbers, Yale has been squashing all contenders with relative ease.

However, signs are starting to emerge that a true challenger is on the horizon.

Stanford Law School recently announced that its proposed new grading system (introduced in March of this year) will take effect both immediately and retroactively, turning a more standard evaluation model into an “honors/pass/low-pass/fail” hierarchy. The school offers plenty of rationalization for the change in a memo to students posted here, but it doesn’t take a legal scholar to recognize where such a grading scheme comes from. (Here’s a hint: it’s from Yale.)

This development comes at the same time that The Yale Daily News wonders aloud about the possibility of Yale Law slipping due to a mass faculty exodus. The piece surmises that the New Haven location is finally catching up to Yale as spousal career options drive top professors to larger cities like Boston and New York. For a small law school that is built upon the world’s most elite legal faculty, this is a rather large blow.

Throw in the fact that Yale has added a controversial question to its application this year (which may drive away top applicants who want to use test prep and/or admissions consulting and worry about disclosing such assistance) and one could surmise that for the first time in ages, Yale is primed for a bit of a decline, however gradual.

All of which creates a perfect opportunity for Stanford to leverage its ongoing status as the “laid back” law school or the “trendy” law school (or whatever title is hot in the streets these days) and make the final push up the ladder. Whether switching to a grading system that alleniates current students in order to mirror Yale is the way to go remains to be seen, and it should be noted that there is still a wide gap between Yale and Stanford, at least as calculated by U.S. News, but it looks like that gap will start closing any minute.

(Note – Not to be outdone, Harvard has followed suit and announced its own Yale copycat, err, revamped grading model. A hat tip to Above the Law for posting the key student memos involved in both grading changes.)

[Update – Georgetown is not going to the pass/fail grading system. I guess it is now news when a law school doesn’t change the way it grades students. Strange times!]