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Yale Law School

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Yale Law School

Yale Law School is one of the prestigious law schools in the United States. It is located in New Haven, Connecticut, and was established in 1843. The school offers a variety of degrees, including the Juris Doctor (JD), Master of Laws (LLM), Doctor of the Science of Law (JSD), and Master of Studies in Law (MSL). In addition to providing education, Yale Law School also hosts visiting scholars and operates several legal research centers.

Yale Law School has been consistently ranked as the best law school in the United States by US News and World Report, except for 1987, when it tied with Harvard. Notable alums of Yale Law School include former President William Howard Taft, who taught constitutional law there from 1913 to 1921, and current US Supreme Court Justices, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. The law school's library is also where Bill and Hillary Clinton met.


The school's origins can be traced back to the early days of the 19th century when people learned about law by working as apprentices in a lawyer's office. The first law schools, including the one that became Yale, started this apprenticeship system. Yale Law School developed from the office of New Haven lawyer Seth Staples, who had an extensive library (which was attractive to students when law books were rare) and began teaching apprentices in the early 1800s.

Staples' law office had a full-fledged law school by the 1810s. One of his former students, Samuel Hitchcock, became a partner at the office and later the New Haven Law School proprietor. In the 1820s, the New Haven Law School began its affiliation with Yale University. This process was gradual, and by the 1840s, law students at the school were receiving Yale degrees. David Daggett, a former US senator from Connecticut, became a co-proprietor of the school in 1824. Daggett was also named a law professor at Yale College in 1826, lecturing on public law and government to undergraduates. The Yale Law School remained in a fragile state for many years. After the deaths of Samuel Hitchcock in 1845 and Henry Dutton in 1869, the University came close to shutting down the school. However, it managed to stay open and continue operating.

Yale Law School's revival after 1869 was led by Francis Wayland, its first full-time dean. Wayland helped the school establish a philanthropic base, organizing the law library and starting The Yale Law Journal. In 1876, Yale began offering the Master of Laws degree, pioneering graduate-level legal education.

At the end of the 1800s, Yale Law School began to set itself apart from other law schools by being small and intimate while also taking an interdisciplinary approach to teaching. This meant incorporating professors from other University departments into the law curriculum and later appointing professors with diverse backgrounds—such as economics and psychiatry—to the law faculty.

Yale Law School has shaped legal scholarship in the United States. In the 1930s, the school contributed to the legal realism movement, which challenged traditional understandings of legal rules and court procedures. Realists directed attention to factors that are not captured in the rules, such as the attitudes of judges and jurors and the particular facts of cases. This focus on empirical evidence has shaped American legal doctrine in recent years. Under the leadership of Dean Charles Clark, the school assembled a faculty that included renowned scholars such as Thurman Arnold, Edwin Borchard, future Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, Jerome Frank, Underhill Moore, Walton Hamilton, and Wesley Sturges. Clark was also instrumental in crafting the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which significantly impacted modern American legal practice.

As public affairs became increasingly important in the 20th century, Yale's emphasis on public and private law made its graduates well-suited to play prominent roles in the growth of the administrative state, the internationalization of law after the World Wars, and the domestic civil rights movement.

Yale Law School has a long history of being at the forefront of legal innovation. In the 1950s and 1960s, the school became renowned for its work in constitutional law, commercial taxation law, international law, antitrust, and law and economics. In recent decades, the pace of curricular innovation has quickened even further as the school has developed new strengths in comparative constitutional law, corporate finance, environmental law, gender studies, international human rights, and legal history. The school also offers a variety of clinical programs that allow students to gain real-world experience. Yale Law School has a long tradition of working on human rights issues, which has been a particular focus of the school under Dean Harold Koh. The school is affiliated with Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein, and current executive director Kenneth Roth is an alum. Yale also has a clinic dedicated to representing detainees at Guantanamo Bay.


Admissions to the school is highly competitive, with only the top applicants making it through the initial screening process. Files read by three faculty members are scored between 0-4. A perfect score of 12 from each faculty reader gets the applicant admitted to the school, while an 11 typically puts the applicant on the school's waitlist.

The school is academically focused; a significant number of graduates (4%) choose to pursue careers in academia after graduation. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 7.5, it is the lowest among law schools in the United States.

Yale Law School does not use the traditional A-F grading system. Instead, first-semester first-year students are graded on a Credit/No Credit basis. For the remainder of their time at Yale, students are graded on an Honors/Pass/Low Pass/Fail system. The school also does not rank its students. Yale Law is unique because it allows first-year students to represent clients through one of its many clinics; other legal schools typically only offer this opportunity to upper-level students.


Admissions Stats
Class of: 2020-2021 2021-2022
25th - 50th - 75th percentile LSAT 170 - 173 - 176 171 - 174 - 177
25th - 50th - 75th percentile GPA 3.82 - 3.90 - 3.97 3.84 - 3.90 - 3.98
Acceptance rate 7.4% 4.1%
Applications received 3539 5194
Acceptances 235 214
Matriculants 201 150

Acceptance Rate

Yale Law School is one of the most prestigious and selective legal schools in the United States, admitting just 200 new students each year. To be admitted to Yale Law School, applicants must have extremely high grades and test scores, making it one of the most competitive law schools. Many of its admitted students choose to attend (yield), meaning that more students admitted to Yale Law School attend than at other top law schools like Stanford and Harvard. For example, half of the students who entered Yale Law School in 2005 had a GPA above 3.87 out of 4.0 and an LSAT score above 171 out of 180 possible points, which placed them in the 99th percentile. Additionally, the school is famous among Rhodes Scholars who return from studying at Oxford University.

The acceptance rate at Yale Law School for the 2020-21 academic year was just 4%. This is the lowest of any law school in the United States. Furthermore, its yield rate (the percentage of accepted students who choose to enroll) of 87% is also consistently the highest of any law school in America.

Application Fee

The application fee is $75. Yale does not grant merit-based fee waivers. LSAC need-based fee waivers will not be honored either, unlike at most other ABA-approved law schools. Applicants may submit a need-based request to have the fee waived by contacting the admissions office directly.


Yale usually accepts 10-15 transfer students each year from a pool of around 200 applicants. Applicants come from a broad range of law schools, though the students accepted tend to come from Tier 1 (top 50) schools and predominantly from the top 20.

Transfer applications are accepted from May 1 to July 1, and all students are notified of decisions during the third week in July. Transfer students are welcome to participate in FIP (the Fall Interview Program for 2L summer jobs) and to try out for the Yale Law Journal (or simply sign up to join any of the secondary journals). To help them become integrated into the YLS community, they also participate in orientation events alongside the 1L class and are assigned special "Dean's Advisers" who were themselves, transfer students.

If you're not sure about applying to law school or just beginning the application process, then please take the time to read some of the excellent pre-law articles found here.

Student-to-Faculty Ratio

Students at Yale benefit from having unparalleled access to many of the legal academy's best minds. With an average class size under 20 and institutional requirements that students complete two substantial faculty-supervised writing assignments during their time at YLS, students can't help but build relationships with professors.

During the first semester, all 1L students are assigned to a "small group"-a group of about 16 students with whom they take all of their classes; one of their classes is with only those 16 students. Many students build lasting relationships with their small group professor, who also serves as their legal writing instructor and often provides professional references during a student's summer job search.

While many of Yale's professors are foremost in their field and may therefore get a reputation as overly academic and aloof, students generally find them to be accessible and genuinely interested in teaching. It's common for professors to host class dinners at their homes, and students often serve as research assistants on professors' scholastic pursuits.

Student-to-faculty ratio: 7.9 to 1
Full-time faculty: 70

Curriculum and Academics

Yale Law School

Yale Law School does not use a traditional grading system with letter grades and GPAs. Instead, students' performance is evaluated on a pass/fail basis for the first term of classes. After that, class performance is evaluated on a scale of honors/pass/low pass/fails. There is no strict curve in place at Yale, which means that student grades are not determined by how they compare to their peers. Instead, each student's performance is evaluated on its own merits. This system can be beneficial for students because it takes the pressure off of competing with classmates and allows them to focus on their own learning.

Harvard Law School does not rank its students and is known for having a less competitive environment than other top law schools. The school's grading system is also unconventional, making it difficult for employers to assess applicants from Harvard. However, admission to the Yale Law Journal is considered more accessible than at other schools.

Harvard Law School has a highly flexible curriculum, which allows students to mix and take classes together starting from the second semester. This enables them to gain real-world experience and knowledge in various areas of law. Additionally, Harvard Law provides a unique opportunity for first-year students to participate in legal clinics and appear in state court.

Yale Law School offers a three-year Juris Doctor (JD) program. The first year of the JD program is focused on legal research, writing, and doctrine. Students take doctrinal courses in constitutional law, criminal law, contracts, property law, and torts in the second and third years. Yale Law School also offers joint degree programs with other Yale University graduate schools, such as the Yale School of Management and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Yale Law School provides an accelerated, integrated J.D./MBA program that can be completed in just three years. Students in this program can take advantage of the more than 20 legal clinics offered at Yale, allowing them to gain real-world legal experience from their first year.

Joint Degrees

Some students choose to combine their law studies with a program at another professional or graduate school. Yale Law School offers joint degrees in cooperation with a number of other schools and departments of Yale University. Joint degrees are intended for those who wish to acquire the specialized skills of a body of knowledge related to law. As of the fall term of 2011, around 37 students were enrolled in joint degree programs. Joint degrees are most common with the Yale Graduate School and the School of Management, but students have also arranged joint programs with other schools like Forestry and Environmental Studies, Divinity, and Medicine. On a case-by-case basis, one can arrange a joint degree with another university. In addition to the traditional joint degrees described here, Yale now offers a three-year Accelerated Integrated J.D.-M.B.A. program. Pursuing two degrees simultaneously shortens the period of study. In a joint degree, the Law School grants up to 12 units of credit for appropriate work in another degree program toward the 83 credits required for the J.D. This is the equivalent of one term's credit, so joint degree students are generally required to be in residence at the Law School for only five terms. The other program may grant credit for work at the Law School, decreasing the length of that degree as well. Therefore, joint degree students reduce the time needed to complete their two degrees by one year versus pursuing the degrees consecutively.

Quality of Life

The extremely small size of Yale Law brings with it the expected advantages and disadvantages of a school whose entire student body could conceivably fit into a single dormitory on another campus. Students are said to know virtually every other member of the Yale Law community by the end of their first year, but the larger university population also provides extended social opportunities. The law school community is extremely tight-knit, and party announcements are routinely sent to the entire student body via "the Wall," the all-student listserv. The school also sponsors regular happy hours, and a large crowd usually gathers for the weekly Bar Review at one of New Haven's nightlife establishments.

Although having New Haven as a college town is popularly considered a drawback for prospective Yale students, the school makes an effort to provide escort and shuttle services, and the town provides relatively inexpensive housing. (University-owned dorms are an option, but chosen by only 1% of the student body; within five years, the law school will again have law student-specific houses available, following the occupation of the Swing Space building.) Students generally give the law school campus high marks for its aesthetic beauty, particularly the Sterling Law Building and its cathedral-like architecture.


Yale Law School is part of Yale University, located in New Haven, Connecticut. Yale University was founded in 1701 and is one of the eight Ivy League schools. Yale Law School is based on the English Inns of Court system. The law school building is located in the center of Yale's campus and includes a law library, dining hall, and courtyard.

The Sterling Law Building houses the Yale Law School and is located in the center of Yale University's campus and downtown New Haven. The building has various features, including classrooms ready to use with the internet, faculty offices, the Lillian Goldman Law Library, an auditorium, a student lounge, and a dining hall. Three courtyards also surround the building.

The Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale Law School contains around 800,000 volumes. In 1995, the school began a larger renovation project that included redesigning the classrooms in 1998.


The Lillian Goldman Law Library contains around 800,000 volumes and spans six levels within the heart of the Yale Law School complex. It provides the law school community with ready access to one of the world's finest collections of printed legal materials as well as a host of electronic resources.

The Law Library has special extensive collections of foreign and international law, government documents, and rare books. The knowledgeable staff of librarians is available on-site and online (via instant messenger and email) to answer student questions and assist with research queries; they also teach a number of courses in legal research each semester.

The library is a popular gathering place for students. All second and third-year students are assigned carrels within the library; first-year students are free to sit in any unoccupied space. A number of comfortable leather chairs and an expansive DVD collection (featuring lots of pop-culture favorites) make the library an inviting place to visit even when studying isn't one's primary goal, though at times the challenges of consistent temperature regulation cause students to complain that the library is either "freezing" or "a sauna." You can even check out a cute little dog as stress relief.


Although for many years YLS offered student housing in the law school complex, that is no longer the case. Law students who want to live in Yale-owned housing have the option to live in a variety of general graduate student housing complexes, but only 1-2% of students each year choose that option. Most students choose to live in privately owned housing in one of three nearby neighborhoods: Downtown/The Towers, Dwight/Edgewood, or East Rock.

The majority of 1L students choose to live downtown, many of them in a collection of large apartment buildings (Crown Court, Crown Tower, Madison Tower, University Tower) collectively referred to as "The Towers." A number of other large apartment buildings-including The Taft, The Liberty, The Cambridge/Oxford-are also nearby and popular with law students. It's often said that living in the downtown buildings makes it easier to be social, especially during the 1L year, because most of the popular options for going out are nearby, and many classmates live in the same collection of buildings. The walk to YLS from downtown, which is south of the law school, is about 5-10 minutes. Although most undergraduates live on campus, this area is also somewhat popular with the younger crowd.

Other students choose to live to the southwest of YLS in a neighborhood made up of small and midsize apartment buildings and houses (in some cases divided into apartments). Spread across streets named Howe, Park, Edgewood, Dwight, and Lynwood, this neighborhood is sometimes referred to as Dwight/Edgewood. The neighborhood also has some restaurants and bars scattered throughout. These options are generally more popular with 2L and 3L students, and they are sometimes less expensive than living downtown. The walk to school is generally around 10 minutes.

Students looking for a more traditional residential neighborhood-or with more space for their money-tend to live in East Rock, a neighborhood to the north and east of the university. Most residences are older Victorian homes that have been subdivided into apartments. East Rock is a popular choice for many graduate students and their young families. A variety of restaurants and small shops can be found on the southeast side of the neighborhood. East Rock is an expansive neighborhood stretching from Yale north to East Rock Park; students may have anywhere from a 10- to 30-minute walk to school, so some make use of the various law school and university shuttle services to get to and from school.

Student Culture

Justice Stewart famously said, "I know it when I see it" (in discussing his litmus test for obscenity), and many Yale Law students and graduates find it hard to describe just what's so special about their school other than to say, "Come visit and you'll understand." One can easily cite the accomplishments of an incoming class, but it is hard to distill the warmth and humility of those impressive students into words. A current student remarked, "I don't know how the faculty manages each year to select 200 academically promising students for admission and also to make sure that those 200 people are nice … but it happens."

Despite their reputation for being academic and stodgy, students tend to be friendly and interesting. They don't take themselves too seriously, either: The annual "Law Revue" comedy show and Harvard-Yale athletic competitions are crowd favorites. Groups regularly gather to play basketball and watch TV.

Many students form close bonds with others in their "small group" or those that live in their apartment building. Others find their best friends through student groups or clinics or by taking the same classes. While some students bemoan the "lack of dating options," in part because many students come to YLS already married or in committed relationships and in part because "the school is so small, everyone knows your business," it's quite common for YLS students to end up married to one another-like Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Employment Prospects

Yale Law School places graduates into a wide variety of prestigious jobs upon graduation, and its name alone opens doors in countless fields. While the school is famed for its ability to place students into judicial clerkships (between 30% and 40% each year), a significant number of alumni go on to practice in biglaw firms following graduation. There is a significant representation of Yale alumni not only at top-tier corporate firms in New York but also at famed litigation and boutique firms in D.C. and California. Aided by the school's generous financial support and prestigious fellowships, a high number of graduates also select nonprofit, government, and other public interest positions.

Impact of the Recession

Even though Yale has not been immune to the impact of the economic recession on the legal profession, current Yale students have certainly been protected more than students at nearly any other school. Class of 2012 students reports more competition for plum federal clerkships and more than a handful of biglaw deferrals, but nobody seems concerned about the long-term value of their degree, and YLS has taken steps to ensure that its graduates will all have desirable jobs and be able to fulfill their student loan obligations. More than two dozen YLS-funded public interest fellowships provide a funding opportunity for students who have a longstanding commitment to the public interest.

In 2008, Yale decided to move its on-campus recruiting (called the Fall Interview Program, or FIP) from late September to mid-August so as not to be dependent on firms' practice of "saving spots" for YLS students later in the hiring process. While only about 75-80% of the class chose to participate in FIP, those students were in high demand by the law firms, consulting companies, and other organizations that visited campus. But it was clear that even at Yale, firms were giving out fewer callback invitations and even fewer offers than in years past. Check this to learn How To Keep a Job in a Large Law Firm.

Law Firms

Each fall, more than 150 name-brand firms from every major legal market actively recruit approximately 200 graduates of each class. A hefty number of Yale students actively select out of the biglaw recruiting process, so in many cases firms are excited to secure a commitment from Yale students. On the other hand, it's often said to be common knowledge that many Yalies don't plan to build a career at a large firm; during leaner economic times, then, firms may "push back" a bit when Yale students with backgrounds and careers seemingly more public-interest-oriented express interest in working at a large firm. But those who want the big-firm experience generally get the opportunity. Check out How To Ace a Law Firm Interview as a Law Student. and Law Firm Tips.


YLS students and alumni can pursue clerkships at different times. Many students accept one or more clerkships while they are still in school, and begin working on them either right after graduation or some time later. Some of these students will take on a second (or even third) clerkship as alumni. Others choose not to participate in the clerkship process while they are students and instead wait until after graduation to pursue this option. The statistics in this chart reflect:

  1. the percent of graduates who worked as a judicial clerk in their first job after graduation;
  2. the percent of graduates obtaining one or more clerkships at any time;
  3. the total number of clerkships obtained by graduates.
Class of 2019 Class of 2020 Class of 2021
Percent of Employed Graduates Reporting a Clerkship as First Job after Graduation 28.6% 28.4% 23%
Percent of Graduates Reporting One or More Clerkships at Any Time 48.4% 48.5% 41.7%
Total Number of Clerkships Obtained by Graduates 142 147 125

Success in clerkship placement can be attributed to a combination of factors, including close faculty-student relationships that provide students with outstanding letters of recommendation and professors who are "willing to go to bat" for clerkship candidates, the academic and research-intensive reputation of the school, and a tradition of past success by YLS graduates and clerks in particular.


Yale Law School has had a strong reputation for being an unusually academic-oriented school: A disproportionate number of its graduates (as many as 10-15% of each graduating class) eventually go on to further scholarly pursuits, and it is generally seen as an incubator for future legal professors and world-changers. Professor Brian Leiter has found that Yale places, per capita, three times as many graduates in top law teaching jobs as Harvard, its nearest competitor.

The school is the undisputed leader in producing legal academics, with the educational background and assessment systems giving graduates a major leg-up in the highly competitive teaching market; however, even for Yale grads, direct entry into the world of legal academia is quite rare-most aspiring academics first serve as clerks, complete academic fellowships, or earn a Ph.D. before becoming a professor.

Tuition and Expenses

Annual tuition at YLS is $52,400 (as of the 2013-2014 school year), with administrative and activity fees an additional $2,250. Because Yale is a private university, the cost does not change for in-state residents. Beyond tuition, students spend approximately $20,080 on room and board, health insurance, books, travel, and other miscellaneous expenses. The total estimated budget for a single student is $74,790 per year.

Financial Aid

All students at Yale Law School are considered equally worthy, so financial aid is only given based on need, not merit. The admissions process is need-blind, meaning applicants' financial situations will not be considered when deciding whether to admit them. Our financial aid office meets 100% of demonstrated needs with a combination of loans and generous scholarships.

During the 2020-2021 academic year, 72 percent of students received financial aid, 69 percent of which were need-based scholarships. $13 million was awarded in need-based scholarships, with a median incoming scholarship of $32,000. In addition, 200 students received funding for summer public interest work for 2021.

All Yale Law School need-based loans and up to $30,000 of need-based undergraduate loans are eligible for repayment. Read the article about The Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Public Interest Program

Public interest opportunities abound for Yalies, beginning in their first semester and continuing throughout their time at YLS and after graduation. First-year students can get involved right away with the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) Project, the Lowenstein Human Rights Project, and other student-organized outreach programs. In the second semester of their first year, students can begin participating in a variety of clinics (focusing on diverse areas of law, including but not limited to capital punishment, complex federal litigation, domestic violence, immigration, legislative advocacy, prison legal services, and worker and immigrant rights) and can appear in court or otherwise practice with attorney supervision. More than 80% of students participate in a clinic at some point, and more than half of those stay involved for more than one semester. "My clinic is my home at YLS" is a common sentiment among public-interest-oriented students.

Business and Corporate Law

While Yale is often acknowledged as a leader in producing academics and public servants, it is sometimes forgotten that, according to the school, "Yale Law School has a long and illustrious tradition in business law. Starting in the nineteenth century with Simeon Baldwin, who was the leading railroad lawyer of his day, continuing with Arthur Corbin, the leading contract scholar at the outset of the 20th century, and through the legal realists of the 1920s through 1940s, Yale Law School's business law faculty was key to its emergence as one of the centers of teaching and scholarship in law."

Generally, most of the scholarship and academic pursuits related to business and corporate law are organized under the umbrella of the Center for the Study of Corporate Law, which was created in 1999. The Center seeks to provide students and faculty with greater exposure to and engagement with contemporary business law issues. To that end, the Center hosts a variety of named lectures, roundtables, panels, symposiums, and conferences on various topics. It also sponsors interactive colloquiums and workshops that allow for the presentation of ongoing research and discussion of pressing topics.

Students with an interest in business and corporate law have access to a tremendous faculty at the law school and across the university; course offerings are plentiful and diverse. YLS students can also choose to pursue a joint J.D.-M.B.A. degree with the Yale School of Management; the degree can be completed either in the traditional four years or through a new accelerated three-year program. A J.D.-Ph.D. in finance is also available for those who seek to teach business law. The Yale Journal on Regulation (JREG) is a student law journal focusing largely on business and corporate law issues.

International Law

Widely trumpeted by former Dean Harold Koh, Yale has one of the country's strongest international and comparative law programs. An impressive faculty and a collection of visiting international law experts teach a variety of courses each semester on international law and comparative law. Students are given opportunities to get hands-on experience through a variety of clinics (Civil Liberties and National Security after September 11-colloquially, the 9/11 Clinic; Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic; Immigration Clinic; etc.) and other special curricular offerings (students can spend semesters abroad performing research for academic credit; they can earn Graduate Certificates of Concentration in various international and area studies). The law school also has research centers with a particular international law focus, such as the China Law Center, the Comparative Administrative Law Initiative, and the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights.

Students with interest in international law can also participate in two student-run journals (the Yale Journal of International Law and the Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal) or a variety of student groups with an international focus (for example, the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, the Lowenstein Human Rights Project, and Universities United for Essential Medicines). They are also encouraged to spend their summers performing public interest work overseas or to apply for international fellowships upon graduation; financial support is provided in both cases.

Contact Information

Yale Law School Admissions Office
P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
Street address: 133 Wall Street, Ruttenberg Hall
Phone: (203) 432-4995
Email: admissions.law@yale.edu


Established 1824
Location New Haven, CT
Dean Heather Gerken
2021 US News Ranking 1st
LSAT Median Score 174 (2022)
GPA Median Score 3.94 (2022)
Bar Passage Rate 98.91% (2022)
Employment Rate 84% (2023)
Cost $66,128
Average Debt $143,437
Application Deadline February 15, 2023

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