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Law School Tiers - All You Need to Know

February 28, 2024
6 min read


Reviewed by:

David Merson

Former Head of Pre-Law Office, Northeastern University, & Admissions Officer, Brown University

Reviewed: 2/28/24

If you’re applying to law school, you’re probably aware of the role that tier law schools play. Let’s break it down. 

This system has been around for a while, and it all started with annual law school rankings, with the US News rankings taking the lead. 

These tiers help us get some sense of a law school's quality and reputation. But, these tiers aren't set in stone, and not everyone agrees on what each tier should include. For example, just last year, Yale University put out a statement criticizing this system despite being in the top spot for years. 

Initially, it was all about prestige and reputation. But over time, they've come to consider factors like faculty quality, resources, job placement rates, and bar passage rates. So, while tiers are a good starting point, they're not the whole story. We'll dig deeper into the role they play and offer a list of tier 1 and tier 2 universities in the USA.

What Do Law School Tiers Mean?

Law school tiers categorize law schools based on factors like reputation, faculty qualifications, bar passage rates, and graduate employment outcomes. 

Tier 1 schools are the most prestigious and competitive, while Tier 2 and Tier 3 schools offer strong programs with varying selectivity. Your choice should align with your career goals, as the tier can influence your legal career opportunities.

However, when picking a law school, don't focus solely on tiers. Think about location, special programs, scholarship options, and how well the school fits your career plans. So, while tiers can be a starting point, try to take a broader view when making your decision.

Factors that Determine Tier of Law Schools

Determining the tier of a law school involves assessing several key factors. However, it's important to remember that there's no one-size-fits-all formula for ranking them. Here are some of the main factors that come into play:

  • Academic Reputation: A law school's standing is often closely tied to its academic reputation. Factors like the quality of its faculty, research output, and its history can influence this reputation.
  • Bar Passage Rates: The percentage of students who pass the bar exam on their first attempt is a significant indicator of a law school's effectiveness in preparing its graduates for the legal profession.
  • Job Placement Rates: High job placement rates among graduates in legal positions shortly after graduation can elevate a law school's tier.
  • Faculty Expertise: A strong, respected faculty can draw top-tier students and enhance a law school's reputation.
  • Resources: The availability of resources, including libraries, research centers, and internship opportunities, can affect a law school's tier.
  • Specialized Programs: If a law school offers specialized programs in areas like environmental law, health law, or intellectual property that are well-regarded, this can positively impact its tier.
  • Location: The geographic location of a law school can influence its tier. Schools in major legal markets or attractive cities may be viewed more favorably.
  • Alumni Network: The size and influence of a law school's alumni network can have a significant impact on its reputation and, subsequently, its tier.
  • Scholarship Opportunities: Law schools offering substantial scholarships can attract high-achieving students, potentially affecting their tier.
  • Student Outcomes: Metrics such as the employment rates and salaries of graduates can provide insights into a law school's tier. Schools with higher-earning graduates may have a more favorable reputation.

Keep in mind that these factors are all linked, and how much weight each one carries can differ between various ranking systems and schools. While a law school's tier does give you a rough idea of its reputation, don't make it the only thing you focus on when picking the right law school for your unique goals and preferences.

How Often Are Law School Tiers Updated?

Law school tiers are usually updated once a year, typically coinciding with the release of the US News & World Report law school rankings. If you're planning to apply to law schools, it's a good idea to stay updated with the latest information to make informed decisions.

List of Tier 1 Law Schools

  • Yale Law School 
  • Stanford Law School 
  • Harvard Law School 
  • University of Chicago Law School 
  • Columbia Law 
  • New York University School of Law 
  • University of California Berkeley Law School 
  • University of Pennsylvania Law School 
  • University of Virginia Law School 
  • University of Michigan Ann Arbor Law School 
  • Duke Law School 
  • Northwestern Law School 
  • Cornell Law School 
  • Georgetown Law School 

List of Tier 2 Law Schools

  • Vanderbilt University Law School
  • Washington University in St. Louis School of Law
  • Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law
  • University of Texas at Austin School of Law
  • University of Georgia School of Law
  • University of Notre Dame Law School
  • University of Southern California Gould School of Law
  • University of Illinois College of Law
  • University of North Carolina School of Law
  • Wake Forest University School of Law
  • Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School
  • UCLA School of Law (University of California—Los Angeles)
  • University of Florida Levin College of Law
  • Boston College Law School
  • Washington and Lee University School of Law
  • Stanford Law School (Stanford University)
  • University of Kansas School of Law
  • University of Minnesota Law School
  • University of Iowa College of Law
  • Boston University School of Law
  • Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law
  • University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law
  • University of Kentucky College of Law
  • Ohio State University Moritz College of Law
  • University of Alabama School of Law
  • University of Missouri School of Law
  • Wayne State University Law School
  • University of Houston Law Center
  • Florida State University College of Law
  • Texas A&M University School of Law
  • University of Tennessee College of Law
  • University of Wisconsin Law School
  • Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law

List of Tier 3 Law Schools

  • UT Austin School of Law 
  • Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law
  • Northeastern University School of Law
  • Case Western Reserve University School of Law
  • Washington and Lee University School of Law
  • University of Florida Levin College of Law

List of Tier 4 Law Schools

  • Penn State Dickinson Law
  • SMU Dedman School of Law 
  • UC Irvine School of Law 
  • UC Davis School of Law 
  • Rutgers Law School 
  • Temple University Beasley School of Law
  • University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law 
  • Fordham University School of Law

Beyond the Four Tiers: Other Law Schools Explained

While these tiers provide a basic framework for assessing law schools, it's important to recognize that there are many law schools that fall outside of these traditional categories. 

Rankings can vary widely between different organizations and publications, considering diverse criteria. They also can change over time due to various factors.

Also, some schools excel regionally or in specialized fields, making them strong choices for specific career paths. They may not be considered tier 1 or tier 2 law schools, but they are the leaders in real estate or constitutional law, for example.

Ultimately, what matters most is finding the law school that aligns with your personal and career goals. Your decision should factor in location, specialized programs, scholarships, faculty expertise, and more. 

There are some quality tier-3 law schools out there. The same can be said for tier 4 schools—just find one that suits your needs. You can develop into a successful, well-educated lawyer by attending a T4 law school. 

It's a subjective choice that depends on your individual needs and preferences. So, while tiers offer a simplified view, don't limit your options; explore the broader landscape of law schools to find your best fit.


Curious about tier 1 law schools? Let’s dig deeper into what sets them apart and what to look for. 

1. What Distinguishes Tier 1 Law Schools From Others?

Tier 1 schools are known as the best law colleges. They typically stand out because of their strong academic reputation, high bar passage rates, and excellent graduate employment outcomes. 

They offer ample resources, have influential alumni networks, and are often located in major legal hubs. While they may be more costly, many provide substantial scholarships. 

2. Is the Tier of a Law School the Most Important Factor in Choosing Where to Attend?

No, the law school's tier is not the most important factor. Other factors like location, specialized programs, scholarships, faculty expertise, and career alignment matter more in making your decision. Your personal goals should guide you.

3. Are International Law Schools Ranked in Tiers as Well?

Yes, international law schools are ranked in tiers, too, just like domestic ones. However, the specific criteria and rankings can vary between different organizations and publications.

4. Can a Law School Change Tiers?

Absolutely, law schools can change tiers. These rankings are not set in stone and can shift due to various factors, including changes in a school's performance and ranking methodologies. So, make sure to consider the most up-to-date rankings when assessing law schools.

5. Which Top-Tier Law Schools Give the Best Scholarships?

Yale Law School, Harvard Law School, and Stanford Law School are well-known top-tier law schools that offer substantial scholarships to help talented students with their education costs. 

They focus on providing financial aid based on individual needs. However, it's important to remember that scholarship details can change, so it's a good idea to visit the schools' official websites and contact their financial aid offices for the most up-to-date information.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it—the lowdown on tier law schools in the US. From its origins in annual law school rankings to the factors that determine a law school's tier, we've covered the essentials.

Remember, while understanding the tiers is crucial, they're not everything. Your decision should revolve around your goals and preferences. Consider location, specialized programs, scholarships, and how well the school aligns with your career path.

Tiers provide a helpful starting point, but they don't tell the whole story. In the end, your legal education's success and your future legal career depend on finding the right law school for you, regardless of the tier. So, explore, research, and make a choice that's tailor-made for your unique journey.

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