The U.S. News and World Report publishes an annual ranking of law schools in the country. Though they rank almost 200 schools annually, the top 14 schools have always been in the top 14, ever since the rankings were introduced. Though the schools can move up and down relative to each other, they have always been measured by the U.S. News as the top 14 law schools in the country. These schools include: Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Chicago, NYU, Berkeley, Virginia, Michigan, UPenn, Duke, Northwestern, Cornell, and Georgetown.
Because these schools have always been at the top, these schools have become the standard by which law school applicants aspire to. “T14 or bust” is a common mentality of many applicants. There is also a commonly held belief that these 14 schools are the only “national” law schools, with every other school being “regional.” That means, while a student at a national school can practice wherever he/she wants, a student at a regional school can only practice in the schools jurisdiction (for example, UCLA and USC students in LA and Fordham students in NY). While this view is a bit extreme (students can go anywhere to practice, provided that they network and interview well), there is a certain modicum of truth to the fact that the higher ranked schools give degrees that are truly portable, while lower ranked schools tend to specialize in their home markets.
The top 14 schools typically break down into mini tiers. The holy grail of law schools is Yale, Harvard and Stanford, followed closely by the second mini tier of Chicago, Columbia and NYU. The next tier of schools consists of Virginia, Michigan, Penn and Berkeley, and the final tier is composed of Duke, Northwestern, Cornell and Georgetown. Within these tiers, on any given year, we can see major jumps between the schools, but we hardly ever see a school break into another min tier. For example, Chicago and NYU can switch places, but hardly ever will you see Northwestern or Virginia within the top 6 schools. Though these distinctions are important with potential applicants, most lawyers seem to agree that splitting the T14 into mini tiers is rather imprudent, and don’t consider any school below Harvard, Yale and Stanford to be substantially greater or worse than each other. » Read more: The Top 14 Law Schools