People often discuss top law schools in regards to their ranking. This ranking, almost always, references the “Best Law Schools” list that the U.S. News and World Report publish annually. To help you decide if one of these top laws schools is right for you, I’ll discuss and list them here.
Discussing why the legal world is enshrouded by this custom is a conversation for another day. So, for now, you just need to know this: these rankings carry significance in the legal world.
For the most part, the schools at the top of this list remain there from year to year; they just change order sometimes. People usually refer to these schools as Top 14 law schools or T-14. Therefore, this is the main benchmark for defining “top law schools” from a national perspective.
Furthermore, these schools provide top-notch legal educations, have a cutthroat admissions competition, and consistently have high bar passage rates.
Schools in the Top-14 tend to place students into highly sought-after legal careers after graduation. Of course, many students land good positions in locations around their schools. But since these top schools have such notoriety and credibility, their graduates also tend to get great jobs all over the country and even the world. Consequently, this trend is notably different from that of lower-ranked schools whose graduates usually just practice in areas near their law school.
Yet, getting a great job and becoming a successful attorney does not require going to one of these schools. And, going to one of these schools will not ensure either of those things. However, students who graduate from these schools are usually quite successful.
Below, you will find the schools ranked in the Top-14 in 2018. I’ve actually listed 17 schools because the schools ranked around 14 change from year to year. So, even the 15th, 16th, and 17th ranked schools are referred to as the “T-14.” It’s silly, I know.
Finally, the numbers associated with each school either reflect the graduating class of 2017 or the entering class of 2020 or 2021.
In the past several years, Yale University Law School has been consistently ranked as the top law school in the country. Located in New Haven, Connecticut, the elite Ivy League school is known for its rigorous admissions process, outstanding student-to-faculty ratio, and its unique grading system.
Or lack thereof, because students enrolled in Yale Law School don’t receive traditional grades and don’t receive grades at all during their 1L year. Then, during their second and third years, students receive honors, pass, low pass, credit, or failure for their classwork.
Yale enrolls elite students every year, though, so students seldom to never fail classes.
While the average salary of Yale graduates may seem low, it is important to realize that this is by choice. Yale graduates tend to enter positions in public interest or become clerks for federal judges. And while these positions are highly competitive, they tend to pay much less than jobs at top firms.
Still, if you graduate from Yale Law School, you will be a competitive candidate for the most prestigious and highest paying positions in the legal field.
In fact, recent trends also show that Yale is the most common school for law professors to have attended, as well as Supreme Court Justices.
Stanford Law School has been one of the top law schools in the country for decades. The Palo Alto-located school has a good reputation for its favorable student-faculty-ratio, rigor of curriculum, and focus on laws that affect technology.
Also, people regard Stanford’s campus as one of the most beautiful in the country, and the weather in Palo Alto is much nicer than that of the Ivy-League schools. However, these luxuries come at a price, as the cost of living at this school is over $30,000 per year.
And like Yale graduates, students who successfully graduate from Stanford Law School are candidates for the most competitive legal careers in the country and around the world.
Harvard Law School (HLS) rounds out the top 3 law schools, which are typically referred to as “HYS” (Harvard, Yale, Stanford). Besides being known for prestige and its intense and selective admissions process, HLS is also notable for its size. It is the second largest law school in the country by enrollment.
The school is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near Boston. And, it’s the oldest law school in the country.
Graduates from Harvard Law typically accept positions at high paying and top-ranked firms, such as clerks for Federal or Supreme Court judges, or positions in competitive Public Interest firms.
The school is also known for its unorthodox grading system. Like Yale, Harvard does not give out traditional letter grades and instead uses the distinctions honors, pass, low pass, or fail.
Harvard Law School students who successfully graduate are competitive candidates for the most competitive legal positions across the country and even around the world.
The fourth-ranked law school in the country is the University of Chicago. Located in its namesake city, this school’s fourth-place ranking begins the second-tier of top-ranked schools commonly referred to as CCN.
Generally, Harvard, Yale, and Stanford students are holistically elite candidates. On the other hand, CNN students, though still elite, are generally more focused. For the University of Chicago, the focus is on student GPAs.
Chicago’s LSAT median is high (170), but it is not as high as that of some similarly ranked schools. This school instead tends to place more weight on student’s GPAs, and it has one of the highest GPA medians in the country (3.9).
Graduates from Chicago mostly practice law in Illinois, New York, or California, but the respect of a degree from this school allows placement throughout the country.
Columbia University is one of the two top law schools located in New York City, and the vast majority of graduates from this school stay in New York after graduation. The two other most popular destinations for Columbia graduates are California and Washington, D.C.
Compared to the University of Chicago, Columbia has a relatively low median GPA. However, their median LSAT score is significantly higher. As mentioned earlier, law schools at this level specialize like this to attract high-level applicants.
While graduates from Columbia Law School would be competitive candidates at government and public interest positions, they mostly gravitate towards the private sector. For example, nearly 75% of 2017 graduates accepted jobs at law firms with over 500 employees. That fact, combined with Columbia’s prestige and elite level curriculum, results in Columbia graduates having the highest starting salary in the country.
Rounding out the second-tier of the top law schools, and joining Columbia as the other top law school in New York City, is NYU.
Similar to Columbia, graduates from NYU often enter the private sector. Law firms employed nearly 74% of 2017 graduates right out of college, and 79% of those people got jobs at firms with over 500 attorneys.
The result is that NYU graduates tend to have high starting salaries (median of $160,000). All that money goes to good use, though, as NYU requires a high cost of living, and the tuition is one of the highest in the country.
In 2017, 74% of graduates in New York state secured employment after graduation, with just 6% in California and D.C. each. That does not indicate that students are unable to find jobs elsewhere, it just shows a trend of the type of student NYU attracts.
The University of Pennsylvania Law School is an elite Ivy-League school located in Philadelphia.
Like other similarly ranked law schools, Penn has its low student-to-faculty ratio (5:1), rigorous curriculum, and successful alumni going for it.
About 60% of Penn graduates enter the private sector, and the overwhelming majority work in law firms with over 500 attorneys. The remaining students are spread throughout clerkships, government, industry, and public interest.
Penn is a unique law school, as professional students can be enrolled in cross-disciplinary courses without being in joint degree programs. That means that M.B.A. students at The Wharton School may be in some law classes, and law students may enroll in classes in the School of Medicine.
Another notable feature of Penn’s law school is that students must complete a minimum of 70 hours of pro bono work in order to graduate.
The University of Michigan Law School is the highest ranked public law school in the country.
Besides having the typical elite law school characteristics like the low student-to-faculty ratios, intense curriculums, and outstanding job opportunities, Michigan has several unique characteristics.
Students a Michigan Law can start their schooling the summer before the year begins, and about a quarter of all students choose to do this. Doing so gives students a transition period and also allows them flexibility in determining their future course schedules.
Also, Michigan has a large collection of law school student organizations including a hockey team and a rock-climbing club known as MLaw Rocks.
Michigan Law School graduates take jobs across the country, but the most common destination is New York, with about 27% of students accepting jobs there. About 14% go to California, Michigan, and Illinois, as well.
The University of California in Berkley Law School is the second highest ranked law school in California, and the second highest ranked public school in the country.
Similar to a few other top schools, Cal Berkley does not use letter grades, and therefore, students don’t graduate with a GPA. Furthermore, students aren’t even ranked among their peers.
Cal Berkley is quite distinct as a law school. The school pioneered the study of intellectual property law and other technology-related fields. Furthermore, students can enter into uncommon courses such as Wine Law, Energy and Clean Technology Law, and Environmental Law.
About 70% of Cal-Berkley Law graduates go on to practice law in California, with the next most common destination being New York.
The University of Virginia Law School is located in Charlottesville, Virginia, and is the highest ranked law school in the state.
The University of Virginia has a strict, student-run honor code that applies to all departments, including the law school. This code requires students to pledge to avoid academic misconduct, lying, and stealing under penalty of expulsion.
Another interesting fact about Virginia Law is its animal law program that was started after a $1 million donation from Bob Barker, the previous host of The Price is Right.
Graduates from Virginia Law typically accept jobs across the country, with about a quarter each going to New York and D.C. The other half of students gravitates towards nearly every state in the country, with slightly larger concentrations in California, Virginia, and Texas.
One especially notable characteristic of Virginia Law grads is the large number of federal clerkships (28 in 2018), which is one of the highest numbers in the country. The majority of graduates do go on to practice at law firms, though, and over 80% of those jobs are at firms with more than 500 attorneys.
Duke University is the 11th ranked law school in the country, and the highest ranked law school in the state of North Carolina.
Duke is located in Durham, North Carolina, and its graduates gravitate towards jobs in New York, D.C., North Carolina, and California. However, students do take jobs elsewhere.
Duke, like Virginia, has a large number of graduates who accept clerkships with federal judges after graduation. This situation drives down their average salary, but the mean salary in the private sector is still $180,000.
Northwestern University, located in Evanston outside of Chicago, is the second highest ranked law school in the state of Illinois.
Over half of Northwestern Law graduates take jobs at law firms with over 500 attorneys, with federal clerkships and industry as the second and third most common destinations.
In 2017, 23% of Northwestern graduates accepted jobs in New York, and 40% stayed in Illinois. The remainder were dispersed throughout the rest of the country.
One notable aspect of Northwestern’s application process is that they “strongly encourage” applicants to interview with the admissions committee on campus.
The school also offers an accelerated J.D. program that allows students to get their degree in just 2 years.
Cornell University Law School is located in Ithaca, New York, and is the third highest ranked law school in the state.
Like similar schools, students from Cornell tend to gravitate towards jobs in law firms after graduation, and those law firms tend to have over 500 attorneys. Most of these jobs are in New York, with significant numbers in California and Massachusetts as well.
Georgetown University Law School is a large, private law school in Washington, D.C.
Georgetown produces many graduates who enter into clerkships at both the state and federal level as well as many graduates in public interest, government, and industry. This trend is due to a combination of the school’s prestige as well as its location near Capitol Hill.
Besides these jobs, about half of each class accepts positions at law firms after graduation. The vast majority of these firms have over 500 attorneys.
Most Georgetown Law graduates stay in D.C., but the other most common destinations for them are New York and California.
The University of Texas at Austin School of Law is the highest ranked law school in the state.
Recent UT Austin Law School graduates are spread throughout 35 states and 4 different countries, as each year more than 700 firms interview on this campus.
This school has a noticeably high number of federal clerkships awarded to students each year for an institution of its size.
If you happen to be from the state of California, UCLA School Law is the most affordable Top-14 law school for you.
Another thing that makes this school stand out for a top law school is that it is quite young — the law school was founded just 60 years ago.
That doesn’t seem to hurt graduates employment opportunities, though. UCLA Law graduates enter into competitive positions in large law firms, government, and public interest.
The vast majority of UCLA Law graduates stay in the state of California, with small percentages going to New York and D.C. as well.
Vanderbilt University Law School is the highest ranked law school in the state of Tennessee and the highest ranked law school in the Deep South.
Vanderbilt is known for its beautiful campus situated in the growing Music City of Nashville.
Graduates from Vanderbilt Law are spread throughout the country, but most end up in the South East. However, the most common destination for graduates is New York, followed by Tennessee and Texas.
Though the majority of Vandy grads go on to work at law firms with 500 or more attorneys, nearly 10% accept clerkships for federal judges, one of the highest rates in the country.
So, those are the Top-14 law schools in the country, even though there are actually 17.
If you want to attend one of these top law schools, you need to perform well on the LSAT. And to do that, you need the best LSAT prep course for you.
But, attending one of these schools doesn’t guarantee a successful law career, though it sure does give you a good start. So, if you can’t get into one of these schools, or if going to one isn’t the best decision for you, don’t let it crush your dreams.
There are plenty of successful attorneys who didn’t go to a T-14 school.
John Wilson Booth grew up in Alabama and attended the University of Alabama. He moved to Salt Lake City after graduation and began studying for the LSAT. His cold diagnostic score was a 154 and he self-studied to a 171. Now, he works as a writer as he decides which law school to attend.