Here Are the Best Law Schools in San Diego

Lawyers help represent a variety of clients in criminal and civil cases by providing advice, preparing documents, and appearing in court to advocate on their behalf. In order to take on this responsibility, lawyers are required to earn a Juris Doctor degree and pass the bar exam to practice law in their state. 

Along with a quality education, law schools provide hands-on experience through clinics, externships, and research to help prospective lawyers feel confident. Professors also prepare students to become attorneys by teaching them important skills such as communication, critical thinking, and confidence. 

Although the first thing to come to mind when thinking of California may be the beautiful surroundings or beaches to relax on, the state is also a great place to practice law. California lawyers have the second-highest income in the nation, with a median salary of $171,500. In addition, the job growth for lawyers is accelerating with the recent technological advances in the area. There are 16.4% more lawyers in the state today than there were in 2014.

San Diego is a culturally vibrant and economically thriving city that is known for innovation in wireless telecommunications, biotechnology, and manufacturing. This makes the area a popular location to practice Intellectual Property law and litigation. San Diego is also at the heart of the state’s legal, business, and political community, providing law students with many opportunities for internships and service opportunities. 

Within San Diego, there are only four law schools, but choosing between them can still be a daunting task. Let’s explore what makes each of the best law schools in San Diego unique to determine the best fit for you.


4. Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Thomas Jefferson School of Law
photo via Wikimedia Commons

Thomas Jefferson specializes in legal writing, criminal law, intellectual property, entertainment law, and international law. They have a variety of hands-on learning experiences, including student-run clinics and externships. The school is also home to the National Sports Law Negotiation Competition that hosts 36 teams from the United States and Canada.

Thomas Jefferson also hosts the Center for Solo Practitioners, an incubator intended to serve under-represented communities. It has the space and support for any alumni going into solo practice, and was honored with an ABA Award in 2013 for the help they provide to small practices.

As industry professionals, the faculty have a broad range of experience to draw from; some have litigated before the World Court and US Supreme Court, while others have authored treatises or produced research published by leading journals and cited in courts across the nation.


3. Western Sierra Law School

Founded in 1979, Western Sierra Law School is an affordable and accessible option for students looking to study law. In comparison to the current high cost of $40,000 to obtain a legal education, tuition at Western Sierra costs approximately $10,500 per year. Graduates go on to serve their community in a wide variety of fields, including legal practice, government, public service, insurance, academia, and private sector businesses.

The private, independent, non-sectarian school is known for its part-time JD program that accommodates working professionals. Instead of the usual full-time courseload, students at Western Sierra can take evening classes twice per week while working a full- or part-time job to support themselves. The courses have small class sizes and a comprehensive course of study that enables graduates to succeed in their legal careers.

Western Sierra is conveniently located in central San Diego, with plenty of opportunities to learn and apply legal knowledge. The school is within walking distance from many notable sites such as the Edward J. Schwartz US Courthouse, City Hall, San Diego County Law Library, and San Diego Superior courts. 


2. California Western School of Law

California Western School of Law was originally founded in 1924 as Balboa Law College, becoming San Diego’s oldest law school. The trimester system leads to reduced class sizes and allows students to graduate in two years as opposed to the standard three years. Cal Western is renowned nationally for its impressive diversity, with 58% of the entering students identifying as women. The US News and World Report placed the school in the top 10 for diversity in the Best Law School rankings.

The world-class faculty at Cal Western are known for their experience in a variety of legal fields. Professors have recently been published in more than ten top-50 law reviews. The publications include the California Law Review, Northwestern Law Review, Washington Law Review, and many other leading specialty journals.

Cal Western has a wide variety of programs, courses, and externships to help students succeed as attorneys. Graduates taking the bar exam are prepared for success and surpass the average performance for the other 21 ABA-approved schools in California. In 2020, 55% of first-time takers compared to the statewide average of 43%.

One such program is Established Skills Training for Ethical and Preventative Practice and Career Satisfaction (STEPPS). Started in 2004, STEPPS is one of the first skills training and professionalism courses in the nation. Cal Western law students are able to develop their professional identity and internalize core values such as collaboration, professionalism, and integrity. Students undergo simulated lawyering experiences while supervised by practicing attorneys. These mock trials help develop critical legal writing, research, counseling, negotiation, and drafting skills.

Law students can also apply their classroom knowledge through the Clinical Externship Program, where third-year students participate in legal work. Cal Western is among the top 3 law schools in the United States for required experiential learning credits. The school promotes practical experiences to develop essential skills like confidence and problem-solving that are essential for practicing attorneys. Additionally, alumni are placed into law firms, the US Court of Appeals, and US Attorney offices.

For law students who are passionate advocates for those in need of aid, the California Innocence Project based at Cal Western is a great opportunity. Law students and professors work alongside each other to investigate cases with strong evidence of wrongful conviction. The center reviews more than 2,000 claims of innocence each year, performing the necessary research and preparing documents to help in-state prisoners. The project has secured the release of dozens of innocent people from wrongful incarceration.


1. University of San Diego School of Law

University of San Diego School of Law
photo via Wikimedia Commons

The University of San Diego School is the youngest independent institution ranking in the top 100 schools nationwide, according to the US News & World Report. Despite the school’s relatively young age, the School of Law boasts more than 14,000 alumni across every state and 55 foreign countries. 

Admission to the USD School of Law is competitive, with a median LSAT score of 159 for the class of 2020. This statistic comes as no surprise, as more and more applicants hope to be a part of the university and end up in their dream jobs. 

88.7% of USD Law graduates are employed nine months after graduation, at judicial clerkships in federal and international courts, or the US Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Other law students go on to work in public service in the offices of District Attorneys, Public Defenders, or City Attorneys. Still, more graduates leverage their degrees to work in large multinational law firms such as Cooley, Jones Day, and Wilson Sonsini.

USD Law students have the opportunity from professors at the top of their fields. Seven faculty members are a part of the American Law Institute, a leading organization that produces scholarly work to clarify, modernize, and improve the law. This group is highly selective and consists of judges, lawyers, and professors. Members are admitted on the basis of professional achievement and demonstrated interest in improving the law. Other faculty members in the department include leading practitioners and judges who bring their practical skills into the classroom.

Outside of the classroom, law students at USD can meet people, explore different areas of the law, and get involved in the legal community. There are over 40 unique law student organizations, journals, and teams for students to pursue their interests. One such organization is the Appellate Moot Court Board that is dedicated to fostering the development of appellate advocacy. Students receive training from professors and experienced attorneys and host two intramural competitions open to all upperclassmen. 

Along with the Alumni Moot Court Tournament and Paul A. McLennon Sr. Honors Moot Court Competition, USD hosts the National Criminal Competition each fall. This tournament brings in students from law schools across the country. The rigorous competition is judged by leading criminal law experts and judicial officers.
The centers and institutes of USD are an essential part of the school’s reputation and ability to retain highly regarded faculty. These include 10 centers that focus on topics such as public interest, business policy, bioethics, and energy policy. The legal centers also host interdisciplinary academic research into the study of constitutional originalism, law and philosophy, law and religion, and computation, mathematics, and the law.

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