Our Debut Ranking Of Law Schools — Stanford Comes Out On Top

Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School

“INCUBATOR FOR INNOVATION”

True, Yale has been recognized as the best law school for so long that putting it at No. 2 feels blasphemous. It’s harder to get into Yale than Stanford. Stanford’s acceptance rate is slightly higher, and its median LSAT score is slightly lower.Stanford’s index score in our ranking is just 0.125 higher than Yale’s. Admittedly, that’s not statistically meaningful. Still, a win is a win.

And how does Stanford come out ahead? Its students’ post-graduation success—arguably the most important thing to consider when choosing a law school—tips the balance in favor of the Silicon Valley powerhouse. Stanford’s biggest gain comes from the percentage of students who have jobs at graduation: 93.2% compared to Yale’s 90.7%. The median private sector starting salary for graduates of both schools is $160,000, which is typical for elite law schools, but at $62,401, Stanford’s median public interest starting salary is higher than Yale’s $60,000. The difference isn’t enormous, but it breaks Stanford’s way.

It’s fitting for Stanford to do well in a ranking that puts tradition aside. The law school brands itself as an “incubator for innovation”: “Our neighbors include most of the world’s leading high-tech, biotech, and venture capital firms,” its website proclaims. Students who choose to focus on science and technology have the opportunity to engage with industry leaders, work on cyberlaw cases, and combine their JDs with degrees in STEM fields like computer science and bioengineering—fields in which Stanford University has a stellar reputation.

Though collegiality doesn’t factor into our ranking, it’s worth noting that Stanford Law School’s small size makes fostering community easier. 1L sections generally have 30 students—not 60—and most upper division classes have fewer than 25 students. (It’s probably no coincidence that No. 2 Yale is a small school, too.)

MORE WINNERS AND LOSERS

The list yielded a few other surprises. Georgia State, No. 54 in U.S. News’ ranking, is No. 24 in ours. The reason is simple: the school performs well in several categories we weight more heavily. For one, Georgia State has an acceptance rate of 26.8%, which means it’s harder to get into than NYU, UT-Austin, Georgetown, and a number of other well-regarded law schools. Combine the competitive admissions process with the fact that 64.5% of Georgia State students graduate with a job lined up—not too bad for a law school—and the fact that the median public interest salary is a respectable $54,268, and you have a winner. No. 25 George Mason also fared surprisingly well: in U.S. News’ ranking, it’s only No. 41. Like Georgia State, the school has a slightly higher acceptance rate than NYU.

Some of the surprises were less positive. Iowa, ranked No. 26 by U.S. News, is off our list entirely. Though the school still enjoys a solid reputation, it has a 48.7% acceptance rate, and almost the exact same percentage of the Class of 2011 graduated with a job lined up. Washington and Lee, tied with Iowa in the U.S. News ranking, is still on our list—but it’s at No. 44. A dismal 27.9% of the Class of 2011 was employed at graduation; it’s hard to recover from that.

Rankings are important, but they occasionally make it hard for applicants to think in terms of return on investment. The top ten schools have promising statistics, but they also tend to be incredibly pricey. And though the schools farther down might not look as good on paper, their price tags alone make them worth considering. No. 16 Alabama costs $32,920—for out-of-staters. That’s $15,148 less than California residents pay to go to Berkeley. And the difference between the two just about pays for a year of in-state tuition at Georgia State. That’s one area where Stanford simply can’t compete.

(See following page for our table of the top 50 law schools)