The Pros and Cons of the Yale Law School

By tmalmine in Law According to Yale on Nov 10, 2006

Now that the deadline for LL.M. applications to the YLS is getting nearer, I thought it might be useful to summarize the strengths and weaknesses of this school. Then it’s up to you to decide whether Yale really is the best place for you.

I will start with strengths as I think they outweigh the weaknesses.

  1. Yale Law School is the best law school in the world.

I think one can plausibly argue that this is true. Ever since the U.S. News began to rank law schools, YLS has been number one. Likewise, Brian  Leiter's impact study ranks Yale highest. Many YLS scholars are, without a doubt, leaders of their respective fields. Yale is extremely strong in law and economics. Although law-and-economics movement originated in Chicago and Hyde Park still remains a magnificent place to study L&E, Yale is not far behind. The main difference between these schools seems to be their "style". Whereas Chicago L&E has traditionally had a libertarian bent (although Cass Sunstein, for one, makes an exception), Yale approach is quite different, being much more open minded vis-a-vis government intervention. While Chicago has some of the most famous pioneers of this approach, Yale can boast some impressive names, too. Guido Calabresi, John Donohue III, Ian Ayres, Alan Schwartz, Jules Coleman (mainly a critic of L&E), and Robert Ellickson, to name a few, provide plenty of opportunities to study law and economics.


Same goes for constitutional theory. Yale faculty includes Bruce Ackerman, Akhil Amar, Jack Balkin, Robert Post, Jed Rubenfeld, Owen Fiss, Paul Kahn, and many others renowned constitutional law scholars. In comparative law and legal history, Yale is arguably the leader. John Langbein, Mirjan Damaska, and James Whitman is an exceptional trio in this field. Additionally, Yale is strong on corporations, human rights, legal philosophy, and torts. Some fields that are not strongly represented here are international economic law, intellectual property rights, and critical legal studies.

In addition to its faculty, Yale’s strengths include small but superb student body (80 % of American students, who are accepted to both Yale and Harvard, choose Yale), financial resources (I think Yale is the richest law school per student in the US), and the strong research university to which it is attached.

Yale is the most academically oriented law school in the US.

This is obviously a strength to those who aspire for a career in academia. Many students at Yale aim for a career in teaching and scholarship. This makes the atmosphere quite academic. Here you don’t have to explain to everyone why you want to spend the rest of your life reading and writing (and being poor). Many courses are research-oriented. The library is splendid. Milieu is intellectual, at least by law-school standards.

A degree from Yale Law School is a good merit, especially in the US.New Haven is close to New York.There are not too many diversions in New Haven (it’s easy to concentrate on your studies).


  1. New Haven is not the best place on earth to have fun.

If your main objective is to have as much fun as possible, go to California or NY. New Haven is not really a great to place have fun, and Yale LL.M. students are quite nerdy (me, too). If you’re a single, don’t expect anything really hot here. This is a haven for study and scholarship, not for living a bachelor life. Sometimes I wonder is anyone having sex here. People are just so busy all the time.

Yale law school being a small school, course offerings may be disappointing. For instance, most constitutional law scholars are stuck with the first-year courses during the fall term, and consequently, are not giving any other courses.Yalies are busy.

Even though this is a small law school, don’t expect professors to spend their time on you. Sometimes they won’t read your papers. Sometimes they are eager to get you out of their office. I believe it’s better here than in some other law schools, but don’t expect to be treated like a prodigy. These professors see so many talented students every year that it takes a miracle to make them take an interest in you.

Yale is not the best place for practicing lawyers.

You won’t probably make as much good connections here as in Columbia or NYU. Most LL.M. students intend to go back to their home countries to teach, or continue with their JSD here at Yale. If you want to make it to New York Biglaw, go to New York.

5. Yale, Yale Law School, and Yale LL.M. program are not as famous internationally as Harvard (personally I don’t think it makes much of a difference but it may be important to you).

Here are the main pros of cons of the YLS LL.M. program. Now it’s up to you to choose whether this would be the best law school for you to study. Whatever you decide, good luck!


Adam, Oct 17, 2007 06:51

Apply to USC, not UCLA. Same city, better school.

tmalmine, Nov 30, 2006 01:47

Thanks for your comments, Mr. Pound. Regarding your last comment: perhaps it's not an issue for you you, but believe me, it is for many. Some people actually come to the US to escape the repressive morality of their home countries, and they have the right to get an honest view about extra-curricular life here. As you can see from the interest my remarks aroused, it's a fascinating topic. Nothing is sacred at this board.

Actually, I think my next post will be: "sexual deviation and perversions at YLS, what you should know?".

I studied in Stockholm a few years ago and I vividly recollect the horrified expressions in some German students' faces when, during the orientation week, a representative of the University of Stockholm introduced us to Stockholm gay scene and gave everybody condoms. O tempora o mores!

roscoe, Nov 29, 2006 12:46

As always, Toni provided us with an obviously very fair and balanced account of Yale, and I think it is absolutely fair to portray Yale as the overall No.1 (and this coming from somebody who applied only to 'that other law school in Mass.' - and who will continue believing in his choice until he is declined...). And Toni always made it very clear that Stanford, Chicago were perfect choices, too. As for the cons, I agree with Toni that, psychologically, it is only natural to criticize Ivy League law schools once you're admitted - after all, critical students is what they (and we) want, is it not? (man, I do very much hope that I will be able to become very critical starting from Sept. 07....). Only the getting-laid-issue and how much attention it has drawn by you guys, I found, frankly, more than silly. Sorry, but you lose me there, guys....

tmalmine, Nov 14, 2006 16:23

You're welcome, Lit!

Yes, I suggest you apply to law schools in big cities: NY schools, UChicago or Northwestern, Boalt Hall, UCLA, UMiami, or UT at Austin. Don't apply to Yale, Virginia, Cornell, Stanford or Harvard (although many graduates of these schools will claim that they had "wild parties" and "lots of fun"). Nightlife in the US, outside biggest cities, is, in my opinion, quite boring (I believe the same goes for smaller cities and towns everywhere). I also think that this is a fair consideration for guys like LIt., who want to have as much fun as possible. I'm in a good relationship, and don't really feel like partying anymore, and that makes Yale perfect law school for me: superb academic standards and peaceful atmosphere to read and write.

I believe the correct ratio is 30 LL.M. students from 800 applicants, which makes the approval rate approximately 3,5 %.

Lit, Nov 14, 2006 08:04

Come on Toni, you have your next post planned?! What happened to the spontaneity of it all?

I'm just kidding, I have great respect for you and almost everything you post on this site (I make you sound like an academic-which you're not, not yet anyway.You're just like the rest for us for now buddy!). Now ain't that a compliment?

As a recently captured former bachelor, I can safely say that Yale will not be for me then. I think it is essential to maintain a balance in one's life, and the idea of a sacrficial year where you just gun down to your books, makes me very uneasy. To a large extent for me, legal scholarship is actually fun, and to treat it otherwise (ie like a job), would most likely kill the passion for me. So you need to get laid, regularly and party up, and play sports and just be active, generally, I believe.

I understand the Yale LLM is quite a small program? From goodness knows how many thousands of applicants. So the sad truth is that probably less that 1 percent (don't ask how I arrived at that, just did) of the people on this baord will actually land up at Yale next Fall.

But thanks for your submissions nonetheless Toni, if nothing else, they offer some much-needed respite frorm the real bad world of a practising attorney.

tmalmine, Nov 11, 2006 04:00

I think that's a fair comment. The way I see it it's almost impossible to know beforehand who is a great teacher and who is not. In that way it's always just guessing. Of course you may ask from former students, but even that's not really an answer. People have such differing criteria on what constitutes good teaching. I made my choice partly on Yale professors' written scholarship. My idea was that if you really like someone's books and articles, you are going to like his teaching, too, even if the person is not the best lecturer in the world. And I haven't been disappointed. And many of my fellow students share this experience. If they really admire someone's scholarship, they usually admire his classes too. So I think it's a rational basis for a decision.

Of course it would be best to go visit each and every law school you're going to apply to, and see the teachers for yourself. But not many of us have that possibility. So what are you going to do? I believe looking at the faculty is a reasonable estimate, it gives you a view of what kind of scholarship is being conducted in different law schools. Then you decide what would be the best school for you.

It's obviously true that you cannot take courses with every professor you would like to. I mentioned many names, because I wanted to give some insight to people from different fields.

So, J.R., that is the point of all this name-dropping. And if you have time, I believe the readers would love to hear more about Chicago: who do you have there and who are good teachers.

By the way, one of my postings will be "whose classes you should take/avoid at Yale Law School". In that posting I will discuss teaching in more detail. Stay tuned!

J.R., Nov 11, 2006 03:33

I find it always quite amusing to see students listing all these remarkable scholars that are associated with their school. But what is the point if I may ask? It's not that you can take classes with all of them in the year that you spend at that school...Of course, it is important from a reputational point of view.

I find it more important to be able to take classes taught by scholars who are excellent in the way they teach, the way they interact with their students, who are open to discussion, who actually show up... Eg. I don't want to take a course by Posner, an authority in the field of legal philosophy and L&E at my university, because I find him pretty boring.

Or are all the scholars you list just marvelous teachers as well? I'm just curious as I'm not at Yale.

tmalmine, Nov 10, 2006 22:30

Daniele: I have some good news. A fellow student got laid last night. I gave too negative a view about New Haven night life. Bachelors are not doomed here, after all. And it is the best law school on earth. Be sure to apply!

Daniele, Nov 10, 2006 20:23

Obviously, the most serious shortcoming about Yale seems to be the lack of a decent sexual activity.
This is particularly disappointing since I grew up watching American college movies that depicted a completely different situation.
However, being the top American law school compensates, at least in part, this weakness.
I'd be most grateful to those bachelors who'd be so kind as to share their views about this particular kind of social activities at their law school.

Thank you again Toni,
your candor will open many eyes to the harsh reality of legal profession


p.s. (I was surprised reading that scandinavian law professors earn minimum wages - I thought this privilege was limited to Italian ones)

tmalmine, Nov 10, 2006 19:48

Every law school has weaknesses. It would be a lie to say anything else. I actually love this place, but it's not perfect. Actually, I have noticed that students at Yale, Harvard, and Stanford are often more critical than their peers at other law schools. I think that the main reason is that you don't have to convince other people that your law school is actually a good one. On the contrary, some students from the least prestigious law schools sometimes aggressively defend their alma mater. I think it's just basic human psychology. If you're unsure, you got to hide it. If you're self-confident, you can admit it. Yale is a wonderful place, but it has its downside, too, and I wanted to be frank about it.

Crash, Nov 10, 2006 17:10

"I will start with strengths as I think they outweigh the weaknesses" does not really sound like "I love Yale". Maybe this is just modesty. Or are you in some respects disappointed by YLS?

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