There is some debate as to which schools should compose the list of top law schools. There are a few schools that traditionally top the flags, but whether or not these universities are really worth the cost is quite debatable. For those wishing to pursue a legal career path, though, it is important to know what these rankings actually mean.
The Three Tiers of Law School
Universities that offer a legal education are traditionally grouped into three "tiers" of fifty. The best schools are in the Tier One, followed by those in Tier Two and Tier 3. Traditional wisdom states that the best jobs to go Tier One students, while those in Tier 3 will have the most trouble finding employment. The most competitive bracket is Tier 2, with a number of public universities vying for prestige with some of the larger-name American private colleges.
What Are the Top Law Schools?
As one might expect, the Ivy League is exceptionally well represented in the annual ranking of top law schools. Harvard, Stanford and Yale are traditionally near the top of the list. Columbia, the University of Chicago, and Berkeley usually follow not far behind, with schools like Cornell Law School, Duke, and Georgetown typically bringing up the reminder of the pack. These schools tend to have the best faculty, the most active donors, and some of the most competitive acceptance rates. Whether or not these schools are worth the price, however, is worth questioning.
A Realistic Look
Realistically speaking, the annual report of top law schools is incredibly skewed. Certain schools will always be in the top ten, and certain schools will never rise above the second tier. The quality of education at the top-tier schools is not necessarily better than that in the lower tiers, but the names certainly carry a certain cache with employers. Unless you wish to chase the top one percent of jobs, though, the top ten to fifteen law schools may not be worth the price of admission.
The Top Schools for Your Needs
For the majority of law students, the highest education value can be found in the lower top tier through the second tier of law schools. Most of these schools are reasonably priced, have stellar faculty, and can help a student land a job. While they may not have the name appeal of a Harvard or Stanford, most schools in the second tier also cost only a fraction of those schools' overall price. If you wish to get a legal job in a given area, it is better to seek out a local school than to look at the annual rankings.
The list of the top law schools for one student may not be the same as that for another. The best law school will be one that is affordable for a student's income, yet can still offer a competitive advantage. There is rarely a point in pursuing an education at an incredibly expensive institution if a student is not aiming for a top-tier job, and many students find that studying at a smaller university allows for a better focus on legal education.