Lawyers act as advocates for clients by representing them in trials and arguing in courts to represent their clients. They also counsel individuals about their legal rights. As the legal system impacts nearly every aspect of society, becoming a lawyer promises good job security and the potential to affect many people positively.
To become a lawyer, students must complete four years of undergraduate study and three years of law school. A rigorous curriculum will prepare graduates to pass the bar exam and become practicing attorneys. This is accomplished through an education that develops legal knowledge along with communication, research, and critical thinking skills. Many law schools also have clinical or externship programs where students gain hands-on legal experience under the supervision of an experienced attorney.
Utah is a great place to practice and study law, with over 7,000 licensed attorneys throughout the state. Practicing lawyers focus on a wide range of specialties, including family law, property law, immigration law, and Intellectual Property. Due to the various practice areas and numerous counties, there are nine different bar associations in the state. The average lawyer in Utah earns a salary of $97,000 annually.
Although there are only two law schools in Utah, they each have their own merits and are nationally recognized for the resources and top-tier education provided to law students. Here are the best law schools in Utah based on their placement in the US News list.
2. University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law (Salt Lake City, UT)
The S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah ranks among the top 20 public law schools nationwide. This honor reflects the quality of faculty members, job placement, and candidates that the school is associated with. In addition, the University of Utah is a national leader in specialty programs such as environmental law, health law, and criminal law.
S.J. Quinney has one of the top ten environmental and natural resources law programs in the United States. The Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources, and the Environment houses faculty dedicated to shaping environmental policy while including law students in their work. The center is dedicated to understanding the critical environmental challenges of today and increasing public awareness. The Stegner Center also hosts clinics, practical skills curriculum, public discussions, speakers, and other events that encourage the community to live within environmental limits.
Law students at the University of Utah enjoy the 3rd lowest student to faculty ratio nationwide. At a ratio of 7:3:1, the school is only behind Yale and Stanford. The university believes the right environment produces the best lawyers and fosters learning through small classes, engaged teaching, and an active learning style. The personalized education ensures that no one gets lost in the crowd, and every student has the resources to achieve their best.
The small student to faculty ratio means that law students can interact with the experienced faculty in the College of Law. The 38 full-time faculty members are some of the nation’s leading legal scholars in a wide range of expertise. They have argued in front of the Supreme Court, testified before Congress, and written regulation and policy that impacts legal precedent. Professors have in-depth knowledge as practicing lawyers at law firms, public interest organizations, and government agencies. Their expertise shows through dedicated teaching to law students at the University of Utah.
The College of Law’s upward trajectory is shown through the school’s new $62.5 million law building. The new facility is LEED Platinum certified, becoming the first law school on the west coast to earn such a designation. The building was designed to achieve a 65% reduction in energy costs through an intelligent design and strategic solar orientation. In addition, the new building houses a cafe, secured access study areas, and a moot courtroom.
Integrated with the law building is a law library that is dedicated to the teaching, research, and service mission of the College of Law. As the largest public library in the state, it acts as a legal information repository for the university and the broader legal community. Law students have the ability to develop new skills through the library’s basic legal research course. Both the law building and library facilitate new clinical programs, experiential learning, collaborative research, and community engagement.
The pro bono initiative at S.J. Quinney is a volunteer program that allows students to develop problem-solving skills while serving the community. Students are encouraged to perform at least 50 hours of volunteer service over their law school career. Law students can work with a number of clinics including Family Law, Street Law, Community Legal Sites, and Expungement. They work alongside practicing attorneys to provide legal services to those without access. Alumni from the University of Utah are encouraged to volunteer, network with, and mentor current law students. In 2015, S.J. Quinney students provided nearly 40,000 hours of volunteer pro bono and clinical service to their community.
The personalized education, leading programs and faculty, and opportunities for hands-on learning at the University of Utah leads to impressive job outcomes. In 2019, 79% of graduates were employed in bar passage required positions. They were hired in a variety of fields including law firms, industry, government, public interest, and education. Other alumni were chosen for prestigious clerkships, with four graduates serving as clerks to Supreme Court Justices.
1. Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School (Provo, UT)
Brigham Young University is known for its good value, especially in the J. Reuben Clark Law School. SoFi ranks it #1 for return on investment, and the National Jurist places it as #1 for the best value private law school. According to the US Department of Education, BYU law has the lowest median federal debt of any law school in the country at just over $50,000. Approximately one-third of students in 2020 graduated debt-free from the university.
Graduates from BYU Law have an impressive bar passage rate due to the high-value education they receive. Of the first-time test-takers in 2020, 95.5% passed the bar exam compared to a nationwide average of 78.3%. Because of BYU Law’s historical excellence in passing the bar, the applicant pool to the school is getting more competitive every year. Students from the entering Class of 2023 come from 39 states and 17 countries. Accepted students boast an impressive median LSAT score of 166 and a median GPA of 3.8.
Outside of the classroom, law students have plenty of opportunities to utilize their legal knowledge from externships to student organizations. The externship program is designed to provide in-office practical experiences so students can put theory into practice. The program has one of the largest student participation rates at 81% and is one of the largest externship programs available. During the summer of 2019, 25 1L law students traveled to over 19 different countries to gain hands-on international legal experience.
In 2020, law students completed 170 externships and clinical alliance placements in areas such as judicial, governmental, legislative, public interest, and international law. The most popular choice is the Criminal Prosecution and Defense Clinical Alliance, where law students will work with an attorney or defender office to advise and represent actual clients directly. Other clinical alliances include Corporate Counsel, Government Practice, and Judicial.
Law students at BYU can further explore a variety of interests and backgrounds through the 35+ student organizations. These clubs are good for networking and learning essential legal skills. A popular option is the trial advocacy team that is nationally recognized for professional excellence, drive, and success. The team prepares students to practice law by developing litigation skills through meaningful feedback, coaching, and monthly training sessions from successful attorneys. The team competes in both intra-school and national competitions, allowing plenty of opportunities to apply their training.
In 2020, the BYU team was invited to participate in the Tournament of Champions, an invitation-only competition that brings together top law students from 16 leading trial advocacy law schools.
The law school also has many popular publications, including the BYU Education and Law Journal, the BYU Journal of Public Law, and the BYU Law Review. Each publication has hundreds of papers and thousands of downloads from legal scholars around the world. The Law Review’s mission is to produce legal periodicals for use by scholars, practitioners, and judges. Law students contribute by editing articles, writing comments, and performing other activities to enable publication. Members gain intensive legal writing skills and improve their ability to analyze legal issues. In addition, law students have the opportunity to contribute to the orderly development of the law.
As a result of BYU’s renowned legal education, the school has produced a number of well-known alumni in a variety of fields. James W. Parkinson was a high-profile attorney that published a book and produced a documentary during his legal career. In government, a famous BYU graduate is John Valentine, who was the President of the Utah State Senate from 2005 – 2008. He was also a senator for Utah for over a decade. Other alumni include state and federal judges, politicians, university deans, and business leaders. The BYU alumni network is an engaged community that continues to serve, connect, and give back to the legal field.