When people hear the term “law,” they tend to think of set rules that must be obeyed – with repercussions for those who do not follow. While this definition sounds rather cut and dry, problems can arise when put into action. Laws are sometimes hard to understand and interpret. Others are not enforced equally.
Individuals and businesses alike depend on the services of lawyers to navigate legal matters. These experts may advise clients on what actions to take to comply with laws. When in trouble, they may serve as the offender’s representative in court or work behind the scenes to negotiate a better outcome.
But being a lawyer isn’t limited to serving others. It can be a positive individual career move. In addition to stimulating and meaningful work, lawyers are well-compensated with high hourley wages. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows an average hourly wage of more than $61. And in our increasingly complex, litigious world, the demand for lawyers looks to remain strong. Employment of lawyers is projected to grow 10% over the next decade.
A variety of public and private law schools exist in the United States. According to our ranking methodology, the following are some of the top law schools.
Law school rankings are just one factor in a student’s decision of where to attend. Other considerations include interests, career aspirations, location, and costs. For additional assistance in locating law schools, check out the Find Your Perfect “U” tool. You can search over 6,000 colleges and universities with 11 different filters to find the perfect school for you!Click Here to See the Best Colleges in the US
For students who put a premium on hands-on learning opportunities, this state school in Berkeley, California, could be a perfect match. Witness problems endemic to the administration of capital punishment through the Death Penalty Clinic. Design and implement creative solutions to protect human rights through the International Human Rights Law Clinic. Provide legal consultation for low-income entrepreneurs through The New Business Community Law Clinic. Or, join a Student-Initiated Legal Services Project to take on pro bono work within the community. You’ll leave Berkeley with a new mindset – and plenty to put on your resume.
When you’re at a large state school known for plenty of outstanding academic programs, why not seize the opportunity? Many UW Law J.D. students do just that by combining their law studies with a graduate degree in another discipline. Popular choices include business administration, electrical engineering, health administration, international studies, public administration, and public health.
Doesn’t it sound poetic to study law in the nation’s capital? This private institution in Washington, D.C., is especially known for its excellence in trial advocacy, international law, intellectual property, and health care law. American University also has a reputation for operating one of the nation’s top part-time J.D. programs. And, of course, externship opportunities abound for all students at nearby courts, government agencies, and public interest organizations.
UW Law has many things to be proud of, including a national reputation for affordability and for practical training. But one of the hallmark’s of the law education at this public institution is its law-in-action tradition. In addition to teaching the basics of legal rules, students learn why those rules evolved to address social concerns and how they operate in the real world. Students leave empowered to navigate an increasingly complex and challenging world. What graduates won’t need to do is study for the Wisconsin bar: The university’s Diploma Privilege allows graduates to secure a license to practice in the state without taking a bar exam.
Within weeks of starting law school at Temple, students are already blending theory with practice by negotiating employment agreements and interviewing mock clients. Experiential learning continues throughout the program, including many opportunities to support the Philadelphia, Pa., community through pro bono work involving tax assistance, domestic violence assistance, and homeless advocacy.
As might seem reasonable for a private school located in Des Moines, Iowa, Drake is a great place for students interested in agricultural law. Drake’s location in the state’s capital city also provides plenty of opportunities for law students of all interests to obtain internships. And for students looking to attend law school on a part-time basis, Drake’s Career Opportunity Program allows up to seven years to complete the 90-credit degree requirement.
Large public schools are often synonymous with large selections, and ASU is no exception. The J.D. program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law offers more than 250 unique courses and 11 specialized focus areas – including a nationally recognized program in Indian Law. The law school also receives particularly high marks for legal writing, health care law, dispute resolution, environmental law, and criminal law. The institution’s location in downtown Phoenix puts students in an ideal place to seek hands-on experiences.
Interested in a mixture of traditional and specialized legal training? This private institution in New Orleans fits the bill. The first year at Tulane Law emphasizes core analytic and legal writing skills. After that time, students can tailor their law school experience to fit their interests. In addition to common law school fare such as taxation, real estate, and family law, Tulane has distinctive programs in areas such as European legal studies, maritime law, and sports law. True to its Louisiana roots, Tulane also offers a substantial range of civil law courses.
Students who attend University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law not only benefit from a top-notch program, they reap the rewards of a stellar location. Yes, recreational opportunities abound, but so do chances for experiential learning at the state capital, start-up companies, law firms, global businesses, and more. In fact, Denver contains the second-largest concentration of federal agencies in the United States. The cherry on top for many exceptional students is a full-tuition scholarship, which also comes with access to special learning and networking opportunities.
An aspiring lawyer cannot help but be inspired by attending school at the home of the Ohio Innocence Project. With its goal to free every innocent person in Ohio who has been convicted of a crime they didn’t commit, the project’s work has led to the release of 39 wrongfully convicted people since 2003. Unsurprisingly, UC Law receives national recognition for public service law and criminal law. Also among the school’s “professional pathways” are business and entrepreneurship law; environmental and energy law; general and small practice; innovation, technology and intellectual property law; international law; litigation and alternative dispute resolution; and health law.
Becoming a lawyer begins with obtaining a law degree. A law degree is formally known as a Juris Doctorate (J.D.). Obtaining this postgraduate degree from an institution accredited by the American Bar Association is a critical step in being able to practice law in the United States.
Before embarking on studies to earn a J.D., aspiring law school students must obtain a bachelor’s degree. This undergraduate degree can be in any discipline. Some students choose law-related majors such as paralegal studies, legal studies, criminal justice, political science, or history. Others opt for journalism, communications, or liberal arts fields to enhance their written and oral skills. If a particular branch of law interests you, obtaining an undergraduate degree in that discipline proves helpful. A future environmental lawyer, for instance, could earn a Bachelor’s in Biology.
Some law schools offer programs that lead to degrees other than a J.D. These graduate-level studies typically attract students envisioning careers in teaching, legal scholarship, research, and analysis rather than practicing law. Depending on the school and the program, students could graduate with a master’s degree, a Ph.D., or a J.S.D. (Doctor of Juridical Science).
Some people who hold a J.D. decide to pursue advanced training in specific areas of U.S. law. They complete a one-year program leading to a Master of Laws (LL.M.). LL.M. programs also attract many international students with a law background who want to learn more about law in the United States.
Reading, reading, and more reading! The iconic image of a law student falling asleep on a stack of books while studying late into the night still exists. But a law school education goes beyond the pages. Classes often consist of rigorous debates, legal simulations, and eye-opening discussions. And internships and other practical experiences afford plenty of chances to connect the dots between book knowledge and the real world.
Law school courses vary by institution and by a student’s individual interests. Many classes, however, are rather common to a J.D. curriculum. These often include:
The courses and experiential learning opportunities in law school help develop a variety of skills that prove useful to a future career as a lawyer. Expect to leave law school with improved abilities in:
Law school typically requires three years of full-time study to complete. Realize, though, that students come to law school already possessing a bachelor’s degree. Earning that undergraduate degree takes people about four years. That makes the total amount of post-secondary education necessary to become a lawyer in seven years.
Law is a large, complex field. Some students select a particular focus to gain expertise in a certain type of law. Offerings vary by school but often include niches such as:
The decision to pursue a J.D. is not something to take lightly. Law school requires a significant investment of time, effort, and money. Understand the various steps in the process to maximize the potential for success.
Earn a bachelor’s degree. The choice of major is up to you, but work hard to maintain a good GPA as law schools look carefully at this figure. Take classes that develop your ability to think critically, read thoughtfully, and communicate effectively. Consider participating in relevant extracurricular activities such as a pre-law society.
Research various law schools. Get an idea of what options exist for a prospective law school student. Things to examine include:
Take standardized tests. Law schools often require applicants to take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test), the GRE (Graduate Record Exam), or sometimes the institution’s own test. Know what each law school on your list expects. As scores can be a major factor in admissions decisions, especially at top law schools, do not “wing” tests. Prepare well in advance! Learn the test’s structure. Practice sample questions. Consider taking a prep class or working through study guides on your own.
Apply to law schools. Admission is quite competitive, so you will likely want to apply to more than one place. Ensure you submit everything the institution wants. Put your best foot forward by paying attention to due dates, polishing essays, and proofreading everything.
Fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Money is bound to be a chief concern when selecting a law school. Completing this form enables students to see what type of grants, loans, and other sources of help may be available based on need and circumstances. And don’t forget to apply for scholarships!
Each institution has its own admissions requirements, so carefully follow instructions when applying. The following are items frequently requested:
Besides earning a J.D. from an ABA-accredited law school, those who wish to practice law must be “admitted to the bar” for the state in which they want to work. Each state has its own requirements for obtaining this license. In general, it requires passing one or more written tests and being found by an admitting board to have the character to represent and advise others. Aspiring lawyers who want to practice in more than one state often must take the bar exam in each state. To keep up on legal developments, almost all states institute continuing education requirements for barred lawyers.
Once unheard of, a few fully online J.D. programs do exist. Increasingly popular are hybrid arrangements with a mixture of on-site and online learning.
Schools with online options vary in set-up. Remote students may need to attend online classes or discussion sessions at specific times. Others may view lectures at convenient times and contribute posts to chat spaces. Hands-on experiences might necessitate coming to campus, or options can exist to learn from professionals in a more convenient location.
Likewise, the time to complete an online J.D. can vary based on how many courses the student takes. Many students finish in four years rather than the traditional three of full-time, on-campus study.
Like all law programs, students should evaluate online ones to ensure they meet their needs and interests. Look for accreditation, too!
With their knowledge of the law and excellent communication skills, law school graduates find employment in a variety of sectors. Some of the most common include:
Here is a sample of occupations that students who study law may ultimately pursue. Note that projections are estimates given current conditions and should not be interpreted as a guarantee for the future.
Projected Job Growth (2021-2031)
About the Position
Lawyers represent and advise clients on legal issues and disputes.
These professionals help disputing parties resolve conflicts outside of the court system.
Judges oversee the legal process in courts through responsibilities such as presiding over hearings, facilitating negotiations, and issuing legal decisions.
|School||Average Tuition||Student Teacher Ratio||Enrolled Students|
|University of California-Berkeley Berkeley, CA||23 : 1||42,327|
|University of Washington-Seattle Campus Seattle, WA||23 : 1||48,149|
|American University Washington, DC||17 : 1||14,001|
|University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison, WI||19 : 1||44,640|
|Temple University Philadelphia, PA||23 : 1||37,236|