Law school in the United States
|Legal education in the United States|
Law schools in the U.S. issue the Juris Doctor degree (J.D.), which is a professional doctorate, and for most practitioners a terminal degree. Although most law schools only offer the traditional three-year program, several U.S. law schools offer an Accelerated JD program.
Other degrees that are awarded include the Master of Laws (LL.M.) and the Doctor of Juridical Science (J.S.D. or S.J.D.) degrees, which can be more international in scope. Most law schools are colleges, schools, or other units within a larger post-secondary institution, such as a university. Legal education is very different in the United States from that in many other parts of the world.
- 1 History
- 2 Admission
- 3 Accreditation
- 4 Curriculum
- 5 Grades, grading, and GPA curves
- 6 Accelerated JD Programs
- 7 Pedagogical methods
- 8 Credentials obtainable while in law school
- 9 Post-law school employment
- 10 Controversies involving US law schools
- 11 Law school rankings
- 12 Oldest active law schools
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 External links
Until the late 19th century, law schools were uncommon in the United States. Most people entered the legal profession through reading law, a form of independent study or apprenticeship, often under the supervision of an experienced attorney. This practice usually consisted of reading classic legal texts, such as Edward Coke's Institutes of the Lawes of England and William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England.
In colonial America, as in Britain at the time, law schools did not exist. Within a few years following the American Revolution, some universities such as the College of William and Mary and the University of Pennsylvania established a "Chair in Law". Columbia College appointed its first Professor of Law, James Kent, in 1793. Those who held these positions were the sole purveyors of legal education (per se) for their institutions—though law was, of course, discussed in other academic areas as a matter of course—and gave lectures designed to supplement, rather than replace, an apprenticeship.
The first institution established for the sole purpose of teaching law was the Litchfield Law School, set up by Judge Tapping Reeve in 1784 to organize the large number of would-be apprentices or lecture attendees that he attracted. Despite the success of that institution, and of similar programs set up thereafter at Harvard University, Yale University (1843) and Columbia University (1858), law school attendance would remain a rare exception in the profession. Apprenticeship would be the norm until the 1890s, when the American Bar Association (which had been formed in 1878) began pressing states to limit admission to the bar to those who had satisfactorily completed several years of post-graduate instruction. In 1906, the Association of American Law Schools adopted a requirement that law school consist of a three year course of study.
History of women in law school
Women were not allowed in most law schools during the late 1800s and the early 1900s. The "first woman on record to have received a law degree was Ada Kepley from Union College of Law in Illinois (Northwestern)" in 1870. Some law schools that allowed women before most others were Buffalo Law School which "begun in 1887 . . . and open to women and immigrant groups"; University of Iowa which "admitted women as law students" since at least 1869; University of Michigan; and Boston University Law School which started admitting women in 1872. "In 1878 two women successfully sued to be admitted to the first class at Hastings Law School," one of whom was Clara S. Foltz. Ellen Spencer Mussey and Emma Gillett founded the Washington Law School for women and men in 1898 (now known as, American University Washington College of Law).
The difficulty of entry of women into the legal profession was further aggravated by the fact that federal courts did not allow women to be admitted as lawyers, which was demonstrated in the famous case involving Myra Bradwell as the plaintiff in Bradwell v. Illinois. The federal courts were subsequently opened to women in 1878 due to a successful campaign by Belva Ann Lockwood.
The elite law schools remained closed to women for a while after. Pushed by the suffragist movement for women, Harvard Law School started considering admitting women in 1899 but without success. Partly in response to the pressures of the suffragist movement and the unwillingness of elite law schools to open their doors, "in 1908, Portia Law School was founded in Boston" which later became the New England School of Law and was the only law school at the time with "an all women student body." In 1915, due to Harvard's continued refusal to admit women, the Cambridge Law School for Women was established as an alternative to elite law schools, and was to be "as nearly as possible a replica of the Harvard Law School as is possible to make it." World War I encouraged the movement toward admitting women to law schools, and in 1918, Fordham Law School and Yale Law School started admitting women. Northeastern University School of Law, at the time a YMCA institution, started admitting women in 1923. Harvard Law School did not admit women until 1950. In 1966, Notre Dame Law School started admitting women.
Despite all of these advances, "[i]n 1963, women had comprised only 2.7 percent of the profession. In the academic year 1969–70, only 6.35 percent of the degree candidates at law school were women." Attendance of women at law schools did however improve significantly in the next 10 year period. "In 1968, 3,704 of the 62,000 law students in approved schools were women; by 1979, there were 37,534 women out of 117,279 students in approved schools" although still represented in larger proportions in less elite law schools.
In the United States, most law schools require a bachelor's degree, a satisfactory undergraduate grade point average (GPA), and a satisfactory score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) as prerequisites for admission. Some states that have non-ABA-approved schools or state-accredited schools have equivalency requirements that usually equal 90 credits toward a bachelor's degree. Additional personal factors are evaluated through essays, short-answer questions, letters of recommendation, and other application materials. The standards for grades and LSAT scores vary from school to school.
Though undergraduate GPA and LSAT score are the most important factors considered by law school admissions committees, individual factors are also somewhat important. Interviews—either in person or via Skype—are sometimes used as optional or by-invite application components. Many law schools actively seek applicants from outside the traditional pool to boost racial, economic, and experiential diversity on campus. Most law schools now factor in extracurricular activities, work experience, and unique courses of study in their evaluation of applicants. A growing number of law school applicants have several years of work experience, and correspondingly fewer law students enter immediately after completing their undergraduate education.
Many students receive grants and scholarships, and sometimes even complete tuition waivers with cost-of-living stipends, from law schools. Some law schools condition scholarships on maintaining a certain GPA. While each school's financial aid system operates differently, there is a rule of thumb relating to GPA and LSAT scores: a student whose grades and LSAT are higher than those of most students admitted to a given school—in other words, a student who could go to a "better" school—has a good chance of being offered some kind of scholarship by the lower-ranked school. Likewise, some law students choose lower ranked schools due to their inability to get into higher ranked schools because of low LSAT scores and GPA, and then transfer to the better schools after their first year of study, provided that they received good grades in the first year of law school.
In 2008 there were 142,922 students enrolled in JD programs at the 200 approved ABA law schools, 53% male and 47% female.
To sit for the bar exam, the vast majority of state bar associations requires that an applicant's law school be accredited by the American Bar Association. The ABA has promulgated detailed requirements covering every aspect of a law school, down to the precise contents of the law library and the minimum number of minutes of instruction required to receive a law degree. As of July 2008, there are 199 ABA-accredited law schools that award the J.D., divided between 193 with full accreditation and 6 with provisional accreditation. The Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School in Charlottesville, Virginia, a school operated by the United States Army that conducts a post-J.D. program for military attorneys, is also ABA-accredited.
Non-ABA approved law schools have much lower bar passage rates than ABA-approved law schools., and do not submit or disclose employment outcome data to the ABA.
In addition, individual state legislatures or bar examiners may maintain a separate accreditation system, which is open to non-ABA accredited schools. If that is the case, graduates of these schools may generally sit for the bar exam only in the state in which their school is accredited. California is the most famous example of state-specific accreditation. The State Bar of California's Committee of Bar Examiners approves many schools that may not qualify for or request ABA accreditation. Graduates of such schools can sit for the bar exam in California, and once they have passed that exam, a large number of states allow those students to sit for their bars (after practicing for a certain number of years in California).
California is also the first state to allow graduates of distance legal education (online and correspondence) to take its bar exam. However, online and correspondence law schools are generally not accredited by the ABA or state bar examiners, and the eligibility of their graduates to sit for the bar exam may vary from state to state. Even in California, for instance, the State Bar deems certain online schools as "registered," meaning their graduates may take the bar exam, but also specifically says the "Committee of Bar Examiners does not approve nor accredit correspondence schools." Kentucky goes further by specifically disqualifying correspondence school graduates from admission to the bar. This applies even if the graduate has gained admission in another jurisdiction.
Law students are referred to as 1Ls, 2Ls, and 3Ls based on their year of study. In the United States, the American Bar Association does not mandate a particular curriculum for 1Ls. ABA Standard 302(a)(1) requires only the study of "substantive law" that will lead to "effective and responsible participation in the legal profession." However, most law schools have their own mandatory curriculum for 1Ls, which typically includes:
These basic courses are intended to provide an overview of the broad study of law. Not all ABA-approved law schools offer all of these courses in the 1L year; for example, many schools do not offer constitutional law and/or criminal law until the second and third years. Most schools also require Evidence but rarely offer the course to first-year students. Some schools combine legal research and legal writing into a single year-long "lawyering skills" course, which may also include a small oral argument component.
Because the first year curriculum is always fixed, most schools do not allow 1L students to select their own course schedules, and instead hand them their schedules at new student orientation.
At most schools, the grade for an entire course depends upon the outcome of only one or two examinations, usually in essay form, which are administered via students' laptop computers in the classroom with the assistance of specialized software. Some professors may use multiple choice exams in part or in full if the course material is suitable for it (e.g., professional responsibility). Legal research and writing courses tend to have several major projects (some graded, some not) and a final exam in essay form. Most schools impose a mandatory grade curve (see below).
After the first year, law students are generally free to pursue different fields of legal study, such as administrative law, corporate law, international law, admiralty law, intellectual property law, and tax law.
Graduation is the assured outcome for the majority of students who pay their tuition, behave honorably and responsibly, maintain a minimum per-semester unit count and grade point average, take required upper-division courses, and successfully complete a certain number of units by the end of their sixth semester.
The ABA also requires that all students at ABA-approved schools take an ethics course in professional responsibility. Typically, this is an upper-level course; most students take it in the 2L year. This requirement was added after the Watergate scandal, which seriously damaged the public image of the profession because President Richard Nixon and most of his alleged cohorts were lawyers. The ABA desired to demonstrate that the legal profession could regulate itself and hoped to prevent direct federal regulation of the profession.
As of 2004, to ensure that students' research and writing skills do not deteriorate, the ABA has added an upper division writing requirement. Law students must take at least one course, or complete an independent study project, as a 2L or 3L that requires the writing of a paper for credit.
Most law courses are less about doctrine and more about learning how to analyze legal problems, read cases, distill facts and apply law to facts.
In 1968, the Ford Foundation began disbursing $12 million to persuade law schools to make "law school clinics" part of their curriculum. Clinics were intended to give practical experience in law practice while providing pro bono representation to the poor. However, conservative critics charge that the clinics have been used instead as an avenue for the professors to engage in left-wing political activism. Critics cite the financial involvement of the Ford Foundation as the turning point when such clinics began to change from giving practical experience to engaging in advocacy.
Law schools that offer accelerated JD programs have unique curricula for such programs. Nonetheless, ABA-approved law schools with Accelerated JD programs must meet ABA rules.
Finally, it should be noted that the emphasis in law schools is rarely on the law of the particular state in which the law school sits, but on the law generally throughout the country. Although this makes studying for the bar exam more difficult since one must learn state-specific law, the emphasis on legal skills over legal knowledge can benefit law students not intending to practice in the same state they attend law school.
Grades, grading, and GPA curves
Grades in law school are very competitive. Most schools grade on a curve. In most law schools, the first year curve (1L) is considerably lower than courses taken after the first year of law school.
Many schools use a "median" grading system, that can range from "B-plus medians" to "C-minus medians". Some professors are obliged to determine which exam or paper was the exact median in terms of quality (e.g., the 26th best out of 51), give that paper the relevant grade depending on the system used, and then grade the other exams based on how much better or worse they are than the median. A few schools, such as Yale Law School, Stanford Law School, Harvard Law School and University of California, Berkeley School of Law, and Northeastern University School of Law have alternate grading systems that put less emphasis (or no emphasis) on rank. Other schools, such as New York's Fordham Law School, use a much more demanding grading system in which precise percentages of students are to receive certain grades. For instance, such a system could oblige professors to award a minimum and maximum number of "A's" and "F's" (e.g., 3.5%/7% A's and 4.5%/10% F's). Many professors chafe against the lack of discretion provided by such systems, especially the required failing of a certain number of students whose performance may have been sub-par but not, in the professor's estimation, worthy of a failing grade. The "median" system seeks to provide some parity among teachers' grading scales while giving the teacher discretion to award a grade below the median only when deserved.
Even with curved grading, some law schools such as Syracuse University College of Law still have a policy of "Dismissal for Academic Deficiency", in which students failing to meet a minimum GPA are dismissed from the school.
One school that has deviated from the system of competitive grading common to most American law schools is Northeastern University School of Law. Northeastern does not have any system of grade point averages or class rank, Instead, the school uses a system of narrative evaluations to measure student performance.
A system of anonymous grading known as blind grading is used in many law schools in the United States. It is intended to counter bias by the grader. Examination booklets are randomly numbered and the score associated with the student only after grading is completed. General adoption of blind grading followed admission of significant numbers of minority students to law schools.
Accelerated JD Programs
An Accelerated JD program may refer to one of the following:
- A program that combines a bachelor's degree with a juris doctor degree ("3+3 JD program" or "BA to JD program").
- A two-year juris doctor degree that is offered in a condensed period, separately from a bachelor's degree ("2-year JD program").
As a result of student concerns about the time and cost (both in terms of tuition and the opportunity cost associated with foregoing a salary for three years) required to complete a law degree, there has been an emerging trend to develop accelerated JD programs.
Most law school education in the United States is based on standards developed by Christopher Columbus Langdell and James Barr Ames at Harvard Law School during the 1870s. Professors generally lead in-class debates over the issues in selected court cases, compiled into "casebooks" for each course. Traditionally, law professors chose not to lecture extensively, and instead used the Socratic method to force students to teach each other based on their individual understanding of legal theory and the facts of the case at hand.
Many law schools continue to use the Socratic method—consisting of calling on a student at random, asking him or her about an argument made in an assigned case, asking the student whether he or she agrees with the argument, and then using a series of questions designed to expose logical flaws in the student's argument. Examinations usually entail interpreting the facts of a hypothetical case, determining how legal theories apply to the case, and then writing an essay. This process is intended to train students in the reasoning methods necessary to interpret theories, statutes, and precedents correctly, and argue their validity, both orally and in writing. In contrast, most civil law countries base their legal education on professorial lectures and oral examinations, which are more suited for the mastery of complicated civil codes.
This style of teaching is often disorienting to first-year law students who are more accustomed to taking notes from professors' lectures. Most casebooks do not clearly outline the law; instead, they force the student to interpret the cases and draw the basic legal concepts from the cases themselves. As a result, many publishers market law school outlines that concisely summarize the basic concepts of each area of law, and good outlines are highly sought after by many students, although some professors discourage their use.
Legal pedagogy has also been criticized by scholars like Alan Watson in his book, The Shame of Legal Education. Some law schools, such as Savannah Law School, have changed direction and created collaborative learning environments to allow students to work directly with each other and professors in order to model the teamwork of attorneys working on a case.
For purposes of passing state bar examinations, some law school graduates find law school instruction inadequate, and resort to specialized bar review courses from private course providers. These bar reviews typically consist of lectures, often video recorded.
Credentials obtainable while in law school
Within each U.S. law school, key credentials include:
- Law review/Law journal membership or editorial position (based either on grades or write-on competition or both). This is important for at least three reasons. First, because it is determined by either grades or writing ability, membership is an indicator of strong academic performance. This leads to the second reason, which is that potential employers sometimes use law review membership in their hiring criteria. Third, work on law review exposes a student to legal scholarship and editing, and often allows the student to publish a significant piece of legal scholarship on his or her own. Most law schools have a "flagship" journal usually called "School name Law Review" (for example, the Harvard Law Review—although some schools call their flagship journal "School name Law Journal"; see Yale Law Journal) that publishes articles on all areas of law, and one or more other specialty law journals that publish articles concerning only a particular area of the law (for example, the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology).
- Moot court membership or award (based on oral and written argument). Success in moot court can distinguish one as an outstanding oral advocate and provides a degree of practical legal training that is often absent from law review membership. Moot court and related activities, such as Trial Advocacy and Dispute Resolution, may appeal especially to employers hiring for litigation positions, such as a district attorney's office.
- Mock trial membership and awards (based on trial level advocacy skills) also can distinguish one as an outstanding trial advocate and help develop "real world" skills that are often valuable to employers hiring for litigation positions.
- Order of the Coif membership (based on grade point average). This is often coupled with Latin honors (summa and magna cum laude, though often not cum laude). However, a slight majority of law schools in the U.S. do not have Order of the Coif chapters.
Post-law school employment
According to a study by labor economists Michael Simkovic and Frank McIntyre, a law degree increases lifetime earnings by $1,000,000 compared to a bachelor's degree. This is present value, as of the start of law school, and includes opportunity costs and financing costs. After taxes, the mean present value will be around $700,000. Because law school tuition (less scholarships and grants) is often around $30,000 per year for 3 years, this means that a law graduate with average outcomes effectively becomes $600,000 richer as of the day he or she starts law school. At the median, or 50th percentile, the pretax present value is $610,000 and the after tax value is $430,000. After tuition, the median law graduate becomes around $330,000 richer. Even toward the bottom of the distribution, the value of a law degree will typically exceed its costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average salary for lawyers in 2012 was above $130,000. Salaries vary by geography, with higher average salaries in big cities—especially New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles—and lower salaries in rural areas. An unpublished table produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that unemployment rates among experienced lawyers are lower than those for most high-income occupations. BLS data also suggests that lawyer employment has grown slightly faster than other occupations, with lawyers comprising a growing share of the work force over the last decade.
BLS figures exclude law firm partner profits. Profits per partner at the 200 largest law firms by revenue are reported by the American Lawyer magazine in its AmLaw 100 and AmLaw 200 rankings. According to American Lawyer, profits per partner at these firms have ranged from around $300,000 at the least profitable to $5,000,000 at the most.
Not all law school graduates work as lawyers. According to Simkovic and McIntyre's study of U.S. Census Bureau data, around 40 percent of U.S. residents with law degrees do not practice law. Law graduates are disproportionately represented in leadership positions in business and government. The National Association for Legal Career Professionals produces an annual report summarizing the employment of recent graduates of U.S. law schools at a single point in time, 9 months of graduation. Employment at that point is typically around 90 percent, although from 2009 to 2011, the numbers have been lower, at around 86 to 88 percent. Approximately 2 percent of graduates were employed in non-professional jobs. Approximately 75 to 85 percent work in jobs classified by NALP as "JD required" or "JD preferred", and another 5 percent work in other professional jobs. The Simkovic and McIntyre study found that a law degree increases earnings, even including those who do not practice law.
Because federal tax rates are around 30 percent, and the mean value of a law degree is $1,000,000, the benefit to the federal government's budget is on average $300,000 per law student. In addition, student loans to law students are profitable because of low default rates relative to other degree programs, high interest rates on loans to graduate students, and high recovery rates on defaulted loans. Default rates on loans to law students were low both before and after the availability of programs such as Income Based Repayment.
State and federal court clerkship
On the basis of a student's credentials, as well as favorable faculty recommendations, some students obtain a one or two-year clerkship with a judge after graduation. It is becoming more common for clerkships to begin after a few years in private practice. Clerkships may be with state or federal judges.
Clerkships are meant to provide the recent law school graduate with experience working for a judge. Often, clerks engage in significant legal research and writing for the judge, writing memos to assist a judge in coming to a legal conclusion in some cases, and writing drafts of opinions based on the judge's decisions. Appellate court clerkships, although generally more prestigious, do not necessarily give one a great deal of practical experience in the day-to-day life of a lawyer in private practice. The average litigator might get much more out of a clerkship at the trial court level, where he or she will be learning about motions practices, dealing with lawyers, and generally learning how a trial court works on the inside. What a lawyer might lose in prestige he or she might gain in experience.
By and large, though, clerkships provide other valuable assets to a young lawyer. Judges often become mentors to young clerks, providing the young attorney with an experienced individual to whom he or she can go for advice. Fellow clerks can also become lifelong friends and/or professional connections. Those contemplating academia do well to obtain an appellate court clerkship at the federal level, since those clerkships provide a great opportunity to think at a very high level about the law.
Clerkships are great experiences for the new lawyers, and law schools encourage graduates to engage in a clerkship to broaden their professional experiences. However, there simply are not enough clerkships to accommodate all the academically eligible graduates.
United States Supreme Court clerkship
Some law school graduates are able to clerk for one of the Justices on the Supreme Court (each Justice takes two to four clerks per year). Often, these clerks are graduates of elite law schools, with Harvard, Yale, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, Columbia, the University of Virginia, and Stanford being among the most highly represented schools. Justice Clarence Thomas is the major exception to the rule that Justices hire clerks from elite schools; he takes pride in selecting clerks from non-top-tier schools, and publicly noted that his clerks have been attacked on the Internet as "third tier trash." Most Supreme Court clerks have clerked in a lower court, often for a year with a highly selective federal circuit court judge (such as Judges Alex Kozinski, Michael Luttig, J. Harvie Wilkinson, David Tatel, Richard Posner, to name a few). It is perhaps the most highly selective and prestigious position a recently graduated lawyer can have, and Supreme Court clerks are often highly sought after by law firms, the government, and law schools. Law firms give Supreme Court clerks as much as a $250,000 bonus for signing with their firm. The vast majority of Supreme Court clerks either become academics at elite law schools, enter private practice as appellate attorneys, or take highly selective government positions.
Controversies involving US law schools
Employment statistics and salary information
Brian Z. Tamanaha, a professor of jurisprudence at Washington University and former interim dean at Saint John's University School of Law, has questioned the accuracy of employment statistics provided by some law schools. He notes that employment and salary information provided by law schools is based on surveys of recent graduates. This information is consolidated and made available by the American Bar Association. In his book entitled "Failing Law Schools," Tamanaha concludes that because of the debt loads and grim job prospects facing law graduates, among other drawbacks of pursuing a legal education, "Many law professors at many law schools across the country are selling a degree to their students that they would not recommend to people close to them." 
Another law professor, Paul Campos of the law school of the University of Colorado at Boulder, has written that, due to a number of factors affecting today's market for legal services, people considering law school should "Do something – anything – other than attend an average law school at the average price. If you insist on doing so you’re likely to experience what is now the average result for law graduates, which is something between a serious disappointment and a life-wrecking disaster."
According to the Employment Summary Report prepared by the ABA's Section on Legal Education, 57% of U.S. law school graduates who graduated in May 2013 were employed in full-time, long term positions.
Long term earnings data is available from the U.S. Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation, a nationally representative survey first used to measure law degree holder earnings premiums in a widely cited study by Simkovic and McIntyre.
The National Law Journal also compiles employment informationtracking the proportion of recent graduates working in the 250 largest law firms in the country.
Law School Scamblogs
In recent years, several blogs collectively referred to as "law school scamblogs" have been established on the internet. Such blogs discuss the risks of pursuing legal education in America, and include information about the debt loads of law school graduates, the inability to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy proceedings, the difficulties law graduates experience finding legal careers, and the realities of working as an attorney. Such blogs include "Inside the Law School Scam," which is maintained by Professor Campos, and The People's Therapist, which is maintained by a former lawyer at a top US law firm. A couple of blogs have also appeared which aim to debunk the overly negative message of the scamblogs, such as Post Law School Reflections.
String of Negative Press Concerning US Law Schools
In recent years, American law schools have become the subject of a series of critical articles in mainstream news publications, including the New York Times. Such articles have described matters such as the debt loads of law graduates, the difficulty of securing employment in the legal profession, the lack of practical training as part of the standard legal education curriculum and other pitfalls of pursuing a legal education in the United States.
Lawsuits Related to American Legal Education
In 1995, the United States Department of Justice Sued the American Bar Association, the accrediting body of American law schools, for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act via the law school accreditation process. The complaint alleged, in part, that the ABA allowed its law school accreditation process to be captured by those with a direct interest in its outcome.
In 2011, a graduate of Thomas M. Cooley Law School brought suit against his alma mater alleging inaccurate employment data. The lawsuit was dismissed by Judge Gordon J. Quist. Judge Quist dismissed the lawsuit, commenting: "the bottom line is that the statistics provided by Cooley and other law schools in a format required by the [American Bar Association] were so vague and incomplete as to be meaningless and could not reasonably be relied upon. But, as put in the phrase we lawyers learn early in law school—caveat emptor."
Liberal professors have claimed that there is conservative bias in law schools, particularly within law and economics and business law fields. Liberals have also argued for affirmative action to increase the representation of women and minorities among law students and law faculty.
Conservative professors have claimed that liberals were overrepresented among professors at elite law schools.
Law school rankings
There are several different law school rankings, each with a different emphasis and different methodology. Most either emphasize inputs or readily measurable outcomes (i.e., outcomes shortly after graduation); none measure value-added or long-term outcomes. In general, these rankings are controversial, not universally accepted as authoritative.
The U.S. News and World Report's regularly publishes a list of the "Top 100 Law Schools" based on various quantitative factors, e.g., faculty publishing statistics, entering student LSAT scores, percentage of alumni contributing money. U.S. News ratings heavily emphasize inputs—student test scores and grades, law school expenditures—but includes some outcomes such as bar passage and employment shortly after graduation. U.S. News rankings are heavily weighted toward "reputation", which is measured through a survey with small sample size and low response rates. The reputation scores are highly correlated with the previous years' reputation scores and may not reflect changes in law school quality over time.
The Social Science Research Network—a repository for draft and completed scholarship in law and the social sciences—publishes monthly rankings of law schools based on the number of times faculty members' scholarship was downloaded. Rankings are available by total number of downloads, total number of downloads within the last 12 months, and downloads per faculty member to adjust for the size of different institutions. SSRN also provides rankings of individual law school faculty members on these metrics.
Professor Brian Leiter complies a regular series of evaluations called "Brian Leiter's Law School Reports" in which he and other commentators discuss law schools. Leiter's rankings tend to emphasize the quality and quantity of faculty scholarship, as measured by citations in a select group of journals.
Several other ranking systems are explicitly designed to focus on employment outcomes at or shortly after graduation, including rankings by the National Law Journal, Vault, and the tabloid Above the Law. The National Law Journal provides a comparison of its employment-based rankings to U.S. News rankings. For students who are primarily interested in lucrative employment outcomes rather than scholarly prestige, this comparison may suggest which law schools are most undervalued by the market.
Top tier law schools
In contrast, a utilitarian approach to law school ranking looks at the relative employment prospects of graduates of the various tiers. Typically, the most prestigious opportunities in the country (e.g., U.S. Supreme Court clerkships) are filled by graduates of elite law schools.
Regional tiers and lower-tier national schools
Most law schools outside the top tier are more regional in scope and often have very strong regional connections to these post-graduation opportunities. For example, a student graduating from a lower-tier law school may find opportunities in that school's "home market": the legal market containing many of that school's alumni, where most of the school's networking and career development energies are focused. In contrast, an upper-tier law school may be limited in terms of employment opportunities to the broad geographic region that the law school feeds.
A handful of law schools outside the top tiers are national in scope, mainly those that cater to a unique student niche—such as law schools operated by historically black colleges and universities, or schools with a strong conservative Christian orientation, among them Liberty University School of Law (Baptist), Ave Maria School of Law (Catholic), and the law school at Regent University (Protestant). For example, the class that entered Ave Maria Law in fall 2006 had students from 37 states and the class that entered Regent Law at the same time had students from 39 states. Also, only 21% of the students who entered Regent Law in 2006 were residents of the school's home state of Virginia.
Many schools are authorized or accredited by a state and some have been in continuous operation for over 95 years. Most are located in Alabama, Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, and in Puerto Rico. Some state authorized law schools are maintained to offer a non-ABA option eliminating costly ABA requirements seen as unnecessary by many of these states.
Some schools are not accredited by a state or the American Bar Association. Most are located in California. Such schools in California are registered and licensed to operate by The State Bar of California Committee of Bar Examiners (CBE), but are not accredited by the CBE. Their first year students are required to take the First-Year Law Students' Examination ("Baby Bar"), which then authorizes them to continue their studies in years following. Graduates of these schools may then take the California Bar Examination. Once they pass the Bar, they are licensed to practice law in California. However, many other jurisdictions do not allow graduates of unaccredited law schools to sit for their bar examination.
Oldest active law schools
Law schools are listed by the dates from when they were first established.
- Marshall-Wythe School of Law (The College of William & Mary) established 1779 (closed in 1861 and reopened in 1920)
- University of Maryland School of Law established 1816, held first classes in 1824 (closed during the American Civil War and reopened shortly after its end)
- Harvard Law School established 1817
- University of Virginia School of Law established 1819
- Yale Law School established 1824
- University of Cincinnati College of Law established 1833
- Pennsylvania State University (Dickinson School of Law) established 1834
- New York University School of Law established 1835
- Indiana University Maurer School of Law established 1842
- Saint Louis University School of Law established in 1843 (closed in 1847 and reopened in 1908)
- University of North Carolina School of Law established 1845
- Louis D. Brandeis School of Law (University of Louisville) established 1846
- Cumberland School of Law established in 1847
- Tulane University Law School established 1847
- University of Mississippi School of Law established 1848
- Washington and Lee University School of Law established 1849
- University of Pennsylvania Law School established 1850
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- List of law school GPA curves
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