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Law School Tiers 101 - Do Law School Rankings Matter?

 Law School Tiers 101 - Do Law School Rankings Matter?
Every March, the legal world waits with bated breath for the newest U.S. News law school rankings. Like it or not, lawyers are obsessed with rankings. Despite this obsession, few law firms will admit that they hire only from select schools. However, one look at the educational backgrounds of any top firm’s attorneys makes it very clear—for many jobs in the legal industry, where you go to school matters. Because of this, it’s important to understand law school rankings and law school tiers when considering where to attend law school—your school’s standing in the ranking hierarchy can greatly affect the career opportunities you’ll have once you graduate. Below, we answer a few of the most common questions surrounding law school rankings.

What are the law school tiers?

There are a number of law school rankings: Paul Caron’s Law School Rankings By Graduates In BigLaw Jobs, Law.com’s Go-To Law Schools, Princeton Review’s Best Law School, and Above the Law’s Top Law Schools are just a few of the law school rankings available. However, it is the U.S. News rankings that are by far the most influential. U.S. News—along with most of the other prominent rankings—ranks schools individually and not by tiers. However, some in the legal industry do group schools into tiers based on their U.S. News rankings or other metrics. The primary terms you’ll hear regarding law school tiers are T14 (or Top 14), Tier 1 (or top tier), and Tier 2. These tiers can be broken down further (particularly, it’s common to hear the terms Tier 3 and Tier 4), but for this article, we’ll focus on these central categories.

What is the T14?

T14 (or Top 14) refers to the set of law schools that nearly every year have comprised the top 14 law schools in the U.S. News rankings. These are considered the most elite law schools, and they have the highest admission standards. Many of the top law firms recruit exclusively from the 14. Additionally, the vast majority of U.S. Supreme Court clerks come from T14 law schools—particularly on the higher end of these schools. The T14 can be divided into subtiers; however, a degree from any T14 opens up career doors unavailable to most other law school graduates. 

What are Tier 1 law schools?

Tier 1 schools encompass a broader range of schools than the T14. There is no definitive list of which schools constitute Tier 1, but the term Tier 1 generally encompasses the top 50 schools in the U.S. News rankings. These schools include all the top private and public schools. And attending a Tier 1 doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition. If a prospective student is planning to practice in state, attending a local Tier 1 school can save thousands of dollars in tuition over an out-of-state or private school, while still providing an excellent education at a highly regarded school.

What are Tier 2 law schools?

As with Tier 1 schools, there are no clear boundaries defining Tier 2 schools. Some consider Tier 2 schools to be the second set of 50 schools in the U.S. News rankings. Others consider Tier 2 schools to be all schools that are not Tier 1. Often, schools might be further categorized into Tier 3 or Tier 4, but because those tiers are even more nebulous, we’ll focus just on Tier 2 here. Regardless, there are many reasons why a prospective student might consider attending a Tier 2 law school. Attending a local Tier 2 school over an out-of-state Tier 1 school can offer opportunities to network with the local legal community. Tier 2 schools often have great relationships and placement history with local firms; for those who know they want to practice locally, this may be the most direct route to the firms they're looking for. Many prospective students don’t consider networking opportunities when choosing a school, but these opportunities are how many students secure both summer internships and full-time jobs. If there is a Tier 2 school located in the city where you would like to practice, it is certainly worth considering attending that school over a more distant school.

Do Law School Rankings Matter?

Law schools rankings certainly matter, though they are not the only factor that should be considered when choosing a school. In some circumstances, attending a highly ranked school may not be the best decision. For example, prospective students who plan to work in public interest may not want to take on the debt required to pay for a top-ranked school. Instead, attending a lower-ranked school that offers a generous scholarship package might be the smarter choice. (Many law schools offer loan-repayment programs for graduates who enter public-interest careers in an effort to offset this issue.) There is also a growing movement in opposition to law school rankings—one law firm even announced that it was banning the hiring of Ivy League graduates, under the belief that those graduates are unprepared for the realities of practicing in the real world.

Rankings should be just one of many factors that you consider when choosing a law school. Cost, availability of scholarships/financial aid, and course offerings are just a few components to weigh in addition to ranking. You should be aware of where your prospective schools rank, but if you have your heart set on a particular school or city, it’s not worth stressing over a few places in rankings. Make an informed choice, and then focus on performing as well as possible as a 1L.

Preparing for Law School

Regardless of ranking, every law school presents a rigorous academic challenge. Every law student across the country can expect to spend hours upon hours reading, outlining, and writing. And no matter where you go to law school, the most important goal is maximizing your GPA. Luckily, Quimbee has been helping students at law schools everywhere study more efficiently and effectively for over a decade. Whether it’s case briefs, practice essays, multiple-choice questions, or flashcards, Quimbee has you covered with everything you need to succeed in law school. We even offer courses like Acing Your Law Exam that will help guide you through the most difficult aspects of law school. Check out Quimbee today!