Deciding to pursue a legal career is a solid choice. After all, not only is the law a fascinating and important pillar of modern society, but it also pays extremely well and offers incredible opportunities for professional growth.
To practise as a lawyer, though, you need to go to law school, which is no walk in the park in itself. Aspiring attorneys need to be disciplined, quick-witted and capable of looking at things from a different perspective – key skills that, among others, are cultivated and developed in the classroom.
Therefore, in order to reach the summit of the profession, your choice of university or college can be vitally important. To help, we’ve consulted the latest rankings from Quacquarelli Symonds, Times Higher Education and the Shanghai Rankings to compile a definitive top 10.
So, if you see yourself as the next Harvey Specter or Elle Woods, these are the best law schools in the world.
10. London School of Economics
Location: London, UK
Average ranking: 11.7
With one of the most competitive admission processes in the UK, the London School of Economics (LSE) takes only the best and brightest onto its renowned LLB undergraduate programme, while there is also an LLM master’s option for those looking to specialise in a particular area of law.
The school itself – which celebrates its centenary this year – also offers joint degrees, executive programmes and a PhD option.
Notable LSE alumni in the legal world include former American Bar Association president Talbot ‘Sandy’ D’Alamberte; former Law Commissioner for England and Wales, Jeremy Horder; and Andrew Ashworth, CBE, QC, the former Vinerian Professor of English Law at the University of Oxford.
9. UC Berkeley School of Law
Location: Berkeley, California, US
Average ranking: 9.7
One of the top-ranked public universities in the US, the University of California, Berkeley excels in a number of academic areas and none more so than in law. The University’s law school offers programmes at JD, LLM and PhD level, while the numbers are impressive, too: the median salary of Berkeley law graduates is $180,000 (£142,110), while the majority go on to find work with top law firms.
Notable legal alumni include legendary Chief Justice Earl Warren and Catholic Church attorney Mark Anchor Albert, while notorious conman Frank Abagnale Jr famously faked a Berkeley law degree.
8. Columbia Law School
Location: New York City, New York, US
Average ranking: 9.0
One of the most famous law schools in the world, the Columbia Law School can best be summarised by the calibre of students that walk through its doors. To date, the school has graduated two US presidents (and numerous foreign heads of state), countless US cabinet members, three Chief Justices (no other school has graduated more than one), numerous Supreme Court members and a whole assortment of judicial state heads across the world.
The school has also forged key links and dual programmes with many of the other universities on this list, as well as with top schools in Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt.
7. New York University School of Law
Location: New York City, New York, US
Average ranking: 7.7
As if one world-class law school wasn’t enough, New York City is lucky enough to boast two. Aside from programmes at JD, LLM and JSD level, New York University’s law department is also home to several highly respected law review journals as well as a large number of think tanks, NGOs and private institutes.
Notable alumni include former New York mayors Fiorello La Guardia, Ed Koch and Rudy Guiliani, as well as NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly and investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald (who helped break the Edward Snowden leaks).
6. University of Chicago Law School
Location: Chicago, Illinois, US
Average ranking: 7.3
Offering degrees at JD, LLM and JSD level, the University of Chicago Law School is one of the most prestigious legal institutions in the world with an esteemed (and, at times, celebrity) faculty overseeing a student body of around 600 aspiring lawyers.
Its alumni include numerous state judicial figures, both in the US and abroad, as well as several current and former deans at the likes of Stanford, Cornell and Yale. Attendees of the school between 1992 and 2004, meanwhile, will have received their education in constitutional law from a future US president; Barack Obama is famously a former professor at the university.
5. Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge
Location: Cambridge, UK
Average ranking: 6.0
As one of the oldest universities in the world (civil law and canon law has been studied at the school since the 13th Century, while the Regius Professorship of Civil Law was established in 1540), it’s no surprise to find the University of Cambridge on this list. Home to one of the largest student-run law societies on the planet, it is a global leader (particularly in international law), offering programmes at BA, LLM, MCL, MLitt, PhD and LLD levels.
Notable legal alumni include senior British politician and former chancellor Ken Clarke and Creative Commons movement founder Lawrence Lessig, as well as numerous judges, justices and justice secretaries.
4. Faculty of Law, University of Oxford
Location: Oxford, UK
Average ranking: 5.0
Just pipping Cambridge in the rankings, though, is its great rival, the University of Oxford (which also takes precedence in the seniority stakes, too). In its modern guise, it offers the largest doctoral law programme in the English-speaking world, as well as several undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
To date, the school has produced 12 Lord Chancellors, 10 Lord Chief Justices, 9 UK Supreme Court Justices and 22 law lords, while former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and former European Court of Human Rights president Sir Nicholas Bratza are also alumni.
3. Stanford University School of Law
Location: Palo Alto, California, US
Average ranking: 4.3
Regularly ranked as the best university in the world, Stanford’s high academic standards are clearly present in its law school, which was established as far back as 1892 and accredited by the ABA in the 1920s. Praised for the strength of its teaching and research faculty, Stanford offers four degree programmes at undergraduate and postgraduate level.
Its alumni, meanwhile, include numerous senior judicial figures, while its proximity to tech mecca Silicon Valley means that many Stanford graduates find work as general counsel for big tech players such as Microsoft, Google and Facebook.
2. Yale Law School
Location: New Haven, Connecticut, US
Average ranking: 3.3
Offering degree programmes at JD, LLM, JSD, MSL and PhD level, the Yale Law School is one of the most prestigious legal institutions in the world. Many of its students stay in academia when they graduate (the Yale Law Journal is one the most highly cited legal publications in the US), while the Bar pass rate for Yale graduates is a highly impressive 99%.
Given its reputation for elitism and secretive networking, it’s unsurprising that so many Yale alumni land top judicial roles. Former US presidents Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton, and former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, are all Yale Law graduates, while another former president, William Taft, served as a professor.
1. Harvard Law School
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts, US
Average ranking: 3.0
As is so often the case on these lists, though, the top-ranked law school in the world is, of course, Harvard Law School.
Established in 1817, the school is responsible for producing the highly influential and much-cited Harvard Law Review (of which Barack Obama and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are former contributors), while numerous US senators (including Ted Cruz and Mitt Romney), Chief Justices, Supreme Court Justices and attorneys general are Harvard alumni.
As an indication of its standing, the school is also referenced heavily in popular culture. The 2001 Reese Witherspoon comedy Legally Blonde is set there, while in the long-running legal drama Suits, attendance at Harvard Law School is compulsory in order to be hired by the show’s fictional firm.
Are you hoping to attend one of these renowned institutions? Or have you applied in the past? Let us know your experiences in the comments below!