If you’ve been a good law school applicant, then you’ve obviously been doing your due-diligence by researching all you can about the law schools you’re applying to. If that’s the case, then I’m sure by now you’ve come across a multitude of unexplained terms that could use clarification.
The idea of “law school tiers” happens to be an especially confusing buzzword for fresh law school applicants. But fortunately, they’re actually very simple to understand.
Law school tiers are based off of the annual law school rankings created by the US News & World Report (USNWR). http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-law-schools/law-rankings
This list consists of the top 200(ish) ABA-accredited law schools in the nation. The top 145 law schools are individually ranked, while the bottom 55 are merely listed alphabetically and given a “Rank Not Published” label. The USNWR Rankings are determined by a hodgepodge of factors including (but not limited to) peer evaluations, class selectivity, placement success, bar passage rate, and quality of professors.
Note: These rankings are by no means perfect, and students should take caution when factoring in a school’s USNWR Ranking during their final decision process.
Law School Tiers:
Tier 1 Law Schools: USNWR Rank 1-50
Tier 2 Law Schools: USNWR Rank 50-100
Tier 3 Law Schools: USNWR Rank 100-150
Tier 4 Law Schools: USNWR Rank 150-200
Because law school rankings change every year, many schools will climb to a higher tier or fall to a lower one with each updated list. However, one group of schools has continually been ranked in at the top since the inception of the USNWR Rankings in 1987. The top fourteen law schools in the nation form a group, known as the “T14.”
Although these schools may shift and fluctuate within the top fourteen rankings, none have ever dropped past fourteen (other than UCLA who got the boot in favor of Cornell in ’87). The consistency with which these schools rank labels each member a “T14 School,” an extremely valuable characteristic that boasts nationwide recognition.
The Top Fourteen (T14) Law Schools in Alphabetical Order
• University of California, Berkeley, in Berkeley, CA
• University of Chicago Law School, in Chicago, IL
• Columbia Law School, in New York, NY
• Cornell Law School, in Ithaca, NY
• Duke University School of Law, in Durham, NC
• Georgetown University Law Center, in Washington, DC
• Harvard Law School, in Cambridge, MA
• University of Michigan Law School, in Ann Arbor, MI
• New York University School of Law, in New York, NY
• Northwestern University School of Law, in Chicago, IL
• University of Pennsylvania Law School, in Philadelphia, PA
• Stanford Law School, in Palo Alto, CA
• University of Virginia School of Law, in Charlottesville, VA
• Yale Law School, in New Haven, CT
Note: The T14 placement is not an official U.S. News category. Rather, it is a widely accepted and sought after label used throughout the legal and educational communities.
There is plenty of criticism surrounding the annual USNWR rankings, as well as the makeup of the law school tiers. The best way to view the USNWR rankings, as well as any others you may come across, is as “tool” rather than the be-all and end-all of factors to consider when choosing a law school.
Of course a school’s ranking may take into account many of the factors you deem important, however, a myriad of others may be excluded from the equation. Just because one school is ranked higher than another does not mean that it is a better school, nor does it mean it will be a better fit for you personally or professionally. Use the USNWR rankings as a tool that will factor into your ultimate decision, but not as the determining factor.