The Best Law Schools in Oregon

The state of Oregon, also known as the Beaver State, contains some of the United States’ most striking natural landscapes, ranging from volcanoes to vast bodies of water to thick evergreen forests. But believe it or not, Oregon is also home to three of the top-ranked law schools in the country. 

Oregon may not be the first state people think of when they think of law schools. Most people’s minds probably go to the Ivy League schools in the Northeastern United States, or to schools located around the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C. While Oregon’s top law schools are not ranked nearly as high as the most elite universities on the East Coast, they are nonetheless strong, well-respected programs, especially in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. One important thing to keep in mind is that in order to practice law in any given state, an attorney must pass the bar exam specific to that state. So, for future lawyers who intend to practice in Oregon or the immediate surrounding regions, going to law school in Oregon can be a wise choice when it comes to passing the bar and forging local industry connections. 

The primary source of national law school rankings is US News and World Report, which puts out a list of the top law schools in the country, updated annually. Some of the key metrics US News takes into account are ABA accreditation, percentage of students who pass the bar the first time, school resources, job placement success, quality of student-faculty interactions, and the law school’s reputation among its peers. 

This article will focus on the state of Oregon’s top 3 law schools as ranked by US News and World Report. We’ll explore Willamette University College of Law (#147-193), Northwestern School of Law of Lewis and Clark College (#88), and finally Oregon’s top law school, the University of Oregon School of Law (#72). 

3. Willamette University College of Law (Salem, OR)

Willamette University College of Law
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Willamette University College of Law, located in Salem, Oregon, has a long and proud history. Willamette University, founded in 1842, is the oldest university in the entire Western United States, while the College of Law, founded in 1883, is the oldest law school in the Pacfiic Northwest region of the US. Fittingly, the law school campus is located just a stone’s throw from the Oregon State Capitol and Oregon Supreme Court Building. In 1938 Willamette Law became accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA), and in 1946, it joined the Association of American Law Schools.

Willamette Law accepts approximately 75% of applicants, with a median LSAT score of 152 and an average GPA of 3.16. The school’s current first-time bar passage rate is approximately 84%, with the vast majority of graduates sitting for the bar in Oregon or the state of Washington. 

One of the defining features of Willamette’s Law program is its Center for Dispute Resolution, which offers specialized coursework in arbitration, negotiation, and mediation. Meanwhile, the school’s Clinical Law Program equips students with firsthand experience in real-world legal environments, with special focuses on the following four areas of law: Business Law, Trusts and Estates, Child and Family Advocacy, and Human Rights and Immigration. Willamette Law also offers unique semester-long study abroad programs in Hamburg, Germany, and Quito, Ecuador. 

The College of Law identifies five “signature strengths” among its programs, indicating that it is particularly strong in the areas of Business Law, Public Service, Advocacy, Health Law, and International Law. Within each of these areas of strength, students can pair theoretical learning with practical experience at a related Center or Clinic. 

Willamette Law publishes a number of legal journals and publications, including its flagship law review Willamette Law Review as well as the Willamette Environmental Law Journal, the Willamette Journal of International Law and Dispute Resolution, the Willamette Journal of Social Justice and Equity, and the Willamette Sports Law Journal, which was the first law review on sports law published in the Pacific Northwest. These law reviews give a sense of the legal areas Willamette Law students care about intellectually and personally. 

Willamette Law includes some very distinguished legal scholars and practitioners among its faculty, including four former Oregon Supreme Court Justices and one former Oregon Senator. Meanwhile, Willamette Law alumni have gone on to hold important political positions such as Governor, Congressman, Senator, and State Supreme Court Justice not only in Oregon, but also in states such as Alaska, Washington, and Hawaii. 

2. Northwestern School of Law of Lewis and Clark College (Portland, OR)

Lewis and Clark Law School
Tedder, Lewis and Clark Law School, Portland, Oregon, CC BY 3.0

Northwestern School of Law of Lewis and Clark College, also known as Lewis and Clark Law School, is a private, ABA-accredited law school located in the southern hills of Portland, Oregon. The school’s campus is located next to a forested natural area that boasts over 14 miles of trails for biking, jogging, and trekking in Tyron Creek State Park. Founded in 1815, the Law School adheres to the motto Explorare, Discere, Sociare, meaning to explore, to discern, and to work together. These objectives animate all aspects of Lewis and Clark Law School’s curriculum. 

Lewis and Clark Law School admits approximately 55% of students who apply. Successful applicants have a median LSAT score of 158 and a median GPA of 3.49. Women significantly outnumber men at 59% to 41%, and just under half (49%) of students come from states outside of Oregon. The Law School’s first-time bar passage rate is approximately 84%, which is equivalent to Oregon’s statewide first-time bar passage rate. Thus, Lewis and Clark Law School graduates are on average equally as successful at passing the bar as any other law graduates in Oregon. 

One of the distinguishing features of Lewis and Clark Law School’s curriculum is its pioneering work in the field of Animal Law. The Law School was one of the first in the country to offer courses in Animal Law, and in 1992 Lewis and Clark Law School students established the nation’s very first Animal Law Conference. From there, the Law School established the Center for Animal Studies (CALS) and later the world’s first Animal Law Clinic. Lewis and Clark now has the #1 ranked Animal Law program in the entire country, as well as the #1 Environmental Law program in the country (tied with Pace and University of California, Berkeley). Moreover, US News and World Report ranks Lewis and Clark School of Law not only #88 nationally, but also #14 among part-time law programs. 

Another unique aspect of the Lewis and Clark Law School experience is that the campus hosts several national moot court competitions. The Law School launched its own Environmental Moot Court Competition in 2013, and also serves as the permanent host of the National Native American Law Students Association (NALSA) Moot Court Competition and the International Law Students Association (ILSA) Pacific Regional Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition. Students also benefit from the Law School’s worldwide externship placement connections in locations as far-flung as India and China. 

Lewis and Clark Law School alumni hold high-ranking positions in government and the court systems. Among the distinguished alumni are State Representatives, State Supreme Court Justices, Governors, and even the founder of the moving company U-Haul. 

1. University of Oregon School of Law (Eugene, OR)

University of Oregon School of Law
Mollyec, Knight Law Center Final, CC BY-SA 4.0

The University of Oregon School of Law is Oregon’s only public, state-funded law school. Founded in 1884, the Law School is located in Eugene, OR, and ranks #72 nationally by US News and World Report. University of Oregon School of Law is known, among other things, for establishing the country’s very first Environmental Law Program (ENP), which is fitting given that Oregon in general and the city of Eugene in particular are known for their natural landscapes and outdoorsy ethos.

University of Oregon’s Environmental Law Program is currently ranked #10 in the country (tied with George Washington University, CU-Boulder, Stanford, and University of Utah) by US News. 

In addition to Environmental and Natural Resources Law, University of Oregon School of Law is renowned for its Conflict and Dispute Resolution expertise, as reflected in its prominent Appropriate Dispute Resolution Center. US News ranks University of Oregon #12 nationwide among Dispute Resolution Programs. Moreover, University of Oregon School of Law features a robust Legal Research and Writing (LRW) program, tied with University of Nevada, Las Vegas for the #1 ranking in the entire country. 

University of Oregon School of Law accepts approximately 49% of applicants, and admitted students have a median LSAT score of 158 and median GPA of 3.48. Just over half of the enrolling class comes from the Pacific West region, while the remaining half of incoming students are from all across the country. The school’s first-time Oregon bar passage rate is 86%, giving it an edge over the 84% average across all schools in the state.  

One of the most notable annual events held at University of Oregon School of Law is the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC), which brings together environmental activists, advocates, and students from across the country and around the world to share experiences, strategies, and news related to environmental law and activism. 

Furthermore, the University of Oregon School of Law is known for its student-centered education, with a low student-to-faculty ratio of less than 5:1, which is especially impressive for a large public university. The school also dramatically emphasizes practical, real-world experiences through an extensive externship program, known as the Field Placement Program, which allows students to gain first-hand experience in a legal specialty of their choosing. 

University of Oregon School of Law alumni have risen the ranks in government, politics, and the judicial system. Among the school’s many distinguished alumni are State Judges, State Supreme Court Justices, State Attorney Generals, and Congressmen.

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