The Best 2021 Law Schools for Breaking into Big Law Firms Or Federal Law Clerkship |

The Best 2021 Law Schools for Breaking into Big Law Firms Or Federal Law Clerkship


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You might hear the phrase "Top 14" or "T14 law schools" whenever discussing law school admissions with other applicants, law students, and lawyers. What do they refer to? They are the top 14 law schools in the United States law school rankings. Generally, the 14 schools in this group are considered the most selective and prestigious law schools.
Many BigLaw jobs, federal clerkships, and other legal positions can be secured through attendance at one of the top 14.

Big Law is a term used to refer to large, high-revenue law firms in major U.S. cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Multi-location companies often operate in smaller cities as well as internationally. A lawyer at a large law firm is likely to make a higher salary than in another law firm.

According to the National Association of Law Placement, $190,000 was the most common starting salary for first-year Big Law associates in 2019. Law clerks or judicial clerks assist judges with writing decisions and determining legal issues by providing direct counsel and assistance. Lawyers who work as law clerks are likely to be recent law school graduates who do very well in school. Law review or moot court experience is often required of applicants for law clerk positions at federal courts, especially at the appellate level. Thus, law clerk applications are highly competitive, with most federal judges receiving hundreds of applications each year for just a few open positions.
Listed below are law schools ranked solely according to how successful they were in placing students in BigLaw jobs or federal law clerkships.
Rank School Location LSAT Median (2021) GPA Median (2021) Acceptance Rate
1 Yale New Haven 173 3.94 6.90%
2 Stanford Palo Alto 171 3.89 8.70%
3 Harvard Cambridge 173 3.88 12.90%
4 Columbia New York City 172 3.82 16.80%
5 University of Chicago Chicago 171 3.89 17.50%
6 NYU New York City 170 3.82 23.60%
7 University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia 170 3.89 14.60%
8 University of Virginia Charlottesville 170 3.9 15.30%
9 University of California, Berkeley Berkeley 168 3.81 20.20%
10 Duke Durham 169 3.8 20.20%
11 University of Michigan - Ann Arbor Ann Arbor 169 3.76 19.60%
12 Northwestern University Chicago 169 3.85 19.30%
13 Cornell University Ithaca 168 3.86 21.10%
14 University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles 169 3.79 22.50%

An Analysis of T14 Schools

According to U.S. News rankings, the top three law schools have been Yale, Harvard, and Stanford since 1992. Yale has consistently ranked first, despite Harvard and Stanford switching places now and then. Due to their higher selectivity and prestige, these three schools are traditionally considered part of their own tier called "HYS." Getting into "HYS" is basically a sure-fire way to make your legal career; almost any option you want in the legal world will be yours.

Columbia, Chicago, and NYU make up the next tier of universities. The schools in this group have historically been ranked fourth through sixth. There are a few differences between CCN and HYS, but they do not matter unless you want to be a Supreme Court clerk or law professor.

U.S News consistently ranks these schools as among the top six in its rankings of the HYS and CCN tiers. After the top 6, ranking changes are so frequent that no solid tier can form below. 7th-14th are typically the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Virginia, University of California-Berkeley, University of Michigan, Duke University, Northwestern University, Cornell, and Georgetown are still highly selective and prestigious in the legal community nationally competitive when looking for employment. Attending any of these schools means you do not need to worry about employers knowing about your school and valuing it.

How American Law Schools Are Ranked

According to U.S. News published methodology, the rankings are based on several factors:
  • Quality assessment (40% of a school’s ranking)
  • Selectivity (21% of a school’s ranking)
  • Employment success (25.25% of a school’s ranking)
  • Faculty, law school, and library resources (13.75% of a school’s ranking) 

Schools have a hard time changing some of these factors, like quality assessment, based on factors beyond their control. Generally, quality assessment depends on how other law schools, lawyers, and judges judge the school. A law school admissions committee cannot change a graduate's opinion of the school-based in 1995.

Because of this, law schools invest their time and resources into improving their rankings with U.S. News. In addition to the school's acceptance rate, this factor considers the entering class's median LSAT (and GRE) scores and median undergrad GPA. A law school can control these factors more easily.

Schools will attempt to increase the medians of their LSAT and GPA every year by attracting more applicants with stronger scores and offering scholarships to high-scoring students.

A Guide to Getting into the Top 14 Law Schools

The median LSAT and GPA are particularly important to law schools. A school may find it hard in the future to attract high-scoring students if it admits a class with fewer students than it did last year, negatively impacting its ranking.

Getting a high LSAT score and GPA is the number one factor to getting into a top 14 law school. However, even the highest numbers on their own will not guarantee admission to T14 law schools. Additionally, you should craft a quality application that convinces the admissions committee that you will be an outstanding class member and have a promising legal career.

Taking The LSAT and Achieving a Suitable GPA

Out of the top 14 schools, 168 is the lowest median LSAT score. The number might change from year to year, but it generally hovers between 167 and 169.

The lowest median LSAT score among the top 6 schools is 170. Another year might have 169 to 172 points. Therefore, if you plan on applying to the top 14 schools, you will need an LSAT score of at least 160. You will need 170 to get into the top 6 schools.

Regarding GPA, there is less of a gap between the top 6 and the rest of the top 14. The most significant difference is between the top 3 (HYS) and the rest. In the HYS, the median GPA ranges between 3.85 and 3.95. GPA medians typically range between 3.75 and 3.85 among the top 14, but certain schools, including Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania, often have higher rates.

In summary, you need to study hard and keep your grades high in undergrad. You will qualify for admission to the top 14 schools if you have a GPA of at least 3.8.

Effortless and Compelling Application

In addition to your LSAT and GPA, a compelling application is important for admission to a top 14 school. Personal statements, supplemental essays, recommendations, and your resume should all engage the reader and demonstrate how you will be an important part of the student body and have a promising future.

Put these elements of the application together in advance, not at the last minute. Before you apply, make sure you revise and proofread your resume. Make sure you give your recommenders enough time to write their recommendations and be prepared to explain the qualities you hope admission committees will learn.

In some cases, you may benefit from providing your recommenders with your resume and a statement detailing your background and plans for the future. It would help if you accepted a recommendation writer's offer to write the first draft.

Final Thoughts

It is important to attend a top-ranked law school to have the best chance of getting into top law firms. In the absence of motivation, drive, and charisma, you may not care so much about which school you attended. One of the biggest decisions you will make in your legal career is choosing a law school.

In many cases, it can open the door to the legal profession that otherwise might not have been possible. Many successful attorneys do not attend fancy law schools. Even if you attend a less prestigious law school, you can become a happy, successful attorney (indeed, some say that graduates of such schools are more successful at law firms.) But you may not be eligible for certain jobs (law professor, Supreme Court clerk, etc.).

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About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.

With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.

Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.

Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.

One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog,, and, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.

One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.

Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.

In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.

Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.

In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.

About BCG Attorney Search

BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit

Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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