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Yale Law School, or YLS, is the law school of Yale Universitymarker in New Haven, Connecticutmarker. Established in 1843, the school offers the J.D., LL.M., J.S.D., and M.S.L. degrees in law. It also hosts visiting scholars and a number of legal research centers. The school's prestige and small size make its admissions process the most selective of any United States law school. Yale has been ranked as the number one law school in the country by U.S. News and World Report in every year in which the magazine has published law school rankings.

Among other luminaries, former U.S. President William Howard Taft was a professor of constitutional law at the school from 1913 until he resigned to become Chief Justice of the United States in 1921. Presidents Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton received their law degrees at Yale Law School later in the century, and the law school's library has been memorialized as the meeting place of Bill and fellow student and current Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Current U.S.marker Supreme Courtmarker Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor are alumni of the school, and a large number of former Justices have attended the school, including Abe Fortas, Sherman Minton, Potter Stewart, and Byron R. White. Former Democratic Vice Presidential nominees Sargent Shriver and Joe Lieberman are also graduates. The school has also produced several heads of state around the world, including Karl Carstens, fifth president of Germany, and Jose P. Laurel, president of the Philippines during World War II. Alumni also include the current deans of the law schools at Yale, Harvardmarker, Columbia, NYUmarker, Chicago, Michiganmarker, Penn, Virginiamarker, Northwesternmarker, and Georgetownmarker.

The school's law library, Lillian Goldman Law Library, contains over 1,000,000 volumes. The law school's flagship law review is the Yale Law Journal.


The institution is known for its scholarly orientation; a relatively large number of its graduates (14%) choose careers in academia within five years of graduation, while a relatively low number (49%) choose to work in law firms. Another feature of Yale Law School's culture since the 1930s, among both faculty and student graduates, has been an emphasis on the importance of spending at least a few years in government service. A similar emphasis has long been placed on service as a judicial law clerk upon graduation. Its 7.5-student-to-faculty ratio is the lowest among U.S. law schools.

Yale Law School does not have a traditional grading system, a consequence of student unrest in the late 1960s. Instead, it grades first-semester first-year students on a simple Credit/No Credit system. For their remaining two and a half years, students are graded on an Honors/Pass/Low Pass/Fail system. Similarly, the school does not officially rank its students. It is also notable for having only a single semester of required classes, instead of the full year most U.S. schools require. Unusually, Yale Law allows first-year students to represent clients through one of its numerous clinics; other law schools typically offer this opportunity only to second- and third-year students.

Students publish nine law journals that, unlike those at most other schools, mostly accept student editors without a competition. The only exception is YLS's flagship journal, the Yale Law Journal, which holds a two-part admissions competition each spring, consisting of a four or five-hour "bluebooking exam," followed by a traditional writing competition. Although the Journal identifies a target maximum number of members to accept each year, it is not a firm number. Other leading student-edited publications include the Yale Law & Policy Review, the Yale Journal on Regulation, and the Yale Journal of International Law.


Early 19th century

The Yale Law School traces its origins to the earliest days of the 19th century, when law was learned by clerking as an apprentice in a lawyer’s office. The first law schools, including the one that became Yale, developed out of this apprenticeship system and grew up inside law offices. The future Yale Law School formed in the office of New Haven lawyer Seth Staples, who owned an exceptional library (an attraction for students at a time when law books were scarce) and began training apprentices in the early 1800s.

By the 1810s, his law office had a full-fledged law school. Samuel Hitchcock, one of Staples’ former students, became a partner at the office and later, the proprietor of the New Haven Law School.

The New Haven Law School affiliated gradually with Yale from the mid-1820s to the mid-1840s. Law students began receiving Yale degrees in 1843. David Daggett, a former U.S. senator from Connecticut, joined Hitchcock as co-proprietor of the school in 1824. In 1826, Yale named Daggett to be professor of law in Yale College, where he lectured to undergraduates on public law and government.

The Yale Law School remained fragile for decades. At the death of Samuel Hitchcock in 1845 and again upon the death of his successor, Henry Dutton, in 1869, the University came near to closing the School.

Late 19th century revival

The revival of Yale Law School after 1869 was led by its first full-time dean, Francis Wayland, who helped the School establish its philanthropic base. It was during this time that the modern law library was organized. It was also during this period that The Yale Law Journal was started and Yale’s pioneering efforts in graduate programs in law began; the degree of Master of Laws was offered for the first time in 1876.

In the last decades of the 19th century, Yale began to articulate for its Law School two traits that would come to be hallmarks. First, it would be small and humane, bucking the trend toward large law-school enrollments and impersonal faculty-student relations. Second, it would take an interdisciplinary approach to teaching the law, first bringing professors from other University departments to teach in the Law School, and later in the 20th century, pioneering the appointment to the law faculty of professors ranging from economics to psychiatry. This led Yale Law School away from the preoccupation with private law that then typified American legal education, and toward serious engagement with public and international law.

Legal Realism movement

After 1900, Yale Law School began to shape legal scholarship. In the 1930s, Yale Law School led the movement known as legal realism, which has reshaped the way American lawyers understand the function of legal rules and the work of courts and judges. The realists directed attention to factors not captured in the rules, ranging from the attitudes of judges and jurors to the nuances of the facts of particular cases. Under the influence of realism, American legal doctrine has become less conceptual and more empirical. Under Dean Charles Clark (1929-1939), the School built a faculty that included such legendary figures as Thurman Arnold, Edwin Borchard, future U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, Jerome Frank, Underhill Moore, Walton Hamilton, and Wesley Sturges. Clark was the moving figure during these years in crafting the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the foundation of modern American procedure.

Beginning in this period, a special relationship or connection developed between YLS and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Professors Clark and Frank, among others, became judges on that court. Some of the faculty members who became Second Circuit judges continued to teach courses at YLS and chose their clerks from student graduates. These judges influenced thinking in general at YLS and particularly reinforced student interest in public service, a characteristic tradition at YLS since the New Deal.

Law and policy movement

In the 1950s and 1960s, the School became renowned as a center of policy-oriented legal studies, inter-disciplinary legal studies, and constitutional law, taxation, commercial law, international law, antitrust law and economics. In recent decades, the pace of curricular innovation has, if anything, quickened, as the School has developed new strengths in such fields as comparative constitutional law, corporate finance, environmental law, gender studies, international human rights, and legal history, as well as an array of clinical programs.

Late 20th--early 21st century

The law school's 15th Dean, Harold Koh, made human rights a focus of the law school's work, building on a tradition that had developed over the previous two decades. Robert Bernstein, the founder of Human Rights Watch, is affiliated with the law school in several ways, and the organization's current executive director Kenneth Roth is an alum. Yale has taken a lead in defending detainees at Guantanamo Baymarker through its 9/11 clinic.

On March 23, 2009, the White House announced the appointment of Dean Koh to the State Department as a legal adviser. Kate Stith was appointed by Yale Universitymarker President Richard Levin to serve as acting Dean of the Law School.


Yale Law School enrolls under 200 new students a year, one of the smallest numbers among U.S. law schools. Its small class size and prestige combine to make its admissions process very selective. It is considered the most competitive law school in the U.S. to gain admission. More of its admitted students decide to attend (i.e., yield) than those of Stanford and Harvardmarker. Half of the class that entered in 2006 had a GPA above 3.91 (out of 4.33) and/or an LSAT score above 173 (out of 180 possible points) or 99th percentile.

After an initial round of screening by the admissions department, approximately 25% of applications are independently evaluated by three different faculty members. Each application is scored from 2–4 at the discretion of the reader. All applicants with a perfect 12 (i.e., a 4 from all three faculty members) are admitted, upon which they are immediately notified by the school. There are also 50–80 outstanding students admitted each year without going through this review process.

Yale Law School is known as a landing pad for Rhodes Scholars, Marshall Scholars, and Truman Scholars, which all combine to fill an eighth of each class, making overall admission even more competitive.

The LL.M. Program at Yale is amongst the smallest and most selective graduate law programs in the United States. Yale admits around 25 LL.M. students every year, and the program is usually limited to those students who intend to pursue a career in legal academia.

Deans of Yale Law School

Yale Law School library

  1. 1873–1903 Francis Wayland III
  2. 1903–1916 Henry Wade Rogers
  3. 1916–1927 Thomas Walter Swan
  4. 1927–1929 Robert Maynard Hutchins
  5. 1929–1939 Charles Edward Clark
  6. 1940–1946 Ashbel Green Gulliver
  7. 1946–1954 Wesley Alba Sturges
  8. 1954–1955 Harry Shulman
  9. 1955–1965 Eugene Victor Rostow
  10. 1965–1970 Louis Heilprin Pollak
  11. 1970–1975 Abraham Samuel Goldstein
  12. 1975–1985 Harry Hillel Wellington
  13. 1985–1994 Guido Calabresi
  14. 1994–2004 Anthony Townsend Kronman
  15. 2004–2009 Harold Hongju Koh
  16. 2009–present Robert C. Post

Current prominent faculty

Notable alumni

Among the Yale Law School's most notable alumni are former U. S. Presidents Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton, Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Sonia Sotomayor, former Supreme Court Justices Abe Fortas, Sherman Minton, Potter Stewart, William Strong, George Shiras, David Davis, Henry Brown, and Byron R. White, former High Court of Australiamarker Justice Sir Daryl Dawson AC KBE CB QC, former U.N. ambassador John R. Bolton, former First Lady and former U.S. Senator from New Yorkmarker, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, White House Counsel Gregory Craig, U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman, Michael Bennet and Arlen Specter, former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, film director and former member of the New York State Assembly Nelson Antonio Denis, Newark mayor Cory Booker, law professor and blogger Glenn Reynolds, law professor Alan Dershowitz, Yale Law School Dean Robert C. Post, Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow, televangelist Pat Robertson, actor/economist Ben Stein, green jobs advocate and former special advisor to the Obama administration Van Jones, and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey.


  1. 2009"Since US News began ranking schools, Yale Law School has alwaysheld the #1 position, and for good reason: it is unanimously considered one of the preeminent centers of legal studies in the world...."). See also ABA Journal, "It’s Official: Yale Law School Tops US News Rankings," Apr. 23, 2009 (2010 rankings).
  2. Statement of Dean Harold H. Koh, “Yale Law School Expands Public Interest Program, Financial Support for Graduates,” April 14, 2008.
  3. "Despite the intense competition for federal clerkships among the top law students of the country, a staggering 40% of Yale graduates go on to clerk after graduation, a number which has no comparison with any other school." 2009
  4. See 2009
  5. Kalman, Laura, Yale Law School and the Sixties: Revolt and Reverberations (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2005)
  6. See generally Nascent Legal Realism, 1916-1927; The Heyday of Legal Realism, 1928-1954.

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