The 10 Best Law Schools in California

While some colleges in California may be associated with entrepreneurship and technology, thanks in large part to the presence of high-quality universities in Silicon Valley, many of the world’s most outstanding law schools also call California their home.

Indeed, numerous Golden State universities are among the best places to study law and gain serious lawyering skills. Many, if not most, schools are in or around the most populous and thriving centers of the state, providing aspiring lawyers a plethora of opportunities for hands-on training.

The colleges in this article were ranked based on each school’s placement in the US News list of law schools. These law schools boast some of the nation’s highest post-graduation employment rates and average first-time bar pass rates. Additionally, the caliber of faculty and their scholarly or field contributions is exceptionally high. Finally, these schools hold myriads of opportunities for experiential education and the development of practical skills.

What does California offer the aspiring lawyer and legal advocate? Let’s take a look…

10. University of San Diego School of Law (San Diego, CA)

University of San Diego School of Law
Ckbee, Warren Hall, USD, CC BY-SA 3.0

With famous alumni and stunning views of the Pacific, the University of San Diego School of Law has a lot to offer the aspiring lawyer. Former and current students are highly-profiled for their accomplishments, in addition to being actively employed in the field of law. Overall, a high number of USD law school graduates are gainfully employed and earn an average bar pass rate of around 70%.

Employment prospects, bar pass rates, and location are not the only factors that matter. Curriculum, unique clinics, and experiential learning can make a school stand out from the rest. Applicants who are passionate about law and education advocacy can enroll in the Special Education Law and Advocacy seminar. The USD School of Law is home to a variety of centers and institutes, from the ​Center for Health Law Policy and Bioethics to the Institute of Law and Philosophy.

USD School of Law has an illustrious and reputable Clinical Education Program that bridges classroom learning with practical skills and experience. Students become successful lawyers by serving low-income residents throughout San Diego, making their education and contributions, in and outside of the classroom, socially meaningful. 

9. Loyola Marymount University Loyola Law School (Los Angeles, CA)

Located in downtown LA, the Loyola Law School at Loyola Marymount University has a stellar profile. According to the US News and World Report, LLS tops the Criminal Law and Public Interest, Trial Advocacy, Entertainment Law, Music Law, and Moot Court lists. The school is right in the middle of a diverse and sprawling metropolis, with access to a plethora of opportunities.

Students with a strong social-justice focus will be able to make an impact through the Social Justice Law Clinic, which has served over 74,000 clients in the LA area since 1996. LLS has a prolific faculty, many of whom have had federal judicial clerkships and are distinguished academics in their field of law. For those who want to grapple with the legal issues posed by rapidly changing technology, Loyola offers a new program in cybersecurity and data privacy law.

Loyola graduates’ pass rate on the bar exam is around 72%, exceeding the national average among ABA-approved law schools. Around 90% of graduates find employment within 10 months of graduation.

8. University of California Hastings College of Law (San Francisco, CA)

University of California Hastings School of Law
FirstPrezzzz1776, UCH Roof View, CC BY-SA 4.0

Did you know that the 49th Vice President of the US, Kamala Harris, first female VP and first VP of color in US history, proudly displays a diploma from the University California Hastings College of Law in her office? Well, she probably does. Hastings College of Law can boast about its high-profile alumni, among many other things.

The school boasts a Moot Court Team that ranks #1 in the nation and an outstandingly high bar pass rate of 86% among its graduates. Ten of its programs rank highly nationally, as well. Among these reputable programs are Dispute Resolution, Healthcare Law, and Tax Law. Examples of HCS’s successes and accomplishments abound. 

Further proof of its rising status, besides recent rankings of its program, is its recent, bold plan to build the Academic Village in the heart of San Francisco. This expansion will enhance the experience of law students and the area.

7. Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law (Malibu, CA)

Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law
​Wolffystyle, Pepperdine University Malibu Canyon Entrance Gate, CC BY-SA 3.0

Given its location along the beautiful coastline of a beach city, it is no wonder it ranked #10 for “Best Quality of Life” on Princeton Review’s 2021 Law School Ratings. More importantly, the Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law ranks among the top 50 law schools in the country, according to US News. It is the only school on this list that earns the badge for ideological diversity among its faculty, in addition to a diverse student body.

The school operates a notable Global Justice Program that is focused on international human rights, religious freedom, and rule of law. Students and faculty are sent to various countries to represent vulnerable populations and help strengthen justice systems in accordance with these rights. 

As part of its highly distinguished Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, Caruso students can participate in real mediation cases throughout LA through the institute’s Mediation Clinic. Overall, students have access to numerous opportunities for experiential learning, an essential stepping-stone into law practice. 

Given its outstanding programs, opportunities for professional development, and location, it is no wonder that Pepperdine’s Caruso School of Law’s acceptance rate hovers around a low 20%. 

6. University of California, Davis School of Law (Davis, CA)

University of California Davis School of Law
Davidbrianholt, Main Entrance of King Hall, CC BY-SA 4.0

Why does the University of California Davis School of Law have a competitive selectivity rate of 34%? What makes it a sought-after school? It is not simply its high bar passage rate or post-graduation employment rate. Or that it is a top-50 law school on the US News and World Report.

Faculty at the Davis School of Law are world-class scholars in their field. The work of Dean and Professor of Public Interest Law and Chicana/o Studies, Kevin R. Johnson, has been featured in New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the SCOTUSBlog. The school additionally maintains a blog that tracks the research and contributions of its outstanding faculty.

Any blurb about a high-tier law school is sorely lacking without mention of its clinics, institutes, and externships. Davis School of Law’s Immigration Law Clinic was among the first of its kind. Students interact and work with clients and witnesses from in and around Central Valley, known for its large immigrant population. The clinic has participated in some high-profile cases in recent years.

Any student with a passion for law and social justice will find a home at Davis.

5. University of California, Irvine School of Law (Irvine, CA)

UC Irvine School of Law
Mathieu Marquer, UC Irvine School of Law Entryway, CC BY-SA 2.0

At UC Irvine’s School of Law, thirteen faculty are members of the prestigious American Law Institute; three individuals have been recognized as Orange County’s Top 100 Influencers of 2020.” Faculty at the University of California’s Irvine School of Law has earned no shortage of accolades over the years, making it one of the top and one of the most competitive schools on this list.

Every year since the mid-2010s, around 90% of UCI graduates find employment within 10 months of graduation. Additionally, each year, many UCI students land federal and circuit-court judicial clerkships.

UCI has earned top marks for its practical training program. Over the course of their four years, students work as primary legal representatives for clients, while being trained in a wide variety of litigation and advocacy methods. The core clinics are a fundamental part of every student’s experiential education.

UCI Law School’s acceptance rate is 24.8%, one of the lowest percentages in the whole list. Given these highlights above, it is not surprising that the school draws the best and brightest lawyers in the nation. 

4. University of Southern California Gould School of Law (Los Angeles, CA)

USC Gould School of Law
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

The first on this list to break it into the top 20 on US News and World Report’s list of “Best Law Schools,” the University of Southern California Gould School of Law was founded in 1896, making it the oldest law school in the Southwest, according to Wikipedia. 

In 2020, over 90% of graduates were employed within 10 months after graduation and the bar pass rate for the school is one of the highest, 86%. Notable faculty include Orin Kerr, who is a leading scholar on the Fourth Amendment and its application to electronic communications and surveillance.

The best law schools combine classroom learning with hands-on experience. After all, nobody wants an arm-chair lawyer! And theory is realized through experience. 

USC Gould enables students to work on actual cases, represent clients, and provide solutions in one of six clinics and practicums. Alternatively, students can hone their lawyering skills and gain experience through one of the many externships available to them. With the mentorship and teaching of world-class faculty, combined with robust experience, Gould students are groomed to become the next generation of trailblazing lawyers.

USC Gould has the lowest acceptance rate on this list so far, hovering around 17%.

3. University of California, Los Angeles School of Law (Los Angeles, CA)

In any given year, only a quarter of applicants are admitted to UCLA’s law school. With an award-winning Moot Court, highly respected faculty testifying in national hearings, a consistently high bar pass rate, and other notable mentions, UCLA tops many lists and is a high-caliber school whose quality and impact is commensurable with that of the Ivies. Its Environmental Law, Corporate/Business Law, Tax law, and Criminal Law programs are Top 10 in the US News and World Report. A whopping 96% of 2019 graduates were employed within 10 months of graduation.

UCLA stands out in several other respects. It is one of the very few law schools to consistently graduate recipients of the prestigious and highly competitive Skadden Fellowship, awarded to students in public interest law. Additionally, UCLA offers a robust and intensive roster of simulation courses, as part of its Clinical Education program. These simulation courses focus on litigation and dispute resolution, helping students master real-world lawyering skills for work in the courtroom.

One of UCLA’s most unique offerings is the Binder Clinical Fellowship Program, a two-year program preparing its fellows for faculty positions at law schools. This is one of the only kinds of programs of its kind in the country.

2. University of California, Berkeley School of Law (Berkeley, CA)

University of California Berkeley is already noted for its natural sciences, entrepreneurship, research laboratories, and history of political activism. The Berkeley School of Law is no exception. It has produced Fortune 500 executives, high-profile politicians and judges, and world-class legal academics.

Berkeley Law ranks Top 10 in a broad range of specialties, including #1 in Environmental Law and Intellectual Property. Right from the start, students can engage in meaningful, pro bono work that benefits underserved populations in the community. The pro bono culture is so ubiquitous at Berkeley Law that students take the Pro Bono Pledge, committing to work a certain number of hours during their time in law school.

Among its unique programs is Start@Berkeley Law, which brings together law students, entrepreneurs, local law firms, and various campus groups. It is designed to help aspiring startup lawyers and entrepreneurs navigate complex and emerging issues faced by nascent companies.

Admission to Berkeley Law is extremely competitive; less than 25% of applicants are admitted each year. 

1. Stanford University School of Law (Stanford, CA)

Stanford University School of Law
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Stanford University itself is synonymous with scholastic excellence, a leading producer of Fulbright scholars, Turing Award laureates, and founders of tech startups. Its law school is no exception in terms of its quality and reputation, even outranking Harvard Law School on the US News and World Report’s “2022 Best Law Schools.” Many of its programs occupy the top 10 list, with Intellectual Property Law being tied for the #1 spot.

Stanford Law’s Tech Law and Policy program is one of the school’s most dynamic and exciting. This program houses the Center for Internet and Society and Stanford Program in Law, Science & Technology, among others. Students interested in the intersection of law and technology will find ample opportunities to work with legal professionals, business people, and government officials on addressing issues related to law, science, and technology. This is just one sliver of Stanford Law’s many offerings, which include outstanding clinics.

Stanford Law is the most competitive school on this list. Nationwide, it ranks as the second-most selective law school in the nation, with an acceptance rate of only 9%. The school also ranks very highly in post-graduation employment and bar pass rates, exceeding 90%.