Rankings

The 20 Best Doctor of Law/Juris Doctor Graduate Schools

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Updated: February 20, 2024, Reading time: 42 minutes

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In 1902, Harvard Law School faculty suggested the name change from LL.B. to JD since it was a professional degree. Within a year, the University of Chicago was granted the world’s first JD degree. But it was only in 1965 that the current requirement for JD applicants to possess a bachelor’s degree was made standard by the American Bar Association (ABA).

Indeed, the Juris Doctor (JD) or Doctor of Law degree has undergone several changes since the College of William and Mary granted the first Bachelor of Law degree in 1793. But the respect, recognition and prestige that came with earning a JD degree haven’t faded in more than two centuries.

A Doctor of Law (Juris Doctor) degree is a professional doctorate-level degree for practicing law. It is a three-year program of study involving a combination of academic and practical courses to prepare students for the bar exam and to practice law in the state of their choice.

The best JD programs in this list are definitely among the most respected, recognized, and prestigious in the world!

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METHODOLOGY

The Doctor of Law universities featured here were chosen based on the following factors:

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

20 BEST DOCTOR OF LAW/JURIS DOCTOR GRADUATE SCHOOLS

University of California Berkeley

Berkeley, California

JD Program

The JD program is UC Berkeley Law School’s cornerstone partly because it has produced many of the best leaders in its public and private sectors. Earl Warren, Pauli Murray, and Edwin Meese are notable alumni who learned under the program’s rigorous, experiential and engaging curriculum. 

Standout Features 

Real-world focus is at the heart of the JD program, and it’s expressed in multiple ways, from student-run journals and clinics to university-sponsored think tanks and externships. Experiential education strengthens the solid theoretical foundation built from the first legal course. 

The California Gold Rush may have started from a gold nugget found at the Bancroft Library. 

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Yale University

New Haven, Connecticut 

JD Program

Yale Law School offers its JD students rich opportunities in learning about the law and writing for the law profession, independent research, and seminars. The extraordinary community that Yale has established since its early days in the 19th century continues to nurture students in their future legal careers. Many students work with faculty members as teaching and research assistants to pursue careers in the academe, research, and media. 

Standout Features 

Yale has several law-focused centers that provide its students with valuable exposure to the real-life work of lawyers and their advocacies. Justice Collaboratory, Yale Law School Center for the Study of Corporate Learning, Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, and Yale Center for Law and Philosophy are examples. 

Students can interact with international students, visiting scholars, and legal experts. These are necessary to expand their professional perspectives in preparation for legal work. 

Skull & Bones is among Yale’s most secretive and exclusive college clubs, with its typical members being student leaders, from team captains to political union members. Only 30 new members are admitted every spring term, and among its members are George Bush and George W Bush. 

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Harvard University

Cambridge, Massachusetts

JD Program 

Harvard Law School’s list of alumni reads like a who’s who of the United States’ best and brightest in politics and the judiciary! Rutherford B. Hayes and Barack Obama, both former Presidents of the United States, are shining luminaries. Such excellence in society isn’t surprising considering Harvard’s emphasis on academic excellence and community service. 

Standout Features 

Harvard Law School offers a JD curriculum with unequaled depth and breadth through 400-plus courses, workshops, and reading groups. Small class sizes, usually with less than 25 students, make learning more focused and productive. Students are also encouraged to adopt an international perspective via coursework, study abroad opportunities, and international fellowships. 

Harvard started in a single-frame house with a small college yard. Today, its property holdings cover more than 4,000 football fields, but the main campus only covers 4%! 

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University of Chicago

Chicago, Illinois

JD Program 

The University of Chicago Law Review is the pride of students, faculty, and alumni partly because it is one of the five most-cited in the world. Students on the editorial team are selected based on their academic performance and writing capacity after their first year. Suffice it to say that admission into the review team is just as tough as admission into the law school itself! 

Standout Features 

The capstone experience can be a judicial clerkship where students enrich post-graduation opportunities with established legal professionals. Graduates interested in it are assisted by the Office of Career Services and a faculty committee. 

UChicago’s well-rounded curriculum also allows its graduates to pursue either a generalist or specialist approach to their careers. 

The on-campus Mansueto Library can house up to 3.5 million volumes and serves as the location for the “Divergent” film. 

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Columbia University

New York, NY

JD Program

Columbia Law School is among the world’s leading institutions in legal education and scholarship for good reasons. The distinguished faculty aren’t just educators but innovators. The curriculum also emphasizes innovation in how students think and actively encourages intellectual exchanges beyond their comfort zone and challenges the system. 

Standout Features 

Establishing connections is the distinguishing characteristic of the JD experience at Columbia. Students make connections between their studies and legal practice, local and legal communities, classroom and clinic experiences, and present and future. Students may also enroll in classes at other colleges within Columbia and earn an international double degree. 

Columbia is built on a former public hospital, the former Bloomingdale Asylum. The only remaining structure from the asylum is the Buell Hall.  

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University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

JD Program 

Leges sine moribus vanae (Laws without morals are in vain). This is the underlying philosophy of Upenn’s Carey Law School and its professional programs, including the JD program. Here, students train as tomorrow’s lawyers with expertise across multiple disciplines, including business, health, and education, even in emergent fields. 

Standout Features 

UPenn provides numerous enrichment opportunities for its students to expand their education and horizons. Students may take graduate-level courses, certificates of study, and even joint degrees in UPenn’s other schools. 

The self-initiated, 70-hour pro bono work requirement is also a way of developing legal skills while committing to public service. The Toll Public Interest Center also serves as the hub for Carey’s public interest projects, including pro bono work. 

UPenn was the first American college with strictly secular roots! The study of the classics was emphasized alongside the acquisition of practical competencies, a philosophy explained in Benjamin Franklin’s university founding document. If you want to know, its title is “Proposals Relating to the Youth of Pennsylvania.” 

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Stanford University

Stanford, California

JD Program 

Stanford’s interdisciplinary philosophy in its JD program is based on its tradition of learning without limits. Students master legal doctrine and become proficient in their applications in a wide range of settings, from the government to business, education, and science. Graduates then have the knowledge and skills vital for success in whatever specialization they pursue. 

Standout Features 

Stanford’s student attorneys in its 11 clinics are unique in the legal profession – certified by the California State Bar and, thus, allowed to practice law with the guidance of mentors. Other opportunities for beyond-the-classroom learning are the Global Initiative and W. A. Franke Global Law Program. The Global Initiative takes law education on the move while the W. A. Franke Global Law Program provides a 10-week immersion and overseas study trips. 

Stanford nourishes its students’ entrepreneurial spirit, so it isn’t surprising that 74 billionaires call it their alma mater! These include the founders of Google, Yahoo! and Hewlett-Packard. 

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New York University

New York, New York

JD Program

NYU Law School trains its JD students to become versatile professionals with the personal and professional capacity for leadership in their chosen field. Graduates can become successful practicing lawyers, committed public servants, big-time entrepreneurs, and politicians with JD degrees. Such versatility results from NYU’s emphasis on critical and creative thinking, interdisciplinary and international perspective, and experiential learning. 

Standout Features 

NYU Law’s Lawyering Program is unique in legal education because it teaches students real-world skills vital to success in the practice of law. The lessons cover financial literacy, client relations, and marketing, to name a few, that will soon become valuable for JD graduates/future lawyers. 

NYU sends more students to foreign colleges and universities than any other American institution. Class 2020, for example, had 47% of its students study abroad. 

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University of Virginia

Charlottesville, Virginia

JD Program 

UVA’s School of Law is the country’s second-oldest continuously operating law school, with no less than Thomas Jefferson establishing it in 1819. Distinguished lawyers in the public and private sectors, from the government to business, technology, and health, have trained here! UVA instills the value of integrity, leadership, and community service and encourages the cooperative spirit that results in a strong network. 

Standout Features 

The proof of UVA’s excellence in legal education is in the graduate outcomes – and UVA has the numbers to prove it! According to ABA, the Class of 2020 had among the highest percentage of graduates hired directly after graduate school to federal clerkships or law firms with 500 or more lawyers. 

UVA’s unofficial mascot is the Wahoos, originally an insult hurled at the football players but adopted by the school as its second mascot. The official mascot is the cavaliers. 

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Cornell University

Ithaca, New York

JD Program 

Cornell Law School may be among the country’s smallest top-tier programs, but therein lies its primary strengths! About 200 students graduate every year with exceptional legal knowledge and lawyering skills. The graduate outcomes are impressive, too, with most students passing the bar and being hired in large law firms and other prestigious companies. 

The JD program has about 600 students, so there’s a close-knit community of learners that thrive on collaboration, not competition. As Cornell says, they are serious about the legal profession but certainly not stuffy, elite in its rankings but not elitist. 

Standout Features 

Cornell has more than 20 practicum courses and clinics designed to gain practical lawyering skills. Examples include the Immigration Law and Advocacy Clinic, Entrepreneurship Law Clinic, and Gender Justice Clinic. 

Students choose a concentration during their third year of studies, too. The choices are Advocacy, Business Law and Regulation, Conflict Resolution, General Practice, Law, Inequity, Structural Exclusion, Public Law, and Technology and Law. 

Cornell’s current Ithaca location would not have happened if not for its founder’s mugging experience at Syracuse! 

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University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor, Michigan

JD Program 

Academic excellence and intellectual rigor are the hallmarks of the student experience in UMich’s JD program. This is reflected in the structured curriculum, emphasizing theory and practice or didactic and experiential learning. Students must develop their critical thinking, analytical thinking, and communication skills to analyze complex legal issues. 

Standout Features 

The program has a strong international perspective that manifests itself in multiple ways. Many faculty members are involved in international and comparative law, both in UMich and national and international institutions. Students can work and study abroad in places as diverse as Switzerland and Tanzania. 

US Supreme Court Justices George Sutherland, William Rufus Day, and Frank Murphy are notable alumni. The bar passing rate is 93% and above, and the 10-month employment rate is about 98%. 

Duke University

Durham, North Carolina

JD Program

Duke’s academic programs are known for their innovative curriculum and rigorous content, and its JD program isn’t different in these respects. The JD program screens candidates so that only the cream of the crop is accepted, which contributes to its impressive graduation outcomes. Indeed, your legal career starts here! 

Standout Features 

Duke Law has 11 clinical programs that complement its extensive externship opportunities. While the curriculum has a fairly structured design, students are provided with ample opportunities to build their program of study. The clinical program is notable for its public interest-centric services in several distinct areas that serve as the students’ training grounds in real-world lawyering. 

Examples of these clinics are the Community Enterprise Clinic, Immigrant Rights Clinic, and Start-Up Ventures Clinic. The clinic program strengthens the idea that Duke is a community for and of lawyers! The lawyers here are in different careers, from lawyers-in-training to established lawyers in the academe, public service, and private practice. 

Duke students burn benches when the Blue Devils win over the University of North Carolina! The bonfire happens at Abele Quad. 

Northwestern University 

Chicago, Illinois

JD Program

Offered at the Pritzker School of Law, Northwestern’s JD program is known for its practical philosophy and extremely competitive admission. Applicants with at least two years of work experience are strongly preferred, with the student profile showing such preference. More than 70% have more than two years of experience, while about 90% have at least a year of experience; the rest were accepted under special circumstances. 

Standout Features 

Aside from being the oldest law school in Chicago, Northwestern Law is also a pioneer in offering a two-year JD program for international students. Candidates must be lawyers in their own countries as a minimum requirement. International students enroll in the required first-year curriculum to integrate as a cohort like their American counterparts. The second-year coursework consists of elective requirements. 

Northwestern is among the country’s most innovative institutions, impacting millions of people! Its therapeutics innovations, for example, impacts more than 10 million patients. Northwestern earns $2.2 billion in revenue from its intellectual property and patents. 

University of California – Los Angeles

Los Angeles, CA

JD Program 

UCLA’s JD program has all the hallmarks that make the public research university among the best in the country. A tradition of innovation, a close-knit community, and world-renowned faculty contribute to the conducive learning environment. The faculty and student body diversity contribute to the intense but respectful intellectual discourse in and out of the classroom. Plus, UCLA has competitive tuition with plenty of financial aid options, so students graduate with little to no debt! 

Standout Features 

UCLA offers an exceptional range of student support services in line with its commitment to student success. Examples are the academic support workshops, GAT study groups, academic counseling, and Constitutional Law Section 9. 

Law students can experience extreme stress during finals week, but there’s a stress-relieving solution! The Midnight Yell allows all UCLA students to shout at midnight as loud as they can, a way of relieving stress or taking a break from the books!

Georgetown University

Washington DC.

JD Program 

Georgetown University Law Center assures its JD students of exciting experiences, thanks partly to the university’s proximity to the nation’s political powerhouse, literally! The US Capitol and Supreme Court are a short walk from the university, and numerous international firms, law firms, and non-government organizations are in Washington, DC Didactic coursework becomes more exciting when its real-world applications are right at your doorstep! 

Standout Features 

Georgetown takes pride in its intellectual community, where debates, discourses, and scholarly activities are encouraged. Students can have a direct hand in shaping history, too, such as drafting legislation and assisting lawyers in preparing for Supreme Court hearings. 

There’s a Georgetown tradition that students must never walk down, much less stand on, the middle of the Georgetown seal in the Healy Hall entrance or risk not graduating. 

Vanderbilt University

Nashville, Tennessee

JD Program 

Vanderbilt Law School only accepts around 175 students to its annual JD program cohort with its highly selective admission process. With more than 84% of its Class of 2020 obtaining full-time, long-term employment nine months after degree completion, it’s also an impressive success rate among the universities. 

Standout Features 

Students enjoy a balance between studies and play through active participation in one or more of the 45 student organizations. Social events complement the lectures, seminars, and presentations organized by these organizations.

There’s also the opportunity to become part of the highly-regarded Vanderbilt Law Review, the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law, and the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law. 

The campus landmarks are named after notable people whose contributions to Vanderbilt are recognized via these structures. The Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center (BCC), for example, is in honor of Joseph Johnson, the university’s first Black student. 

University of Texas – Austin

Austin, Texas

JD Program 

Texas Law’s highly selective admission – 17.5% for the Class of 2022 – results in its JD students receiving intensive, comprehensive, and workplace-ready legal education. More than 90% of graduates secure full-time, long-term employment nine months after earning the degree, and it does not include the success of solo practitioners. 

The student body is among the youngest, too, with the average age being 24, while out-of-state students comprise one-third of the student population. Texas Law must reserve 65% of its first-year slots for Texas residents as required by state law. 

Standout Features 

Students can expand their educational horizons by taking courses in other schools in UT Austin or pursue a dual degree in Texas Law. There are study abroad opportunities, too. 

UT Texas has a deep love for animals! The Tower Girl, a falcon living at the UT Tower, and Domino, the campus cat, are considered university icons. Domino is even a well-loved pet among students and faculty who feed and take care of it. 

Washington University in St. Louis

St. Louis, Missouri

JD Program 

WashULaw is among the oldest continuously operating law schools in Missouri and, through the years, has established a reputation for brilliance in legal education. Many of its alumni have attained prominence in government, business, and the judiciary, such as Michael Cherry, Richard B. Teitelman, and Luther Ely Smith. 

Standout Features 

Every upper-class JD student can tailor their legal education based on their interests and aspirations through a combination of clinics, externships, and joint degrees. WashULaw has 11 clinics, seven externship programs, and seven joint-degree programs aside from the wide variety of electives to choose from. The concentrations offered contribute to the individualized program of study, too, with choices like Commercial and Consumer Law, Intellectual Property and Technology Law, and Bankruptcy. 

During the 1918 flu pandemic, the Red Cross used WashU’s Graham Chapel to make masks on a large scale. 

Boston University

Boston, Massachusetts

JD Program 

BU Law is a truly progressive school! Aside from being the second-oldest law school in The Bay State, it was also among the first who admit students regardless of their race and gender. This was a revolutionary idea – the late 1870s – when minorities and women were barred from most law schools. The tradition of excellence and acceptance is as strong as ever in its rigorous JD program. 

Standout Features 

Students can combine their JD degree with another degree and, thus, expand their career options. BU Law has 17 dual degree programs and partnerships with foreign universities. 

BU established its Law School in 1872, the second school in its system. BU Law is the first law school that introduced entrance requirements and the three-year curriculum in legal education. 

University of Southern California 

Los Angeles, California

JD Program 

The USC Gould School of Law is one of the country’s oldest law schools, with its origins traced to 1896. Through the years, it has evolved to become an outstanding law school that offers an exemplary JD Program with a challenging curriculum. Graduates are known for their work ethic, proficient understanding of the law, and extensive entry-level lawyering experience. 

Standout Features 

USC Gould has a customizable curriculum so that every student has a unique course of study. Students choose an area of concentration, work with clients during their externship and clinic experiences, and even earn certificates.  

Although the GPA cutoff for every class’s top 10% is published, there are no individual class rankings. Students in the top 10% become members of the Order of the Coif. 

Look up at the Gwynn Wilson Student Union building, and you will see a monkey gargoyle tumbling his nose at Rufus von KleinSmid’s bust! The reported reason: the building’s architect squabbled with the past university president!

What is the JD degree?

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What is the JD degree?

Known as the American law degree because of its origins, the JD degree is a three-year professional degree considered as the minimum educational level for lawyers. In a way, this is a professional doctorate, but it isn’t a research doctorate, so JD degree holders aren’t conferred the “Doctor” title.

Graduates of JD law programs must take the bar exam and pass it before practicing law. While there are still no bar exams for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, many states have already adopted the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). These states include Alabama, Alaska, District of Columbia, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Oregon, West Virginia, and Washington.

Facilitated by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, the UBE is a standardized bar exam for aspiring lawyers who want to practice law. The UBE score can be applied in the jurisdictions that adopted it, but every jurisdiction usually has additional licensure requirements. Note that the term “uniform” in UBE is a misnomer since each jurisdiction has responsibility for certain areas of the exam and its requirements, including:

The JD degree is also different from the esquire designation and the LLM degree. The term “esquire,” as used in American society, means a lawyer with an active bar membership and who can practice law. The JD degree is the first step toward becoming an esquire – you need to pass the bar after graduation to earn the old-fashioned title.

Lawyers typically earn a Master of Laws (LLM) degree with a JD degree. The LLM degree has a more specialized and concentrated focus than the JD degree, too, since students gain additional training on specific areas of the law. The one-year LLM degree programs may offer concentrations in corporate law or international law. Many LLM programs also have a theoretical approach and, thus, require their students to finish a thesis.

What are the benefits of a JD degree?

While the JD degree is among the most challenging professional degrees, its rewards are also fulfilling, both financially and non-financial sense. The law profession is among the most respected in modern society, with lawyers being held in high esteem for their integrity, extensive knowledge, and professionalism.

Lawyers also have a reliable professional in that jobs tend to be in abundance for, after all, there are always laws that must be upheld! There are also many specializations to choose from, so it’s possible to shift to another specialization for more rewarding job opportunities.

Lawyers are among the highest-paid professionals with a median annual wage of $126,930 per year (May 2020). Lawyers may also receive stock options, professional fees, and retirement savings plans as benefits depending on the company and type of work. JD degree holders also have other career options, such as becoming a law teacher, working as a law consultant or compliance officer, and pursuing a writing career.

But it’s also important to seek realistic expectations about the cost of a JD degree! Tuition and other college fees are the biggest concern, followed by the time, energy, and effort needed to complete the rigorous program.

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What’s the typical time-to-graduate period?

The typical JD program can be completed in three years for full-time students. But it can take at least four years for a part-time student to earn the degree.

But some universities offer an accelerated two-year program like Columbia, Fordham, Rutgers, and Drexel. Students can start their first year in the JD program in these institutions after completing their third year of undergraduate studies.

What Is the typical curriculum for JD programs?

The curriculum focuses on the law and its various areas, including:

The rigorous didactic coursework demands above-average oral and written communication skills and critical and analytical thinking skills. Students must participate in classroom discussions actively, perhaps even engage in productive debates with their fellow learners. Internships are also common in most schools offering a JD program.

Many of the best law schools also allow students to simultaneously pursue the JD degree and another graduate degree, usually complementary. The most common examples are JD with a Doctor of Philosophy (JD/Ph.D.), JD with a Masters of Business Administration (JD/MBA), and JD with a Masters of Public Policy (JD/MPP).

What are the common requirements for admission into a JD program?

Note that most law schools have a selective admission process. Applicants will be evaluated based on their overall past performance and future potential based on their GPA, LSAT score, and community involvement, among other factors.

Do I need a JD degree to become an Attorney?

Yes, you do need a Juris Doctor (JD) degree from an accredited law school in order to become a licensed attorney in the United States. However, the requirements vary from state to state. Generally, you must also take and pass a state bar exam in order to practice law in that state.

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