So you’ve completed your undergraduate degree, or are in the midst of it at a 3/3 program, and law school is on your horizon. A 3/3 program is one offered by some schools which allows students to overlap their first year of law school with their senior year of undergrad, finished undergrad and being awarded their degree at the same time as finishing their first year in law school. Whether you are entering as a 3/3 or a first-year applicant, the best law schools are good to keep your sights on. In this article, we’ll explore a list of 10 of the best law schools in the United States.
Law School FAQ
Following is a presentation of commonly asked questions pertaining to law school. We’ll explore what law school it, what opportunities it brings, and also the importance of keeping in mind the cost of law school and the prospect of making money upon finishing it. As we’ll see, the best law schools and the worst law schools alike can cost quite a bit of money–generally over $50,000 annually for three years–so choosing the right institution for you is essential to support your successful law school career.
What Is Law School?
In law school, the student pursues the achievement of a juris doctorate, a JD, meaning they will become a doctor of the law. Law schools come in all shapes and sizes, although generally law schools are broken into two primary categories: ABA-accredited law school, and non-accredited law schools.
It is of course preferable to attend an ABA-accredited law school, as many states require a degree from an ABA-accredited law school for the person to sit for the bar exam: an essential prerequisite to legal practice. Law school is the institution in which all the essential classes are taken to understand how to practice the law.
What Is Studied in Law School?
The law is complex both in the United States and abroad, and in law school the intricacies of the law, whether national, regional, metropolitan, or otherwise, are quite expansive. In the United States, law students focus upon core classes in addition to electives. To quality for ABA-accreditation, schools must require that particular classes be taken by all law students. These include two levels of constitutional law, contracts, torts, and civil procedure, in addition to courses in criminal procedure, legal writing and theory, and legal ethics.
Ethics are particularly important to the legal profession given the power that can be exercised by lawyers. Alongside the ethics course, most states require the prospective lawyer to pass the MPRE, or Multi-state Professional Responsibility Examination. Passage of the exam is generally a pre-requisite to practice in a state, as it shows that the hopeful attorney knows and understands the ethical guidelines that govern the profession.
What Can You Do with a Law Degree?
A JD degree gives you the potential to practice as a lawyer, depending upon the licensing requirements of the state where you wish to work. Some states require you to pass a localized bar exam, while many states require you to pass the UBE, the Uniform Bar Exam, which has been adopted by many states across the nation.
Upon achieving the JD, you can also begin teaching law at certain institutions of higher learning. Undergraduate pre-law classes are often taught by persons with JDs, and sometimes by working lawyers. Having a JD does not by default make one able to practice the law and be a lawyer.
If an individual possesses a JD but has not passed a state bar exam or been licensed to practice law, they can teach law or can practice as in-house counsel. This means that persons with JDs may be hired into corporations to provide advice on legal issues, and since they are working within a company doing this, a license to practice law is not required. A law degree, whether from the best law schools, the mid-tier, or the low-tier law schools, gives one the essential knowledge to pass the bar exam, which is what one must do if they really want to practice law in the courts.
How Do I Become a Lawyer?
Becoming a lawyer is not as simple as achieving a JD from one of the best law schools. The JD must be passed with a sufficiently high grade to sit for the bar exam. The bar exam may be the UBE mentioned above, a state bar exam, or some combination of the two. For example, in Massachusetts a hopeful lawyer must have a JD from an ABA-accredited law school, have taken and passed the MPRE, have letters of recommendation, and also take a Massachusetts bar component exam which consists of 50 state-specific questions.
How Important Is Going to the Best Law Schools?
The importance of attending one of the best law schools depends entirely upon your goals. If you would like to work in a major city with a large corporate law firm, going to a prestigious law school with a strong name will help you gain the position you desire. At a top corporate law firm in Boston, a graduate of Harvard University is more likely to gain access to an entry-level position than would someone who attended a state university’s law school anywhere in the United States. Consider what kinds of clients you’d prefer to serve, and if the answer is global corporations, then choosing the best law schools will help.
Going to the best law schools for the self-employed is far less important. To open a law firm, one need only have a license to practice law in the state they intend upon opening a firm. Given that bar exams all test the same content, passing the bar exam is the same achievement regardless of what law school the student attended. If smaller legal practice outside the corporate world is your desired area of practice, the best law schools will add to the prestige of the degree on your wall but won’t necessarily add more to your wallet.
How We Reviewed
In the review of the best law schools in the United States, we have focused upon the curriculum and quality, the pros and cons of each university, and the cost of a law degree. As noted below, the cost of a law degree from the best law schools can vary widely. It is important to remember that our review of a law school will be objective, but your decision is entirely subjective. Choosing the best law school for you will be a decision made through a combination of considering the school’s curriculum, as well as the culture, location, and staff; so make sure to take your time and check out schools before deciding.
Overall Price Range of the Best Law Schools
The overall price range of a law degree from the best law schools will generally be somewhere around $50,000 annually for academics, in addition to the cost of living. This is given that no scholarships or grants are received. Scholarships may be awarded to persons based upon membership or demographics, application to particular programs, or achieving victory in particular competitions.
What We Reviewed
|University of California — Berkeley|
|University of Virginia|
|University of Michigan — Ann Arbor|
|University of Pennsylvania|
|New York University|
|Columbia University (NY)|
|University of Chicago (IL)|
|Harvard University (MA)|
|Stanford University (CA)|
|Yale University (CT)|
University of California — Berkeley
A pristine Northern California campus with the traditional law school curriculum.
- A 4.5 score by judges and lawyers alike
- A low 5.2/1 student-to-faculty ratio
- Very low acceptance rate of 23%
- Bar passage rate of 83.1%
Just over $19,000 for in-state residents, and a little over $32,000 for non-residents. Note that here and for all other schools explored, the cost of living is not included, and this can be substantial depending upon the locale.
University of Virginia
A traditional curriculum that achieves an 87.9 percent employment rate at graduation, with a professional assessment of 4.4.
- Excellent employment rate at graduation
- 90.3% employed 10 months after graduation
- 93.2% bar passage rate
- Virginia is not California
About $47,900 for in-state and $52,900 for out-of-state students.
University of Michigan — Ann Arbor
In the aquatic Ann Arbor region, this school has a 7.3/1 student-to-faculty ration for the traditional law school curriculum.
- 97.9% bar passage rate
- Somewhat high student-to-faculty ratio compared to the competition
Around $57,000 for in-state and $60,500 for out-of-state students.
University of Pennsylvania
The traditional law school curriculum with an overall score of 89/100 by CNBC.
- 97.6% bar passage rate
- 94.5% employed at graduation rate
- Low acceptance rate of 18%
The tuition here is around $47,600 for everyone.
New York University
A strong traditional legal curriculum with an entering undergraduate body with average 3.66+ GPAs.
- 97.3% bar passage rate
- 27% acceptance rate
- Lower employment rates at graduation than some competitors
Tuition at this institution is about $64,000, making it one of the most expensive we’ve explored.
Columbia University (NY)
Columbia offers a classic legal curriculum in a historic setting that supports learning.
- A bargain for the level of prestige
- 96.1% bar passage rate
- No in-state discount
The tuition at Columbia is about $56,000.
University of Chicago (IL)
The windy city’s premiere legal curriculum with strong corporate opportunities.
- 97.7% bar passage rate
- 95.3% employed at graduation
- Very high average entering GPA of 3.73-3.95
In Chicago at this institution you’ll pay around $62,000 each year.
Harvard University (MA)
Harvard is the most classic of legal curriculums available in the United States at the historic campus in Cambridge.
- Beautiful campus and surrounding environment
- The nation’s most prestigious law school
- 91.6% employed at graduation
The cost at Harvard is about $64,000 for each of the three years of law school.
Stanford University (CA)
Stanford provides a nationally respected traditional legal curriculum sufficient to sit for the UBE.
- 4/1 student-to-faculty ratio
- 91.3% employed at graduation
- Low cost of tuition
- Lower bar passage rate than the competition at 91%
At just about $47,500, Stanford is one of the cheapest private best law schools.
Yale University (CT)
Of the best law schools, Yale’s traditional curriculum is ranked at the top of the nation.
- 99% bar passage rate
- 4.2/1 student-to-faculty ratio
- Low employment at graduation rate of 83.3%
- Low employment at 10 months after graduation rate of 83.3%
Students pay around $62,000 a year for law school at Yale.
Of the law schools reviewed, the costs vary substantially, while the curriculums are largely the same. The decision to attend one of the best law schools is something that is entirely personal and something you decide upon after considering your goals with your law degree. Stanford was the best combination of pricing, prestige, and ranking, at around $47,000 and ranked at number 2 in our list of the top 10 best law schools. Harvard may have the highest prestige, yet is ranked in at #3, and while Yale is ranked at #1, it has one of the worst employment at graduation rates of the schools reviewed.
Spending over $250,000 to acquire a JD if you intend upon practicing in a small town with a limited number of clients can be a financially ruinous decision. Spending $250,000 to acquire a JD if you will work for a corporation earning $300,000 annually is an investment that is entirely worthwhile. Consider what works for you, and be prepared to study.
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