Top Law Schools in the US

Top Law Schools

Top Law Schools

Choosing a law school is one of the most important decisions of your legal career. The school you attend will determine the kind of education you get, but more importantly, it will affect your job opportunities and career options after you pass the Bar exam. Although there are many excellent law schools in the United States, firms and companies love to hire graduates of from these top universities:

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1. Yale Law School

Consistently ranked the #1 law school in the country, Yale Law School is small, exclusive, and extremely competitive. Home to one of the largest law libraries in the world, it has an enrollment of approximately  600 students. Located in New Haven, CT, it has the lowest student-faculty ratio in the country. Prominent graduates include two U.S. presidents (Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton), ten Supreme Court Justices, nine U.S. attorneys general, and a large number of U.S. senators and state governors.

Yale Law School famously abolished grades in the 1960s, which cuts down on in-class competition and makes it difficult (if not impossible) to determine who is at the top or bottom of each class. The school ranks students on a simple credit/no credit system for the first year, with a traditional honors system in place for the second and third years. Students are guaranteed to get to know their law school professors and classmates very well because of the small classes. Students are encouraged to design their own law school experience rather than being bound to an inflexible curriculum.

Brief History

Originally known as the New Haven Law School, this institution gradually became affiliated with Yale College in the mid-nineteenth century. Law students began receiving degrees from Yale in 1843, but the school almost had to close its doors in 1845 and 1869. In the 1870s, the modern law library was created and the Yale Law Journal was begun. The degree of Master of Laws was offered for the first time in 1876. Yale become prominent in the 1930s when it helped promote legal realism, a doctrine that changed the way American lawyers understood the function of legal rules, courts and judges. Prominent deans, such as Charles Clark, began to hire outstanding faculty to train the nation’s best young legal minds.

Yale prides itself on its reputation of emphasizing public law in addition to private law, and positioned itself to play an important part in the rise of the administrative state, the globalization and internationalization that followed the Second World War, and the domestic civil rights movement. Today, it is internationally recognized as one of the preeminent centers of legal expertise in the world.

Admissions – 8.8% acceptance rate
LSAT 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 170/173 /176
GPA 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 3.82/3.90/3.97
Tuition – $56,200 per year
Degree Options – J.D., LL.M., J.S.D. (Doctor of Juridical Science, a more advanced degree for those pursuing a career in legal education), M.S.L., Ph.D.
Bar Pass Rate – 96.3%
Job Placement – 92%
Quality of Campus and Facilities – 10/10

2. Harvard Law School

Harvard is one of the most well-known law schools in the United States, and for good reason. This private Ivy League school has a history that spans nearly 400 years, and its graduates are frequently hired by big law firms looking for new talent.

Brief History

Originally founded in 1636 as the “New College” in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, this prestigious university became Harvard College in 1639, when clergyman John Harvard died and bequeathed his money and books to the college. Harvard Law School was founded in 1817 by Isaac Royall, a wealthy slaveholder from Antigua who immigrated to Boston. It is the oldest continually operating law school in the United States and has the largest academic law library in the world. The student-edited Harvard Law Review, one of the most cited university law reviews, was first published in 1887. Women were first admitted to Harvard Law in 1953. Famous graduates include two U.S. presidents (Rutherford B. Hayes and Barack Obama), 11 U.S. attorneys general, 15 Supreme Court justices, and a large number of U.S. senators and state governors. Harvard consistently appears in the top three of U.S. News & World Report‘s annual rankings of the top law schools.

Admissions – 15.4% acceptance rate
LSAT 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 170/173/175
GPA 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 3.75/3.87/3.95
Tuition – $55,842 per year
Job Placement: 96.9%
Bar Pass Rate – 97.1%
Graduation Rate – 98%
Degree Options – J.D., LL.M, S.J.D
Quality of Campus and Facilities – 10/10

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3. Georgetown Law School

Georgetown University was founded in 1789 and is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in the United States. Located in Washington D.C., the Georgetown University Law Center, also known as Georgetown Law School, is the second largest law school in the United States after Harvard. This school is extremely exclusive and difficult to get into, not least because it receives more applications than any other law school and only admits approximately 540 students a year. It boasts 12 law journals and has been ranked in the top 14 law schools every year since U.S. News & World Report began ranking them. 15 clinics allow students to get hands-on practice in the field before they graduate, and joint degree programs (such as J.D./Ph.D, J.D./MPH, and J.D./MBA) are popular.

Brief History

In 1870, Georgetown Law became the first law school to be founded by a Jesuit institution in the United States. In 1890, the law school moved into a new building separate from the undergraduate university in a different part of the city. Since then, the school has grown dramatically and is known for its specialized degrees in international and trade law, tax law, environmental law, health law, and national security law. Connections to the federal government, internships and clerkships at the Supreme Court and big law firms in the nation’s capital make this an excellent choice for students interested in public service or corporate law, although graduates often leave for jobs in New York and other cities as well.

Admissions – 29% acceptance rate
LSAT 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 165/169/170
GPA 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 3.43/3.72/3.82
Tuition – $53,130 per year
Degree Options – J.D., LL.M., S.J.D.
Bar Pass Rate – 90.96%
Job Placement – 91%
Quality of Campus and Facilities: 10/10

4. Columbia Law School

The Columbia School of Law is a well-known Ivy League school in New York City. Regarded as one of the most prestigious law schools in the U.S., it has a small student body, low student-faculty ratio and one of the highest employment rates after graduation. It also has a high price tag at just over $60,000 a year in tuition alone. Students who plan to practice law in New York will have their pick of firms and legal positions if they do well in their classes and internships.

Brief History

Columbia Law School was founded in 1858 in Manhattan. The law school’s first dean, Theodore W. Dwight, promoted academic training via office instruction, which was relatively common at the time. The Dwight Method of law was taught at Columbia until 1891, when the school adopted the more popular case method. In the 1920s and 30s, the school became affiliated with the legal realism movement espoused by Yale and other Ivy League schools. Today, the school is consistently ranked in the top five in the country by U.S. News & World Report.

Admissions – 21.3% accepted
LSAT 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 169/171/173
GPA 25th/50th/75th percentiles –  3.54/3.70/3.8
Tuition – $60,274 per year
Degree Options- J.D., LL.M, S.J.D.
Bar Pass Rate – 95.6%
Job Placement – 97%
Quality of Campus and Facilities – 10/10

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5. Stanford Law School

The Law School at Stanford University is another top-ranked law school. Currently tied with Harvard for the number 2 spot on U.S. News & World Report’s list of best law schools, this school is located in beautiful Palo Alto, California. Stanford Law was an early adopter of law school clinics, in which students get hands-on practice by helping actual clients with their legal issues. Its small class size, accessible professors, idyllic location and excellent job prospects make this a first-rate option. A new academic building and graduate residence where students can live among their classmates is very popular, and an honors, pass, restricted credit/no credit system has replaced traditional grades to reduce pressure on students. The new state-of-the-art Robert Crown Library is a favorite with students for studying. Unlike many dark and musty libraries at other eminent schools, this library has airy and well-lit spaces with plenty of access to seating and power outlets.

Brief History

Stanford University was founded in 1891 by former California Governor Leland Stanford, who had studied law in New York before he moved to California after the gold rush. Stanford University and a museum were established by the Governor and his wife to memorialize their son, who died of typhoid fever in 1884. The forward-thinking couple decided from the beginning that the university would be coeducational, non-denominational, and practical, in an effort to produce “cultured and useful citizens.” Stanford University began to offer courses in legal studies in 1893. Although the department began to refer to its program as a “law school” as early as 1908, Stanford’s law program did not become a modern professional school until 1924, when a bachelor’s degree became a prerequisite for admission and the law school became a graduate school. In 1932, the school added the LL.M. and S.J.D. degree options to the J.D. Stanford Law School has admitted a diverse body of students, including women and minorities, from the very beginning. Throughout its history, the school has honored this progressive tradition. It was also one of the first schools to introduce diversity law and courses on technology law.

Admissions – 10.3%
LSAT 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 169/171/173
GPA 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 3.76/3.87/3.95
Tuition – $54,366 per year
Degree Options – J.D., LLM., S.J.D., MLS (Master of Legal Studies)
Bar Pass Rate – 88%
Job Placement – 96.2%
Quality of Campus and Facilities – 10/10

6. UCLA Law School

A relative newcomer to the group of prestigious law schools, the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law was established in 1949. Consistently ranked in the top 20, UCLA is known for its tradition of innovation, excellent faculty, and bright students. Its location in sunny Los Angeles and comparably reasonable tuition and generous financial aid packages make this school even more attractive to prospective applicants. Students can choose from the following six areas of specialization: Business Law & Policy; Critical Race Studies; the David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law & Policy; Entertainment, Media and Intellectual Property Law; International and Comparative Law; and Law & Philosophy.

Brief History

In 1919, the Los Angeles Normal School (primarily established to educate teachers) was merged with the University of California to become the Southern Branch of the University of California. Eventually, this university became known as UCLA. Established in 1949, UCLA Law School was the first public law school in Southern California and is the youngest of the top 20 law schools in the United States. The UCLA Law Review was first published in 1953. Additional law review journals, such as the UCLA Asian/Pacific American Law Journal, the UCLA Chicano/a – Latino/a Law Review, the UCLA Women’s Law Journal, and the National Black Law Journal, underscore the school’s commitment to minorities and legal issues that affect minorities. In the 1970s, the school embraced the clinic system, which allowed students to gain practical skills in live legal clinics while still in law school. In the 1990s, the school created an Empirical Research Group and think tanks to foster unbiased academic discussions on policy and legal issues.

Admissions – 27.9% accepted
LSAT 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 164/168/169
GPA 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 3.57/3.75/3.88
Tuition – $45,226 per year for in-state residents, $51,720 for non-residents
Degree Options – J.D., LL.M., S.J.D.
Bar Pass Rate – 82%
Job Placement – 92%
Quality of Campus and Facilities – 8/10

7. Cornell Law

Cornell Law School is a private Ivy League institution in upstate New York. With a student body of just under 200 in each class, it maintains one of the lowest student-faculty ratios in the country (9.9 to 1), and boasts a high bar exam pass rate. It is also extremely expensive, with tuition alone costing almost $60,000 a year. The school is a favorite with big law firms in New York City, however, those who hope to land a federal judicial clerkship will have less luck, as Cornell Law is near the bottom of the list of universities that place their students in those positions.

Brief History

The Law Department at Cornell University opened in 1887, but did not officially become a law school until 1925. Over time, the school developed a prestigious law library. Students can specialize in international law, and multiple international programs and study opportunities are available. The school publishes a number of leading law journals, including the Cornell Law Review, Cornell International Law Journal, and the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy.

Admissions – 29% accepted
LSAT 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 166/167/169
GPA 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 3.54/3.68/3.77
Tuition – $59,360 per year
Degree Options – J.D., LL.M., J.S.D.
Bar Pass Rate – 94%
Job Placement – 96%
Quality of Campus and Facilities – 7/10

8. Duke Law

Duke University (originally called Trinity College) is located in Durham, North Carolina. The Law School was founded in 1930 and has been included among the top 14 law schools (typically in the top 10) since U.S. News & World Report began ranking them in 1987. Duke Law is known for its small class sizes and high bar exam pass rates. The beautiful and extensive campus covers more than 8,600 acres and includes the lovely Sarah P. Duke Gardens, striking Gothic architecture, and an impressive Chapel on its West Campus. The East Campus was formerly the home of the women’s college, and is characterized by Georgian-style buildings. Law journals include The Duke Law Journal, The Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy, and the student-edited online publications Duke Law & Technology Review and the Duke Journal of Constitutional Law & Public Policy among others.

Brief History

In 1865, Trinity College established a Law Department as one of its eleven academic departments in the city of Trinity, North Carolina. The Trinity College School of Law opened in 1868 to train lawyers, but was closed and reopened several times before and after the university moved to its present-day location in Durham. In 1902, tobacco and electric power magnate James Buchanan Duke and his brother, Benjamin Newton Duke, provided an endowment that allowed the Law School to reopen. In 1924, Trinity College was renamed Duke University in honor of their father, Washington Duke. The first woman was admitted to the law school in 1927 and the first African-American students were admitted in 1961. In 1932, the Duke Legal Aid Clinic, one of the first programs of its kind in the country, was created to give students practical experience. A full-text electronic archive and repository of faculty scholarship was created in 2003. Today, the school publishes nine academic journals and has many notable alumni, including former President Richard Nixon.

Admissions – 20.9% accepted
LSAT 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 166/169/170
GPA 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 3.58/3.76/3.85
Tuition – $55,588
Degree Options – J.D., LL.M., S.J.D.
Bar Pass Rate – 95.4%
Job Placement – 96%
Quality of Campus and Facilities – 10/10

9. University of California-Berkeley

The University of California at Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law is located in the San Francisco Bay area and has always been ranked among the top 14 law schools in the United States. It is tied with the University of Michigan as the top public law school in the U.S. Also known as Berkeley Law, this institution’s specialties include intellectual property, environmental, and international law and is home to 13 law journals. Its beautiful location and relatively small class size make it an attractive option for those who want to attend a first-rate law school on the West Coast.

Brief History

The first law classes were taught at the Berkeley campus in 1882, followed by the creation of the Department of Jurisprudence in 1894. In 1912, the department was named the School of Jurisprudence, and finally became the School of Law in 1950. From its beginnings, Berkeley Law admitted all qualified applicants, irrespective of gender, religion, or ethnicity. The first Bachelor of Law degrees were awarded in 1903, followed by the first J.D. degrees in 1906. The first African-American earned a law degree in 1922, and by 1940 more than 100 women had graduated from the law school. The law school was originally named after its location in Boalt Memorial Hall, however, the law school recently changed its name from “Boalt Hall” to “Berkeley Law” to more closely associate itself with the UC Berkeley campus on which it is located.

Admissions – 20% accepted
LSAT 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 164/167/169
GPA 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 3.67/3.79/3.88
Tuition – $48,166 per year for in-state residents, $52,117 for non-residents
Degree Options – J.D., LL.M., J.S.D., Ph.D.
Bar Pass Rate – 88%
Job Placement – 96.52%
Quality of Campus and Facilities – 10/10

10. Vanderbilt Law

Vanderbilt University Law School, also referred to as “Vandy” or VLS, is located in the country music capital of Nashville, Tennessee. Tennessee’s low cost of living and the law school’s scholarships, which often cover up to 1/3 of the cost of tuition, helps keep expenses down. The attractive 330-acre campus is notable for 18th century buildings, a national arboretum, a safe urban environment, and southern hospitality. The school emphasizes opportunities and experience in public interest, social justice, and clinical legal education. Class sizes are small, with only 175 students enrolling each year. Publications include the Vanderbilt Law Review, Journal of Transnational Law, Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law, and Environmental Law & Policy Annual Review.

Brief History

Established in 1874 with 7 students and 8 professors, Vanderbilt Law is one of the oldest law schools in the South. Classes remained small throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries and had to be suspended during World War II. A $1 million gift in 1947 allowed the program to grow in the next few decades, until it eventually had to move into its own building due to overcrowding in the early 1960s. By the early 21st century, its reputation expanded beyond the region to become a nationally acclaimed law school that is consistently ranked in the top 20 by U.S. News & World Report. Today, the school is known for its programs in Intellectual Property Law, International Legal Studies, Energy, Environment and Land Use Law, Criminal Justice, Social Justice, and Law and Government. A recent joint-degree law and neuroscience program that leads to a J.D. and Ph.D. is supported by a $4.8 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

Admissions – 34.6% accepted
LSAT 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 163/167/169
GPA 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 3.45/3.74/3.85
Tuition – $49,722 per year
Degree Options – J.D., LL.M., Ph.D.
Bar Pass Rate – 95.5%
Job Placement – 91.2%
Quality of Campus and Facilities – 10/10

11. University of Chicago Law School

The University of Chicago Law School is a prestigious school with a reputation for intellectual excellence and academic rigor. Located just south of Chicago, its urban location gives students full access to all the city has to offer. Students have a reputation for being serious and studying hard. In 2014, an impressive 98% of graduates found employment within a few months of graduation, continuing the high-employment trend of this top 5 law school. With a student enrollment between 500 and 600, the law school experience is intimate and students really get to know their professors. Students are graded on a quarter system, allowing for three different sets of classes a year, as opposed to two for those schools on a semester system. The school’s excellent clinics often draw students from around the country and balance its focus on intellectual interpretations of the law.

Brief History

The University of Chicago Law School is among the youngest of the top ranking schools, opening its doors in 1902, ten years after the University of Chicago was founded. Initial donors to the school included John D. Rockefeller. Chicago Law’s first president, William Rainey Harper, turned to Harvard Law School for help in establishing the school and hired a Harvard professor as the school’s first dean in 1902. The school grew dramatically in the two decades following World War II and is known today for its application of social science to the law and for its economic analysis of the law.

Admissions – 18.4% accepted
LSAT 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 166/170/172
GPA 25th/50th/75th percentiles – 3.67/3.90?3.95
Tuition – $55,503
Degree Options – J.D., LL.M., J.S.D.
Bar Pass Rate – 94.6%
Job Placement – 98%
Quality of Campus and Facilities – 10/10

The United States is home to some of the most prestigious law schools in the world. Our criteria considers quality of life, job prospects, quality of education, and passing rates on the bar exam. Attending any of these top law schools will give students an excellent start to their legal career.

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