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 1965 when the current requirement for JD applicants possessing 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. The 20 best JD programs in this list are definitely among the most respected, recognized and prestigious in the world!
The 20 Doctor of Law universities featured here were chosen based on the following factors:
- The university has regional accreditation from a US Department of Education recognized accreditation body and programmatic accreditation from the American Bar association.
- The highly selective admission process makes these universities the toughest to get into and maintain good academic standing.
- The rigorous academic curriculum results in their students’ comprehensive depth and breadth of knowledge of the law.
- The university is widely known for academic excellence, qualified faculty, and exceptional student support services, among other aspects that make an educational institution a truly conducive environment for advanced learning.
20 BEST DOCTOR OF LAW/JURIS DOCTOR GRADUATE SCHOOLS
: 127 Wall Street, New Haven, Connecticut
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.
- While Yale has a highly selective admission process, students become collaborators instead of competitors once accepted. All courses are ungraded during the first term, with subsequent honors/pass/low pass grading system. Students may also choose the credit/fail option, but neither class rank nor curve.
- Yale has several programs, centers and workshops that enrich the students’ lives through community service and scholarly work. Some programs prioritize underserved/underrepresented populations, such as the Access to Law School Program for minority, low-income and first-generation applicants.
- Small class sizes are maintained so that students can be provided with individualized programs of study. Only about 200 students are admitted for every entering class.
- Applicants are evaluated based on a holistic but selective admission process. Applicant components include an undergraduate degree with academic transcripts, personal statements and 250-word essays, letters of recommendation, and diversity statements. Applicants must submit a dean’s certification and standardized tests.
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.
: 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California
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.
- Students can apply for the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program to fully fund their law education. Financial assistance through tuition fellowships, private loans and federal aid is available. About 75% of students receive financial aid.
- First-year students focus on the law basics and expand their perspectives of its theory and applications. The extensive coursework prepares them for the advanced – and extremely rigorous – curriculum of Stanford Law School.
- Three are required courses, and one is an elective course in winter. In the spring quarter, students tackle 12 or fewer elective units.
- Stanford covers most areas of study in law, including accounting, administrative, environmental and criminal law. Aside from the advanced academic coursework, students also participate in advanced clinics where theory meets practice. Students work in these clinics full-time, usually a quarter or more.
- Each class only has 30 students, maximum, to maintain active participation, individualized attention and academic excellence in the cohort.
- All students are guaranteed housing during their first year at Stanford.
- Candidates must submit a comprehensive resume, a personal statement, and two letters of recommendation. A diversity essay and two short essays from a list of four essay questions are optional.
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.
: 1563 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts
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.
- Students must establish a solid intellectual foundation during their first year that will ensure their success in their legal education. The curriculum covers the core principles, concepts and skills vital in legal practice, particularly in constitutional, criminal and civil law, among other areas. Students must develop critical and analytical thinking, communication, and reasoning skills.
- The January Experiential Term is a compulsory requirement for first-year students where they attend skills-based courses with an emphasis on practical training. Students also participate in the First-Year Ames Moot Court Program and other legal writing and research programs to develop their oral and written communication skills.
- Both section-based and faculty-led enrichment activities are available to first-year students. The section-based activities include law-related extracurricular activities, while faculty-led activities include ungraded reading groups covering many topics.
- Upper-level students choose from seven optional programs of study, including Criminal Justice, Law and Social Change, and International and Comparative Law. Every student must work with a faculty member in creating an academic program based on their specific focus.
- Third-year students are encouraged to engage in a capstone learning experience, such as clinical practice, advanced seminars, and writing projects.
- Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree and submit a resume, personal statement, LSAT or GRE score, LSAC Report, official transcripts, and letters of recommendation.
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%!
University of Chicago
: 1111 East 60th Street, Chicago, Illinois
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!
- The three-year program is a full-time program with nine academic quarters. Evening and part-time enrollment aren’t allowed. Classes typically start in late September or early October, with classes ending in early June.
- Applicants must apply via the LSAC online portal and before the academic year before their planned term of enrollment. Work experience isn’t required but recommended, with 70% of incoming first-year students having 1-2 years of work experience.
- Small class sizes are maintained via a selective admission process. About 185 students enter the JD program every year; the entire JD program has about 600 students.
- UChicago encourages tolerance for all ideas, viewpoints and ideologies among its students and faculty members. Each of them also has the right to challenge these ideas intellectually and respectfully.
- Students choose from various clinical programs that bridge the gap between theory and practice. The Mandel Legal Aid Clinic allows students to participate in litigation-based and legislative work. The Environmental Law Clinic, the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship, and the Prosecution and Defense Clinic are other options.
- UChicago makes it possible for JD students to enjoy their stay through extracurricular activities. There are more than 60 student-led organizations and musicals, intramurals, and weekly breakfasts.
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.
: 435 West 116th Street, New York, NY
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.
- The three-year program first builds a strong legal foundation, particularly in the higher faculty skills vital for success in the rigorous program. The foundation curriculum covers the fundamentals of the areas of study in law, such as civil procedure, constitutional law, criminal law, and contracts.
- First-year students must take the Foundation-year Moot Course that develops their core legal skills, including creating and delivering arguments. Participation in extramural moot court competitions is also an effective way of developing these core skills.
- Second-year and third-year students build on their foundational knowledge and take advanced courses and electives. Clinics and seminars are more common, too, with topics touching on the various areas of the law.
- Students can explore areas outside of their program of study during the January Term (J-Term). Course examples include Conflict Resolution and Diplomacy, Bioethics Mediation, and Social Justice Advocacy.
- Aside from the required courses, students must complete a professional responsibility course, at least six experiential credits and 40 hours of pro bono work, and two writing credits.
- The areas of study include data analytics, leadership, social justice and human rights, aside from the typical courses on criminal justice, constitutional law, and business law.
- Students study abroad through 34 study-abroad programs, either in their second or third year.
- The JB program is a full-time commitment, and there are no evening, summer, part-time or distance learning options.
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.
University of Pennsylvania
: 3501 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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.
- This is a full-time program with 86 credits for completion within six years of residency. Every student must complete six experiential learning credits; the Professional Responsibility course and the scholarly research and writing project. The Pro Bono requirement is also mandatory.
- The ABA-mandated experiential credits requirement can be fulfilled by choosing from nearly 60 courses classified as experiential. These credits may also come from externships, clinics and student projects like teaching and research assistantships.
- The scholarly research and writing project can either be a single long paper or a series of short papers that demonstrate analysis, style and organization.
- The minimum number of credits for full-time attendance is 12 credits every semester. But students can enroll in up to 17 credits per semester.
- Up to 12 credits are transferred JD degrees for graduate-level courses from other UPenn departments, but these must be proven useful in legal education.
- The maximum number of credits earned toward the JD degree from co-curricular activities is 22.
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.”
New York University
: 40 Washington Sq. South, New York, New York
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.
- The first-year curriculum includes the traditional required courses and an elective alongside the Lawyering Program and the Legislation and the Regulatory State course. The latter, an especially-designed course, introduces students to the concepts, tools and materials that lawyers must possess for their success.
- The required courses include torts, criminal law, civil procedure, contracts and property and constitutional law. Students aren’t expected to memorize the law per se but, more importantly, gain an insightful understanding of its philosophy and practices.
- The elective course during the first-year studies can be any of seven choices, including constitutional law, income taxation, and intellectual property. This is designed to allow students to individualize their studies.
- The second-year curriculum emphasizes strong writing skills through faculty-led directed research or a seminar to complete the required analytic paper. Said paper can be published as a note in one or more NYU Law student journals and for jobs and clerkships applications.
- Advanced courses and clinics, and simulation courses are part of the second-year program of study.
- Students in their third year may tackle their clinic or colloquium requirements. NYU Law has over 40 clinics covering environmental law, capital punishment and international law, among other areas. The colloquium requirement consists of meta-seminars where students enrich their legal education through reading groups and scholarly discussions.
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.
University of California Berkeley
: 225 Law Building, Berkeley, California
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.
- The highly selective program accepts about 1% of applicants for every annual cohort. This means small class sizes are maintained, and students receive more individualized attention.
- Despite the restrictive admission, the diverse student body reflects UC Berkeley’s commitment to diversity in its various aspects. These include intellectual diversity, with students encouraged to present competing perspectives and rationally defend them.
- The first-year curriculum establishes the foundation of fundamentals in law necessary for advanced studies in the second and third years. There are four compulsory courses and a Legal Research and Writing course in the fall semester. Students take one compulsory course and the Written & Oral Advocacy course in the spring semester.
- The four required first-year courses are Contracts, Criminal Law, Civil Procedure, and Torts.
- The class sizes range from 60 to 120 students, but a small class with just 30-35 students.
- Students in their second and third year choose from a wide variety of Electives Skills Courses, which have different expectations than the regular courses.
- The clinic programs offer students the opportunity to put knowledge into practice and transform it into practical skills. Students choose from the Death Penalty Clinic, International Human Rights Law Clinic, and Environmental Law Clinic.
- Students in their first semester can participate in the Pro Bono Program and engage the community while learning lawyering skills. Choices include the Student-Initiated Legal Services Projects (SLPS), Call for Necessary Engagement in Community & Timely Response (CNECT), and Berkeley Law Alternative Service Trips (BLAST).
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.
University of Virginia
: 580 Massie Road, Charlottesville, Virginia
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.
- The three-year program has small class sizes with a student-faculty ratio of about 7:1 and current enrollment at 942 students.
- Students learn through a broad range of opportunities, from intensive short courses and seminars to clinics, advanced theory courses and trial advocacies. Twenty-four hands-on clinics deal with different law areas and provide experiential learning complete with client interactions.
- Dual-degree programs, externships and study-abroad opportunities are also available. Research projects, both independent and faculty-led types, are also offered for both credits and experience.
- First-year students tackle two mandatory courses during the first and second semesters. Civil procedure, contracts, torts, and criminal law students are automatically enrolled. These are small section classes with about 35 students only.
- First-year students then move onto two mandatory courses – property and constitutional law – during the spring term. The second in a series of Legal Research and Writing is also taken at this time and 5-7 hours of elective courses.
- The second-year coursework includes patent law, federal courts, evidence, corporations, and regulation of the political process.
- Third-year students focus on independent and directed research and complete coursework in trusts and estates, remedies, land use law, and antitrust. The year-long Supreme Court Litigation Clinic is equivalent to four credits every semester.
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.
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
: 625 South State Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan
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.
- While the stereotypical first-year law experience focuses on the negative aspects, Umich students and alumni say otherwise! The first year is filled with positive experiences in both the educational and personal aspects.
- First-year students explore the fundamentals of the law with the guidance of credentialed professors and practitioners. Students must stand out in their oral and written communication skills, as well as establish advocacies.
- Second-year and third-year students choose from courses in the JD program, Law Quad, and other UMich schools. Graduation requirements include completing international, comparative, regulatory and statutory law, and ethics and professional responsibility. There’s a course on writing skills and a legal practice course that demands excellent writing skills.
- Students must meet UMich’s experiential education requirements through clinical work, externships or practice simulations.
- Internships and externships are available for students to expand their work experiences.
- Intramural moot court competitions aren’t compulsory but encouraged for experiential learning. The Henry M. Campbell Moot Court Competition is the oldest, but plenty of other options are too. Every moot court covers a specific area of studies, such as criminal law, child welfare law, and environmental law.
- Work and play make for the best UMich JD student, and there are plenty of student organizations with different interest areas, from hobbies and religion to politics and community service.
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%.
: 210 Science Dr, Durham, North Carolina
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!
- Students earn 87 law credits comprising prescribed courses, electives and experiential learning requirements. At least 64 credits are required for regularly-scheduled courses.
- Civil Procedure, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Contract Law, Property Law, Tort Law, and Legal Analysis, Research and Writing are the prescribed first-year courses.
- Students must also complete a 2-credit ethics and professional responsibility course marked as JD-Ethics on the Course of Study.
- At least two credits of the directed research paper must be completed as part of the Substantial Research and Writing Project Requirement (SRWP). This must be a student’s solo project but conducted under the supervision of a faculty member.
- Students must complete six credits (minimum) of the experiential learning requirement. This can be satisfied through clinics, simulation courses and externships.
- The 2-course professional development credits are required but don’t count toward the credits required to earn the degree.
- Duke’s upper-class curriculum blends legal coursework and practical skills courses, such as small study groups and clinics.
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.
: 375 East Chicago Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
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.
- Students must complete the academic requirements for 85 semester credits. The period of residence should not be less than six semesters but not more than seven semesters.
- At least a 2.25 cumulative GPA must be earned for graduation or a 2.0 GPA if two-thirds of all grades are at least C+.
- The required courses are Communication and Legal Reasoning I and II, Civil Procedure, Contracts, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Torts, Property, and Legal Ethics. Students must also earn six credits from courses in the experiential learning list and a Perspective elective.
- The 22-credit first-year curriculum consists of mandatory courses and electives of six credits.
- First-year students take the required courses to establish a solid foundation in lawyering skills, including analysis, reasoning and writing. These courses are also designed to build a thorough understanding of the law’s policies, procedures and structures.
- Upper-class students must meet the advanced academic writing requirement by their second or third year in the program. Students may also apply to scholarly journals at this point.
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
: 385 – Charles E. Young Dr. E, Los Angeles, CA
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!
- Students attend a week-long orientation program designed to ease their transition into the rigorous lifestyle that law students demand. The orientation also introduces students to the fundamentals of the learning process in the JD program and encourages students to start thinking as lawyers and advocates.
- The first-year curriculum is a formative program of study emphasizing foundational subjects. Constitutional Law, Labor Law, Federal Taxation, Evidence and Remedies are required courses. Students who become well-versed in their fundamentals will also become the foundation for their clinical and experiential courses.
- The importance of effective communication skills is that students must complete the Legal Research and Writing course. Students gain effective writing skills relevant to legal research, presentation and advocacy, usually in small classes to encourage camaraderie-based learning.
- The Modes of Legal inquiry seminars strengthen the students’ grasp of the law by analyzing cases in different areas of the law.
- The Lawyer-Client Relationship course is also mandatory due to its crucial lessons in maintaining a good lawyer-client relationship. Pro bono services are part of the experience.
- Upper-class students choose from a wide range of advanced classes, specializations and clinics that will challenge their intellect. Six units of experiential courses combined with a Professional Responsibility course complete the experience.
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!
: Myron Taylor Hall, Ithaca, New York
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.
- The admissions committee considers several factors in the acceptance of candidates. Aside from the applicant’s academic record (GPA) and LSAT scores, candidates are evaluated based on their letters of recommendation, personal statement and resume. Community involvement, extracurricular activities and work and research experience are valued, as is the diversity statement.
- The faculty members are respected in their field of expertise, with many holding academic chairs and published authors of law books in their subject areas.
- First-year students are placed in small classes or sections to encourage collaborative learning.
- The 28-credit first-year required courses are Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Lawyering, Torts, Criminal Law, and Property. The single elective course should be taken in the spring semester to sample a specialization.
- The second-year curriculum has no mandatory courses, but degree requirements must still be complied with. Students, however, are well-advised to take the Administrative Law, Business Organizations, Evidence and Federal Income Taxation courses.
- The third-year program of study emphasizes specialization or diversification based on the student’s interest. Electives and seminars are abundant, but students must meet certain degree requirements.
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!
: 600 New Jersey Avenue NW, Washington DC.
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!
- Students earn 85 credits to graduate and earn the JD degree. The recommended number of credits per semester ranges from 10 to 16 credits.
- The full-time program is designed to complete three academic years or six semesters. The typical classes are from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but upper-class students may also have classes during the evenings and weekends.
- Students must meet the required number of credits and then choose from a wide range of elective courses for credits. These electives are intended to build an individualized program of study. There are more than 500 courses to choose from if you’re wondering.
- First-year students complete 30 credits of mandatory courses to build their foundational knowledge and skills in preparation for advanced upper-class studies.
- Georgetown has Curriculum A and Curriculum B for its first-year full-time students, but both feature the same number of credits and grading curve. The traditional Curriculum A is similar to the typical program of study in major law schools and is undertaken by four sections. The innovative Curriculum B adopts an integrated approach to legal education.
- There’s also an evening program that can be completed in as long as four academic years.
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.
: 131 21st Ave. South, Nashville, Tennessee
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.
- Students are required to pursue the JD degree on a full-time basis. The minimum number of credits taken should be ten credits per semester. Students must also be on a residential status for six semesters or equivalent for students who require more than said period.
- The number of credits required is 88 semester hours with a GPA of 2.0 or above. A maximum of five credits can be from credit-bearing extracurricular activities. A minimum of 65 credit hours must be from regular classes in the Law School, but students applying for the Order of the Coif must earn 66 graded hours, minimum.
- Students must take full responsibility for meeting all the degree requirements, from planning to completing them, but faculty and staff members are ready to assist. Good moral character, payment of financial obligations, and favorable recommendation from the faculty are required to stay in the program and earn the degree.
- Completing a 3-credit seminar course can satisfy the mandatory research paper requirement, but there are also other methods. Students may pursue a topic unrelated to the seminars but must also comply with the supervised research project requirement.
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
: 727 East Dean Keeton St., Austin, Texas
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.
- Students earn 86 credit hours, of which 65 credits must be from regular classes, including cross-listed courses, seminars and clinics. A maximum of 21 credit hours are from non-regular coursework, including internships, non-law graduate-level classes, DRS offerings, and undergraduate-level language classes.
- The three-year JD program requires full-time commitment due to the intensive and intense legal training, which has been described as transformative and substantive.
- First-year students spend their time building the foundation of their legal education with courses in civil procedure, constitutional law and criminal law. The coursework develops advanced critical thinking and analytical skills that allow students to ” think like a lawyer” in the words of Texas Law.
- Second-year and third-year students can individualize their program of study based on their interests and aspirations in law and its related fields. While there are required courses, elective courses personalize each student’s legal training.
- Required courses include Contracts, Criminal Law, Property, Torts, Legal Analysis and Communication, Constitutional Law, and Civil Procedure: Investigation, Prosecution and Bail to Jail.
- Students must obtain a cumulative GPA of 1.90 to graduate.
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
: Campus Box 1143, St. Louis, Missouri
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.
- The three-year JD program is a full-time program covering a wide range of legal courses.
- Students earn 86 credit hours with at least 67 credits earned in Law Classroom Units (LCUs) or regularly scheduled courses.
- The minimum cumulative GPA is 3.00 to earn the JD degree.
- First-year students must complete three doctrinal courses every semester and the Legal Research Methodologies and Legal Practice courses. Most courses are taught in small sections of about 45 students each. The Legal Research Methodologies and Legal Practice courses are taught in workshop-style classes. The professors also provide specific feedback on every student’s writing and research project.
- The required courses are Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Contracts, Torts, Property, Legal Practice, Legal Research Methodologies, and Negotiation. Most of these courses have four credits, while others only have 1-2 credits.
- Upper-level students complete 45 credit hours with a program of study that reflects their interests and goals. But there are requirements, too, in writing, ethics and professional skills. Faculty members guide course selections.
- Students’ participation in moot court competitions is strongly encouraged. The Giles Rich Moot Court Competition and Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition are the most popular.
- The Judicial Clerkship is an externship experience to remember for students because of the real-world exposure to civil and criminal litigation.
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.
: 765 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts
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.
- The 85-credit program has a full-time program of study that should ideally be completed in three academic years.
- The extremely competitive admission process ensures a low faculty-student ratio that, in turn, means students benefit from an individualized educational experience. Faculty mentors are assigned to every student aside from the usual faculty advisors.
- First-year students start their legal training nearly as soon as they enter a classroom, an early start that will get them “thinking like a lawyer.” The coursework emphasizes basic mastery of legal doctrines, legal writing and research skills, and procedures in civil and criminal law. The 1L Lawyering Program is the venue for the acquisition of these skills.
- Second-year and third-year students build on their foundational knowledge while acquiring more advanced lawyering knowledge and skills.
- More than 200 courses cover various topics, from federal taxation to international human rights. Students also choose from several concentrations, including Intellectual Property, Health Law, Litigation & Dispute Resolution, Transactional Law, and Risk Management & Compliance.
- Students develop workplace-ready skills in and outside the classroom. Aside from the challenging didactic coursework, students also take on experiential learning experiences, including moot court and mock trial competitions, externships and clinical programs.
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
: 699 Exposition Boulevard, Los Angeles, California
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.
- Students earn 88 units to earn the degree, and 64 units must be from regularly scheduled courses. Externships, practicums, independent research projects, and journals aren’t counted toward these 64 units. Students also earn 37 upper-division graded units as part of the degree requirements.
- This three-year program is designed to be completed within six semesters as a full-time student.
- Students must meet the upper-division requirement in experiential learning through six units from a law clinic, a simulation course, or a field placement.
- Students who want to remain in good standing in the JD program must achieve a 2.90 cumulative GPA.
- With its selective admission process, USC Gould maintains a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio. This figure is instrumental in maintaining the supportive, collegial and close-knit community of law students in all its programs.
- The coursework, however, is rigorous due to its emphasis on experiential learning and interdisciplinary approach. Students aren’t limited to their JD coursework but can also access USC Gould’s abundant opportunities in dual degrees, study abroad and clinics.
- The application requirements are the electronic application and application fee; CAS report with transcripts, LSAT scores and letters of recommendation; GRE scores; personal statement; and resume.
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!
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:
- Passing scores, including the MEE and MPT scores
- The period when the score will be accepted (validity period)
- Eligibility requirements and the number of time an individual can take it
- Additional educational level and jurisdiction-specific exams
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.
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:
- Constitutional law
- Civil procedures
- Contract law
- Criminal law
- Civil law
- Criminal law
- Property and real estate law
- Public law
- Business law
- International law
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?
- A bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution. There’s no specific study area, but most law students have an undergraduate degree in English, business, journalism, philosophy, or political science.
- Minimum Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores are required for admission in most institutions.
- A minimum GPA on the bachelor’s degree, perhaps with minimum grades on specific subjects like English composition, too.
- Letters of recommendation, personal statements or statements of purpose, and official transcripts
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.