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Columbia University School of Law

published April 24, 2012

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
Published By
( 469 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
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University of Chicago Law School

Columbia Law School Logo
Established 1858
Mailing address 435 West 116th Street, | New York | NY 10027
Phone 212-854-2640
Student-faculty ratio 9.2:1
Number of students enrolled 1,331
Acceptance rate 9.8%
Bar passage rate (first-time test takers) 97.5%
Law school cost (tuition and fees) $52,902 per year


Columbia University School of Law is one of the most prestigious law schools in the country and also one of the most transparent. The usual class size is less than 25 students and the student to faculty ratio is 9.2:1. Besides high employment prospects with private law firms, a healthy 10% of students go ahead to judicial clerkships and the School of Law offers reliable access to such opportunities. There are more Columbia Law School alumni in the Forbes 400 than from any other law school in the nation.

Though the first professor of law at the Columbia University, James Kent, was appointed in 1793, the school of law was not established until 1858. The location of the Columbia University School of Law in the city of New York and its Ivy-league status confers a prestigious brand on its students and a greater rate of acceptance in corporate circles. Studying in Columbia University School of Law automatically provides you access to the best neighborhoods, culture, and amenities of New York.

Average student debt is around $120,000, but employment prospects are respectable. On-campus recruitment is reported to be little sloppy, but attributed to the enhanced interaction of students with Wall Street firms and big law offices situated within the city. Usually, most good students are employed with corporate law firms by their third year, whether as a result of on-campus recruitment efforts or not. 95.6% of students from the Columbia University School of Law pass the bar exams in their first attempts.


Rankings and reputation

The Columbia Law School has consistently ranked within the top 5 law schools of the nation since 1987, the year from which the U.S.News & World Report started publishing its rankings for law schools. Only Yale, Harvard and Stanford can claim the same consistency in rankings and being within the first five year after year. In respect of academic reputation an overall national standing, Columbia Law has consistently held its place within the first four law schools of the nation as ranked by the U.S.News & World Report.

In its 2011 Law Firm Recruiters' Ranking of Best Law Schools, the U.S. News and World Report ranked Columbia Law School at the third position for student numerical quality. However, from 2006 to 2009, during the worst periods of the recession, too, Columbia Law School was ranked at No. 1 for job placements at the nation's best law firms.

According to the Forbes magazine, Columbia Law School ranks at the top for highest earning law graduates in the nation. The National Law Journal survey of "go to law" schools found that for two consecutive years, (2007, 2008), Columbia Law School had the highest percentage of law graduates hired by the nation's top 250 law firms.

Columbia Law School also was featured in a list of top law schools analyzed and ranked by LawCrossing CEO Harrison Barnes. This list can be found here: Top Law Schools Analyzed and Ranked by America's Top Legal Recruiter.



The admission process is selective and successful applicants have a median GPA of 3.72 while the average LSAT score is around 172. Columbia offers a binding Early Decision option that can be utilized by students who have their hearts set on studying law in New York. Candidates opting for the Early Option need to complete their application typically by November 15.

The JD starts with a three-week introductory course and a year of legal practice workshops. Students also have the opportunity to enroll in joint degree programs and become more specialized in their chosen fields of practice. The School also has a JD/MPA in collaboration with the Woodrow Wilson School of Law, Princeton University.

Admission criteria

25th-75th Percentile 170-175 3.60-3.82
Median 170 3.72


The above LSAT and GPA data pertain to the fall 2011 entering class.


Grading system

Columbia Law School does not rank students or assign GPAs. Columbia Law School has a grading system of A, B, C and F, with plus and minus designations in A and B. A few courses and clinics at the Columbia Law School also offer a grade of CR (credit). There are two honors designations: Kent and Stone Honors.

A Kent Scholar is honored for earning an average significantly better than A and generally the top 8 percent of a class receive Kent Scholar honors.

A Stone Scholar is honored earning an average which is significantly higher than B+, and almost 35 percent of a class receives the honors.



Columbia Law School gives out several awards to its students every year. The notable ones are:

  • Allan Morrow Sexuality and Gender Law Prize: Awarded for outstanding achievement in the furtherance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights
  • Andrew D. Fried Memorial Prize: Awarded for the best student essay in the field of intellectual property and related law, published in the Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts during the preceding year
  • Carroll G. Harper Prize: Awarded for the highest achievement in intellectual property studies and writing
  • James A. Elkins Prizes: Awarded to the best first-year law student in each of the following courses: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, and Criminal Law
  • Jane Marks Murphy Prize: Awarded for interest and proficiency in advocacy in clinical offerings
  • John Ordronaux Prize: Awarded for general proficiency in legal study
  • Lawrence S. Greenbaum Prize: Awarded for the best oral presentation in the final argument of the Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition
  • Milton B. Conford Book Prize in Jurisprudence: Awarded for the best examination paper or essay on jurisprudence
  • Paul R. Hays Prize: Awarded to the best first-year student in Civil Procedure
  • Simon H. Rifkind Prize Fund: Awarded for the best overall performance in the first-year moot court program at Columbia Law School
  • Valentin J.T. Wertheimer Prize in Labor Law: Awarded for a creative, thoughtful approach to labor law, equal employment law, public or private sector collective bargaining, labor conflict resolution, or employment security
  • Walter Gellhorn Prize: Awarded to the best LLM student with the highest academic average
  • Whitney North Seymour Medal: Awarded to the student with the greatest promise of becoming a distinguished trial advocate



A Kent Scholar is awarded in recognition of outstanding academic achievement. Kent requires an earned average significantly better than A- and is generally awarded to the top 8 percent of each class (as low as 2 percent of 1Ls and as high as 11 percent of 3Ls).

A Stone Scholar is awarded in recognition of superior academic achievement. Stone requires an earned average significantly better than B+ and is generally awarded to 35 percent of the class (as low as 29 percent of 1Ls and as high as 45 percent of 3Ls).

Only law school course work is used to calculate honors. No student shall be named a Kent or Stone Scholar for any term that includes law school grades of Incomplete.


Placement facts

Starting Salaries in Private Sector(median) $160,000
Starting Salaries in Public Service(median) $58,000
Graduates known to be employed at graduation 96.3%
Graduates known to be employed nine months after graduation 96.5%

Data for 2010 Graduates employed full-time.

Areas of legal practice where Columbia law graduates are employed

Law Firms 76.1%
Business and Industry 3.9%
Government 4.6%
Public Interest Organizations 3.1%
Judicial Clerkships 11.8%
Academia 0.5%
Unknown 0.0%



Externships at the Columbia Law School usually consist of seminars that meet once a week and field experience in NGOs or government offices that are closely related to the seminars. The seminars are conducted by adjunct professors who are leading attorneys in their practice areas. Field placements usually take place at the workplaces of adjunct professors, and seminar leaders supervise the work of students. Externships are primarily created by Social Justice Initiatives. All externship programs have academic credits or a combination of clinical and academic credits.



Besides traditional summer associate programs at law firms and other offices recognized by the Columbia Law School, the institution also has an extensive program of Columbia sponsored Clerkships and Internships. The following clerkships and internships are sponsored by the Columbia Law School itself: Dean Acheson Legal Stage, Luxembourg; The ICC International Court of Arbitration Clerkships, Paris, France; The Clerkship with the Commission des Operations de Bourse, Paris, France; The International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands; European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France; In-service Training (stages) with the European Commission, Brussels or Luxembourg; International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; International Labour Organization, Geneva, Switzerland; International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea The ITLOS (Hamburg, Germany); World Trade Organization, Geneva, Switzerland; and the World Intellectual Property Organization Summer School on Intellectual Property, Geneva, Switzerland.


Clinical programs

Clinical education in the Columbia Law School entails the study of law in the context of working with real clients and real problems. Students work under the supervision of their clinical professors while representing clients often on sensitive and important matters. Through all clinical programs, Columbia Law School focuses the attention of students on communication skills, reflective practice, understanding institutions, and benefiting society.

Separate clinics at the Columbia Law School include:

  • Child Advocacy Clinic
  • Environmental Law Clinic
  • Human Rights Clinic
  • Challenging The Consequences of Mass Incarceration Clinic
  • Prisoners and Families Clinic
  • Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic
  • Mediation Clinic
  • Community Enterprise Clinic
  • Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic


Moot court

The moot court program at the Columbia Law School is extremely strong, having about 15 separate moot court competitions. The program requires first-year J.D. students to participate in the Foundation Moot Court and there are additional elective programs for students in second and third years.

The Foundation program is aimed at developing the legal writing, research, and analytical skills of students and participants have to research and submit an appellate brief and submit oral arguments before a panel of judges.

Separate moot court competitions include the Aipla Moot Court, The American Constitution Society Moot Court, the Environmental Law Moot Court, the European Law Moot Court, the Foundation Year Moot Court, the Frederick Douglass Moot Court, the Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Honors Competition, Independent Moot Court Coaching, the Jerome Michael Jury Trials, the Jessup International Moot Court, the L6681 and L6671 Moot Court Student Editor, L6676 and L6776 Moot Court Student Judge, the Native American Law Students Association Moot Court, the Vienna Arbitration Moot Court, and the Workshop in Briefcraft.



Publications and journals at the Columbia Law School consist of the Columbia Law School Magazine which is published thrice in a year by the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, The Columbia Law School Faculty Writings and Activities newsletter, which is published by the Office of Communications and 14 law journals run by students. The student run journals include:

  • Columbia Business Law Review
  • Columbia Human Rights Law Review
  • Columbia Journal of Asian Law
  • Columbia Journal of environmental Law
  • Columbia Journal of European Law
  • Columbia Journal of Gender and Law
  • Columbia Journal of Law & Social Problems
  • Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts
  • Columbia Journal of Race & Law
  • Columbia Journal of Tax Law
  • Columbia Journal of Transnational Law
  • Columbia Law Review
  • Columbia Science and Technology Law Review
  • The American Review of International Arbitration


Notable alumni

Columbia Law School has produced many graduates who have achieved high-ranking positions in the legal field and in the federal government, with several getting judicial appointments across the country. The law school has also produced several entrepreneurs and media personalities. Some of the notable alumni are:

  • Eric Holder - Attorney General
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg - Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
  • Preet Bharara - United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Named by Time Magazine as "One of The 100 Most Influential People in the World"
  • Andrew J. Shapiro - Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs
  • Gray Davis - Former Governor of California
  • George Pataki - Former Governor of New York
  • Mikhail Saakashvili - President, Georgia
  • Nick Santora - writer (The Sopranos, Law & Order), producer (Prison Break) and novelist
  • Cenk Uygur, host of liberal talk radio show The Young Turks
  • Dan Abrams - TV host, legal commentator, author
  • Frank Blake - CEO of Home Depot
  • Luca Cordero di Montezemolo - President and CEO of Ferrari
  • David Stern - NBA Commissioner
  • Caryn Davies (Class of 2013) - rower; gold medalist in 2008 Summer Olympics; participating in 2012 Summer Olympics


In the news


Karina de Jesus, a Peruvian native, has been able to get asylum in the U.S. because of the support of Columbia law students. Karina had missed a crucial one-year application deadline for applicants who are already in the country.

But the students at Columbia's Gender and Sexuality Clinic were able to convince the Department of Homeland Security that Karina, who is openly lesbian, faced a threat to her life if she was deported to Peru. They cited cases and research pointing to the fact that the Peruvian government does not strongly support and safeguard the life and rights of LGBT individuals.

Columbia Law School has created a new center for research on international arbitration; the Center for International Commercial and Investment Arbitration Law. The center will be headed by George A. Bermann who has extensive experience in the field of international arbitration. He will be joined by other Columbia faculty in developing the center which will also host a distinguished speaker series and have workshops on the subject.

Learn the 10 Factors That Matter to Big Firms More Than Where You Went to Law School


Columbia Law School has an employment rate of 97 percent for its students who graduated in 2010, according to the recent ABA report in which several other schools’ placement rates are also available. The data has been made available because of mounting public pressure over the placement rates of recent law school graduates.





Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

More about Harrison

About LawCrossing

LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit

published April 24, 2012

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 469 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.