If you're considering applying to law school, then there are many things to consider. After making sure you have all the credentials you need in order to begin submitting applications, you'll want to evaluate which law schools are worth applying to for pursual of your degree.

Just like medical schools and business schools, there are some law schools that are better than others. They are broken up into various tiers based on their ranking. It's necessary to understand what these tiers mean before applying to law school.


Tier 1 law schools are, in general, law schools that rank in the top 14 in the country. These schools have better job placement rates for graduates than tier 2 law schools, which rank lower than the top 14.

Law Firm Tiers Explained

Like many institutions of higher learning, law schools are separated into tiers based on their ranking. Schools that are in the top tier are the schools that rank the highest when evaluated on a number of different factors. Then, these rankings are distributed by U.S. News & World Report. According to their website, there are 194 law schools in the United States that are fully accredited by the American Bar Association, or ABA.

The criteria for ranking these law schools comes from "legal educators at peer institutions" who nominate the schools. There are 12 categories of measurement that are used to rank these law schools:

  1. Peer assessment
  2. Assessment score by lawyers and judges
  3. Selectivity
  4. Median undergraduate GPA
  5. Acceptance rate
  6. Placement success
  7. Bar passage rate
  8. Faculty resources
  9. Expenditures per student
  10. Student-faculty ratio
  11. Library resources
  12. Overall rank

Each piece of criteria holds a different weight when it comes to calculating the individual school's ranking. Out of all these, the criteria that holds the most weight and leverage in terms of ranking is the school's job placement success. According to U.S News & World Report, Yale University has been ranked as the best law school at the top of the first tier year after year.

Why Do Law School Tiers Matter?

Law school tiers aren't too important when it comes to applying for school, and most law schools do not use the word "tier" to refer to themselves. What is important is the school's overall ranking.

Law schools that have a higher ranking are those from which most law firms want to hire new lawyers once they've graduated. They'd fall into tier 1. Likewise, law schools that are not ranked as highly may not have as good of a job placement rate for their graduates and would therefore fall into tier 2.

What Is a Tier 1 Law School?

A tier 1 law school might refer to law schools that are in the top 14 for law school rankings, also referred to as "T14" schools. The traditional T14 schools may change slightly from year to year in terms of their spot on the list, but in general, they've stayed the same.

  1. Yale Law School 
  2. Harvard Law School
  3. Stanford Law School 
  4. Columbia Law School
  5. Chicago Law School 
  6. New York University School of Law
  7. University of Pennsylvania Law School 
  8. University of Virginia Law School
  9. University of California Berkeley Boalt Law School 
  10. Duke Law School
  11. University of Michigan Ann Arbor Law School
  12. Northwestern Law School
  13. Cornell Law School
  14. Georgetown Law School 

What Is a Tier 2 Law School?

Tier 2 law schools might refer to law schools that are not part of the T14 law school list. They are the schools that are ranked after the number 14 school on the list. For instance, the number 15 law school on the list could be in tier 2.

These schools may still be decent law schools, but it might be difficult to get a job after graduation, especially compared to graduates of tier 1 schools. According to Above the Law, in 2017, 33.8 percent of law school graduates were not able to secure a job, likely because they graduated from a tier 2 school or did not do well in a tier 1 school.

What Is the Difference Between Tier 1 and Tier 2 Law Schools?

Even though there isn't really such a thing as tier 1 and tier 2 law schools, the schools that are in the T14 can be considered tier 1, while tier 2 schools are those schools which are ranked outside of that top 14 list. If you're planning on applying to law school, then the biggest difference between tier 1 and tier 2 schools is that you will likely have a much better chance of landing a job right after graduation from a tier 1 school than you would with a tier 2 school.

However, students who excel in a tier 2 school can certainly be hired over students who struggled at a tier 1 school. Ultimately, when it comes time to apply to law school, you should aim high and apply to a tier 1 or T14 school to increase your chances of landing a reliable job.

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