With the average salary being around 127k a year, a career in law can be financially rewarding. However, the prospect of earning a six-figure income is not the only reason why a career in law is rewarding. The legal profession draws individuals who want to make a tangible difference in the world. Many have a passion for public service and the public good.
A good law school trains future lawyers in and outside the classroom. In addition to providing solid foundations in legal research, criminal law, torts, and contracts, the best schools offer many opportunities for gaining experience in the field. More and more schools are also strongly focused on public and community service, which is why pro bono work, prior to graduation, has become the norm. In sum, acing courses and the bar exam is not enough to land you a job in the profession.
Michigan is the tenth most populous state in the U.S. and home to one of the most populous and most significant economies in the nation, Detroit. Two of the schools on this list are in this city, providing students access to countless opportunities for externships, clinical placements, and jobs.
All of the schools are ranked based on where they appear on the law school list published by US News and World Report. These schools have significant breadth and depth of their curricula, job placement rates, faculty, and tremendous experiential education programs.
Let’s take a look at the best law schools in Michigan.
5. Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School (Lansing, MI)
Aspiring lawyers looking to make a real difference in law and legal advocacy should look no further than Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School, located in the state capital, Lansing. For years, Cooley Law students have been making a positive impact through their involvement in the nationally recognized Innocence Project, which, to date, has been credited with the release of 375 wrongfully convicted prisoners.
The chapter at Cooley Law is the only one in the state that deals with post-conviction DNA innocence. But this only one notable example; the school boasts several other award-winning clinics and professors. Other examples of outstanding clinics include the Real Estate Planning and Elderly Law clinics. Quality and impactful clinics are a crucial component of any school’s experiential learning curriculum, and Cooley Law earns top marks in this area.
The school’s excellence is evidenced by its notable alumni, including Rosemarie Aquilina, a Michigan Circuit Court judge who presided over the case and sentencing of Larry Nassar, a case that made national headlines in 2017. Aquilina is also an adjunct professor at the school.
Cooley is ranked as one of the top 100 law schools in the country that offers a quality part-time law program for working adults and other “nontraditional” students looking to enter the field of law. The school’s commitment to education is exemplified by its stellar continuing education program for recent law school graduates and practitioners who have been in the field for some time. The Master of Laws (LL.M) programs allows busy professionals to hone their skills through part-time and full-time online classes.
In 2019, Cooley Law admitted 54% of applicants, which is a sharp decline from its 80% admission rate in preceding years.
4. University of Detroit Mercy School of Law (Detroit, MI)
The University of Detroit Mercy School of Law is located at the heart of the legal district in downtown Detroit. Without a doubt, being at the center of the legal district provides Mercy School of Law students strategic access to myriad opportunities for experiential learning, such as internships and externships. For this reason, and many others, this school is a top choice among aspiring legal practitioners across the country.
Want proof of Detroit Mercy Law’s greatness? For starters, over 80% of graduates from recent years obtained full-time employment in a J.D.-required position within a year of graduation. This puts Detroit Mercy Law above the national average for post-graduation employment prospects alone. Recent graduates are not landing just any kind of job; many have secured positions at top national law firms, government offices, such as the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, top judicial clerkships in the state, and more.
Among the most significant assets of the school is its outstanding and accomplished faculty, including the renowned international law and gender law expert Catherine Archibald. Archibald has not only published in top-ranking law reviews, she has also worked on numerous immigration, family, and housing law cases and won awards for her pro bono work in these areas.
How does Detroit Mercy Law groom high-caliber lawyers? No law school is worth mentioning unless it can boast top-notch clinical programs. As early as year one, students get hands-on lawyering experience through mini-clinics such as the Greening of Detroit Clinic and the Wayne County Tax Foreclosure Hearing. Students are trained and supervised by community attorneys. Upper-level students are guaranteed hands-on training through a wide variety of clinics. The school has a bit of history to boast about here. It opened one of the first law clinics in the entire country, the Urban Law Clinic.
For some prospective students, the culture and values of a school matter as much as its employment statistics. Detroit Mercy Law’s mission is underpinned by its Jesuit and Mercy traditions, providing future lawyers with a strong foundation in ethics and social justice.
According to the latest US News and World Report rankings, Detroit Mercy Law ranks in the top 100 for its part-time law program.
3. Michigan State University College of Law (East Lansing, MI)
Established in 1891, the Michigan State University College of Law, formerly known as the Detroit College of Law, is the second oldest law school in the state. As with many well-established law schools, the school has earned its rank within the top 100 law schools in the country, according to the latest US News & World Report. Even at first glance, it should be no surprise that getting into the school of law can be quite competitive; less than half of applicants are admitted each year.
Notable faculty of the Detroit College of Law include Rosemarie Aquilina, who presided over the Larry Nassar case, and already mentioned as a famous alum of another school on this list. In addition to notable faculty, the school boasts accomplished alumni, including the current governor Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, and former Michigan Supreme Court Justice, Dennis Archer.
Besides notable faculty and alumni, MSU College of Law’s prestige has enabled its graduates to work and make a difference in all 50 states. Many work in the legal profession, landing prominent positions such as National Appeals Attorney for the Vietnam Veterans of America and as attorneys at established and reputable law firms throughout the country.
Detroit College of Law students train with expert faculty who are luminaries in business and regulatory law. In addition to receiving guidance from stellar faculty, students hone their lawyering skills and gain valuable experience, including the unique and impactful Indian Law Clinic, which prepares those who wish to work in Indian Country. Last but not least, students can practice their skills and bond with like-minded students through exceptional teamwork by participating in the award-winning Moot Court.
2. Wayne State University School of Law (Detroit, MI)
Of the schools on this list so far, Wayne State University School of Law has garnered the greatest number of accolades. Within the last three years alone, it has made it on the list of “Best Value Schools,” “Best Law Schools” and “Part-Time Law Schools” according to the 2022 US News & World Report rankings, and second best law school in Michigan.
Additionally, its graduates have one of the lowest rates of indebtedness among law schools in the region, the average debt being 55k. It has the winning combination of being the most affordable law school in Michigan and one of the best law schools in the country. However, there is more to this school than its impressive rankings.
WSU School of Law has become a powerhouse of practical legal training and advocacy. It is home to the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, Levin Center, and Program for International Legal Studies. The Keith Center prepares graduates to become “agents of change” by addressing the social, political, and economic needs of underrepresented communities in Southeast Michigan. The Levin Center also empowers students to take leading roles in ensuring the transparency, accountability, and integrity of public and private institutions by providing neutral and fact-based oversight. The Levin Center has launched a podcast series on legislative oversight.
Students have opportunities to study abroad and learn about the legal systems of other nations through the International Legal Studies program. This is just a small sample of the plethora of experiential and professional opportunities available to students, as they become versed in theory and excel at practice, with a passion for serving the community.
More than 85% of grads landed full-time positions within a year of graduating, with an overall employment rate of almost 90%.
1. University of Michigan Law School (Ann Arbor, MI)
The University of Michigan Law School is a formidable rival to Harvard and Stanford Law. With its picturesque quads and gothic-style architecture, the school is an aesthetically pleasing backdrop for serious study and training. Beyond aesthetics, its curriculum, faculty, and programs are stellar, and its acceptance rate hovers around 27%, making it the most competitive law school on this list. The average GPA for the class of 2023 was a 3.77 and the average LSAT score was 169.
What makes the University of Michigan Law school a premier institution that draws several thousand applicants a year? The school offers a rigorous and diverse curriculum, encompassing many areas in law, from Antitrust to Public Interest Law, Japanese Law, Legal Theory and Philosophy, to Writing and Drafting.
World-class scholars and practitioners teach courses in these areas. Julian Mortenson, for example, is an award-winning teacher, a prolific scholar, and an active litigator. He has published in numerous top law journals and reviews and has worked on the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia and clerked for Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter.
Complementing its stellar programs and faculty are its wide-ranging and intensive clinical offerings, which provide students the experience and skills needed to become top lawyers in the region and the country.