Studying law can open many doors, and often leads to very versatile and lucrative careers. American Law School Rankings and colleges have a long been renowned for their excellent academic teaching, which makes a Law degree from a US university highly valued around the world.
At almost $130,000 per annum (US Bureau of Labor Statistics), the median annual salary for lawyers is nearly three times the median annual wage for all occupations nationwide. Lawyers are also very much in demand, with the BLS projecting a 10% increase in employment for lawyers from 2021 to 2031—twice the average projected growth rate for all jobs.
During their three or four years of specialized legal studies, students learn about topics such as administrative law, legal theory, analytical legal methods, bankruptcy, business law and ethics, civil rights, constitutional law, and many more.
Types of Law Degree
Studying law in the United States is different from studying law in many other countries in that students need to have first completed an undergraduate degree.
Practicing law in the US requires an advanced Juris Doctor (JD) or similar degree (three years of schooling on top of a four-year bachelor’s degree). Students who know they want to pursue a law career in the future will often study pre-law in undergrad. Public policy, social justice, public affairs, political science, history, economics, and philosophy are also common program tracks for pre-law students.
Before being allowed to practice law, most students are also required by the state in which they practice to pass a bar exam. Because states administer the bar, it can therefore be helpful for students to attend law school in the region where they’d like to practice.
Juris Doctor (JD)
Law School Rankings in the US, both public and private, grant the J.D. (Juris Doctor) degree that is required to practice law in the country. A J.D program involves three years of study for full-time Law students and four years for part-time students.
Regardless of which university law students attend, they can expect the first year of law school to involve foundational courses in core law concepts such as torts, contracts, civil procedure, property, criminal law, and constitutional law. In years two and three, law students then choose an area of study and begin to explore specialized courses.
Master of Laws (LLM)
A Master of Laws degree is a one-year full-time study course after finishing a J.D. program. An LLM in US Law provides students with in-depth knowledge of the American legal system. Attorneys living outside of the United States often pursue this graduate degree in order to practice in America or because their work involves interactions with US laws.
Those with an LLM are often recruited by law firms with an international presence, as well as those that do business in the US. Governments hoping to develop relations with America may also need LLM qualified lawyers. Employment opportunities can include positions as a practicing attorney, foreign diplomat and in-house counsel to major corporations.
Some of the LLM in USA programs focus on specialization areas such as business, corporate law, commercial law, environmental law, taxation, and finance.
Doctorate in Law (SJD)
Any law graduates who aspire to teach law in an academic setting will most likely need to pursue a doctorate program in Law. The Doctor of Science of Law, also known as the SJD or JSD, is the most advanced law degree in the US. Typically, these degrees involve both advanced level coursework, and independent research, conducted under the guidance of a faculty member.
Law School Rankings Entry Requirements
Unlike many other countries, where students immediately enter law school after completing high school; those students who wish to complete a law degree in the US must have first completed an undergraduate degree. In other words, studying law in the US is only possible if you are already a graduate.
Students from any discipline can get admitted to law school in the United States, however it is important is that students choose something that will help them build their oratory, analytical, written, and critical thinking skills.
Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
The Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) is a crucial part of the admissions process for US law schools. The LSAT is a half-day standardized test designed for prospective law school candidates. It is scored on a scale from 120 to 180.
The test does not measure any specialized knowledge. It tests the student’s ability to use reasoning, analytical, and logical reasoning; ultimately it helps prospective law students determine if law school is right for them, and law schools identify the candidates most likely to succeed on the course.
It is crucial to do well in this exam, especially if for those students who wish to attend one of the prestigious, top-tier law schools.
Some law schools will accept tests other than the LSAT for admission. However, students who want to maximize their chances for admission and be best prepared for law school are encouraged to take the LSAT.
Minimum undergraduate Grade Point Average (GPA)
While law schools consider applicants’ letters of recommendation, personal statements, work experience and extracurricular activities, undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores are often the most heavily weighed factors in admissions decisions.
What’s considered a strong undergraduate GPA varies per law school. According to US News and World Report, among the U.S. News top 20 law schools, the median GPA for accepted students in 2021 was 3.86.
Letters of recommendation
According to the Law School Admission Council, the most effective letters of recommendation are written by professors or work supervisors who know the applicant well enough to describe their academic, personal, or professional achievements and potential with candor, detail, and objectivity.
Typically, most law schools in the US require two Letters of Recommendation, but this can vary by school. It is crucial to follow exact instructions and submit the required number of letters—no more, and no less—in order to show an ability to follow instructions.
The personal statement is the applicant’s opportunity to reflect upon their life and show the law school admissions committee who they are as an individual. It is designed to help to humanize applicants and allow committees to build a diverse community of law students. A strong personal statement should articulate an applicant’s vision for his or her future, outlining both short-term and long-term goals.
Credential Assembly Service (CAS) reports
LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS) simplifies the law school application process for both candidates and law schools. With CAS, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and any other documents required for each law school application only need to be sent one time to LSAC.
All ABA-approved law school applications are available electronically through a student’s CAS account as well, saving time and effort. LSAC combines documents with the LSAT score and forwards a full report to all the schools a student applies to. Almost all U.S. law schools require applicants to use the Credential Assembly for their law school applications.
Top Law School Rankings
Currently, there are almost 200 accredited and approved institutions and programs that confer the first degree in law (the J.D. degree).
Here, we look at 7 of the most prestigious law schools in the US, exploring factors such as their rankings, course structure and content, program cost, faculty expertise and location.
Harvard Law School (also known as Harvard Law or HLS) is one of the professional graduate schools of Ivy League Harvard University. Founded in 1817, it is the oldest continually-operating law school in the United States and is widely recognized as one of the most prestigious in the world.
Yale University is an American private Ivy League research university in New Haven, Connecticut. Yale Law School is considered one of–if not the–most prestigious law schools in the United States. The school has educated a number of Supreme Court Justices as well as two U.S. Presidents–Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton.
Stanford University is a private university located in the heart of Silicon Valley, just 35 miles south of San Francisco. Stanford Law School, or SLS, was founded in 1893 and is one of the smaller top-tier law schools.
University of Chicago
Located on a residential campus in America’s third largest city, Chicago Law School offers a rigorous and interdisciplinary professional education that blends the study of law with the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences.
Columbia Law School is located in vibrant New York City and founded in 1858. Although the average class size is a little larger than some other leading schools, the student to faculty ratio is one of the smallest.
New York University
Nestled in the heart of Greenwich Village, New York University School of Law (or NYU Law) provides its students with an outstanding legal education in the heart of one of New York City’s most vibrant neighborhoods.
University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School is one of the oldest and most selective law schools in the country. Located in Philadelphia and known as Penn Law, it consists of a small cohort of over 750 students.
Potential Career Paths for Law Graduates
A good number of Law graduates choose to practice as attorneys, which they can do across a range of industries and with a wide range of specializations.
However, given that a Law degree develops all the necessary skills to pursue a career in other areas, there are many law graduates choose not to work as lawyers, instead seeking out careers – sometimes outside of the legal profession – in fields such as business, government, diplomacy and education.