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Law Schools In The US


Law Schools In The US - YaleLaw schools in the US are different from many legal education systems around the world in various ways. These include the teaching method, how the school is owned and managed, the importance of location particularly in regards to the ability to practice law once qualified, and the associated costs, all of which are often quite different to those in the UK, Europe and other countries worldwide. These are all considerations to bear in mind when choosing to study at a US law school.

Here’s our guide to the basics of law schools in the US.

Socratic method 

This method of teaching can be quite intimidating at first for international students. During lectures, professors will call on students to answer questions without warning, unlike their European counterparts who will often give a lecture without asking questioning of their students.

This method requires students to have an understanding of the subject before the lecture begins. 

Public US law schools

One of the major systems of funding for law schools is by public funding and there is at least one public university in every state. They tend to charge lower rates than private institutions, however, they will usually charge students from out of state a higher tuition fee than those from the home state. The only universities funded by the federal government are military universities, and students must be in the US military to attend these, otherwise funding is controlled at the state level. Public law schools will have a strong local alumni network and tend to offer a wide range of LLM courses aimed at the needs of local business and industry. 

Private US law schools

The majority of the highly respected law schools in the United States are private. This means that their tuition fees tend to be higher than those charged by state-owned law schools, but they usually charge all students the same tuition fees. The freedom from state funding results in a legal education for LLM students on a very flexible basis that can be tailored to their future plans. Choosing a private law school for an LLM course in the US requires some research to ensure that the professors and tutors specialise in the subject areas you wish to study. 

Online LLM courses

There is a growing number of law schools in the US that are offering LLM courses online. This choice is perfect for students who need a more affordable option and need to continue working while they study. They are less suitable for international students who want to relocate to the United States, as the courses do not usually qualify international students for student visas in the US. The tuition fees tend to be considerably lower than campus-based LLM courses, however, students need considerable motivation to keep working on their own. 

Specialist law schools

There is a number of specialist universities and law schools in the US, especially those offering a Christian education. Law schools based at these institutions will concentrate on a theological interpretation of the law, such as Liberty University School of Law, and they are all private. Other institutions in the US might specialise in subjects like Marine Law or Tax Law

Costs of studying at law schools in the US

If you are an international student, then you will have additional set-up costs – the cost of living should be published on every university's website. Tuition fees and access to funding does vary, but for LLM courses they tend to be broadly similar. The publicly owned Ohio State University Moritz College of Law has an LLM course that is aimed at international students. It charges non-resident students a tuition fee of $45,190 and estimates the total cost of attendance as $68,112 for non-resident students. Penn State Law School, meanwhile, charges $49,896 for tuition for its LLM course and estimates the total cost of attendance as $77,390. New York University is a private institution and it charges $51,012 for full time LLM students and estimates the total cost of attendance to be $74,676.

Location, location, location

The location of the law school that you plan on attending could be considered to be more important in the United States than it is in most of the rest of the world, this is for various reasons. Public law schools will have a strong local alumni network and you may find it difficult to find a job after graduating if you leave the area. Private law schools tend to have a much wider geographical area of influence with its alumni network, but they are still limited. Courses at both public and private institutions will be aimed at the state that they are located in, as the law can differ considerably between states and each state has its own Bar Association. Therefore, if you are planning on working in the US after your LLM course, you need to make sure you pick the location of your law school carefully. 

Why do US law schools dominate world rankings?

The law schools of the US dominate world rankings figures and many of them are considered to offer some of the best legal education in the world. But what is it that makes these law schools so well respected and popular? There is a whole host of reasons why law schools in the States are considered the best in the world. Part of the reason is the way university-level education is funded in the US and partly the importance of the legal profession in the US – in the US the legal services industry is worth around $437 billion annually.

Historical legacy

Before the American Revolution, most lawyers did not attend law school but instead served an apprenticeship to an existing practising lawyer before taking the Bar Exam. In 1784 the Litchfield Law School opened with the more famous Harvard Law School and the University of Pennsylvania opening or beginning to offer a specific legal education not long afterwards.

US legal education style

In comparison to a law school experience in much of the rest of the world, law schools in the US use the Socratic Method of teaching. This means that instead of giving long lectures, professors and lecturers usually have a short lecture and then begin a discussion of the topic by selected different students to speak at random.

International talent

Because of the nature of US legal history, with its connections to English Law and its different systems, students from all over the world travel to America to study law there. Many law schools, especially the well-respected ones such as Harvard, offer LLM programs aimed specifically at the needs of international students who have already gained a legal education outside of the US.

The way the law schools are funded

In comparison to Europe, there are many more privately funded universities in the US. This gives many law schools more independence in curriculum and research compared to their state-funded competitors. Although, this does not mean that public-funded law schools in the US are not well respected, for example law schools such as the publicly funded University of California Berkeley, University of California Los Angeles and the University of Michigan all regularly rank highly.


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