Nearly 200 law schools in the United States are nationally accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). In addition there are many other schools that have provisional accreditation or are not accredited at this time. How can you decide which school is best for you? Many factors should contribute to your decision, but a school’s ranking is one factor that can affect your future success as an attorney.
How the Best Law Schools in the Country are Ranked
Every year, U.S. World & News Report issues a report that ranks the nationally accredited law school in America. The rankings are determined by the following quality factors:
- Peer Assessment
- Lawyers/Judges Assessment
- Median LSAT Scores
- Median Undergrad GPA
- Acceptance Rate
- Placement Success
- Bar Passage Rate
- Expenditure Per Student
- Student-Faculty Ratio
- Library Resources
Top 5 Law Schools in the United States
Though the rankings for schools changes slightly year-to-year, the top five schools typically stay ranked within the top five, changing position slightly.
Facts about Yale University Law School:
- Located in New Haven, Connecticut.
- Yale University is a small law school, enrolling just over 600 students.
- Class sizes are small (typically around 20 students).
- Students don’t receive traditional grades in classes. Instead, they are assessed by a system that includes “honors,” “passing,” or “low-passing.”
- Several joint degrees are available, including a J.D./M.B.A. in conjunction with the Yale School of Management.
Facts about Harvard University:
- Harvard University is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near Boston.
- The law school enrolls around 1,725 students.
- Student-faculty ratio at Harvard Law is 11.4:1.
- Law school buildings are on Harvard Square.
- Students are required to complete 40 hours of pro bono work prior to graduation.
Facts about Stanford University:
- The law school at Stanford University is in Stanford, California, near Palo Alto.
- Approximately 575 students are enrolled in the law program.
- 91 full-time and part-time faculty are on staff.
- Stanford Law offers over 25 joint degrees, most of which are accelerated and can be earned within the traditional 3-year law school time frame.
- Students gain experience with specialized clinics, 10 student journals and over 50 student organizations.
Facts about Columbia University:
- Students who want a big city experience attend Columbia University in New York, New York.
- The school has about 400 students enrolled in each class.
- Student-faculty ratio is 8:1.
- Columbia Law School has an extensive placement program for judicial clerkships and other opportunities.
- First year law students can begin specializing with electives.
University of Chicago
Facts about the Law School at University of Chicago:
- Another big city school, The University of Chicago is located in Chicago, Illinois.
- The law school is small, with just over 610 students.
- 98 professors (including both full-time and part-time) are on staff.
- Joint degree programs in business or public policy are available; each take 4 years for completion.
- The International Human Rights Internship Program provides law students with internships in several other countries.
Harvard Law School is consistently ranked as one of the top 3 law schools in the United States. It’s located in Cambridge, MA, and was founded in 1817, which makes it the oldest law school in the country. Harvard Law’s rich history of tradition, excellent programs and prestigious alumni make admission a worthy goal.
Harvard Law School has an estimated 1,900 students in attendance each year. Most are Juris Doctor candidates, which an average of 1,680. Another 160 are LL.M. (Master of Laws) students. Harvard also offers a S.J.D. degree, which is an academic doctorate degree. That program, which is not offered at most law schools, has 50 candidates in attendance on average.
Gaining acceptance into Harvard Law is not an easy task. In 2012, the school received 5,438 applications and granted admission to 865 applicants, which constituted an acceptance rate of just under 16%. The grade point averages of accepted students were very high: the 75/25 percentiles were 3.95/3.77. LSAT score 75/25 percentiles were 175/170.
Harvard Law students come from a diverse background. Last year’s entering class came from 43 states and 16 foreign countries.
Once students start their law school educations at Harvard Law, they tend to succeed: the 2012 graduating class had a 99% graduation rate. Harvard Law graduates earn the second-highest starting incomes (right after those at Columbia). Graduates from the 2012 graduating class earned a median $143,000 salary.
Notable Harvard Law alumni include a long list of:
- United States Representatives
- Supreme court judges
- Federal judges
- State judges
- State governors
- U.S. Ambassadors
- U.S. Attorneys General
- University Presidents
- Law School Deans
- Business Executives
- Media Commentators
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are also Harvard alumni.
During the 2012-2013 school year, Harvard employed 109 full-time law professors. There were 33 visiting professors in attendance, and another 98 professionals serving as lecturers, professors emeriti and instructors. The student to faculty ratio is low at Harvard Law, just 12:1.
There are dozens of student organizations at Harvard Law: everything from Law Review to the HLS chapter of the NAACP to the Tennis Club. No matter what their interests, backgrounds or special talents, law students will find organizations in which to participate.
Study abroad programs are available to law students, as well. The Cambridge University program enables 3L students to attend school in England. Single semester study abroad programs are available at institutions all over the world, including:
- Rio de Janeiro
- Sao Paulo
Your LSAT score is an important part of your law school application, so it’s important to do well on the test. Law schools don’t require a particular score for admittance; rather, your score is part of a larger, overall picture of your academic potential based on all the components of your application.
The Questions on the LSAT
The LSAT is composed of five sections of multiple-choice questions and a writing sample. Four of the five sections are scored—the other (called the “variable” section) is used to help determine future test questions. The writing sample is not scored, but it is sent to the law schools for which you’re applying, along with your overall score. Admissions committees will consider your score and read your writing sample during review of your application.
The Possible Range of Scores
;Your LSAT score is figured using a method of statistics called equating. You get credit for each correctly answered question on the exam (you’re not penalized for incorrect questions). The number of correct answers is then applied to a scale of 120 to 180. Equating simply factors in the slight differences in difficulty from one test to another.
A Good Score
In the most practical sense, a “good” score is one that contributes to your application enough to get you accepted into the law school you want. For the entering class of 2011 at Harvard Law School, the 75/25 percentile for LSAT scores was 176/171. The entering class of 2012 for the J. Quinney School of Law at the University of Utah had 75/25 percentile LSAT scores of 156/162. These two examples might give you an idea of how diverse the score ranges can be, depending on the school.
Receiving Your Score
If you have registered with LSAC (Law School Admissions Council), you will receive your LSAT scores via email, about three weeks after you take the test. Make sure that LSAC has your current email address. Those without online LSAC accounts, will receive scores via snail mail approximately four weeks after the test date.
Should you retake the test?
LSAC recommends that you retake the test only in certain circumstances—if you were sick, overly tired or poorly prepared, for example. Some people fail to appreciate the difficulty of the LSAT, so they don’t study enough. If this is the case for you, and your score is lower than the average score of accepted students at the school you’d like to attend, it would probably be in your best interest to retake the test. Just make sure to study properly before retaking—you can only take the LSAT 3 times within a 2 year period.