We know from the iconic American Constitution and its Bill of Rights that the U.S. is a country built firmly on the foundations of law.

The study of law can open a whole world of opportunities for any prospective student. They can practice law as a solicitor or attorney, or may even go on to use their skills working in politics, economics, diplomacy, education or business. 

According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), there were 13,778 international students studying various fields of Law at U.S. universities throughout 2014-15. But with 203 reputable law schools, accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA), what should an aspiring, overseas law student look for in a U.S. law school?

1. Location

If the law school you are considering is consistently ranked among the Top 20 in the U.S. by prestigious ranking bodies such as QS or Times Higher Education, then you are on the right track. But do not be afraid to think outside the box. The most important part of any student experience is of course the academics, but that doesn’t mean an institution with less obvious recognition is not an equally outstanding education provider. Every university has something unique to offer – and location is certainly one of them.

If your dream is to remain in the U.S. upon completion of your studies, it might be worth deciding where you would want to live and work before submitting your application so you can aim to attend a law school in the same geographic region. This will open up a wide variety of potential employment opportunities, since the majority of law firms recruiting at your school will be local.

On top of this, staying in the area after your studies means a much larger network of alumni will be available to you long after you leave. What does this mean? Contacts, of course! After all, a lot of opportunity comes not from what you know, but who you know.

Pic: Southwestern Law School

2. Specialized disciplines

As with most subjects, law encompasses a pretty broad spectrum of specializations, and if you are already aware of the one you would like to focus on you should be able to narrow your search significantly. If you know you want to specialize in International Human Rights, for example, it would be wise to select an institution that has received recognition for its Human Rights provisions.

Wherever the university places in the rankings, the expert knowledge of the faculty and high-quality of teaching is likely to make it the perfect fit for you. Plus, your confidence, commitment and willingness to learn your chosen field will impress potential employers and open doors long into the future.

Pic: Flickr / Eric Chan

3. Explore the college campus & the school’s general ethos

Websites and prospectuses will fill you in on the basics, but the only way to get a real feel for the school is to arrange a campus visit. After all, seeing is believing, right? Consider it a mini-holiday before dedicating yourself to a whole new life in the States!

Talk to current students and ask them about their experience. Do they enjoy the course? Do they feel they are supported, both socially and academically? What about the nightlife? The food?  The facilities?

It’s also a good idea to talk to some of the faculty – preferably ones you know could be teaching your subject. How big are the classes? What extra help is available to students and how many practical opportunities are available? Take this chance to ask the people who genuinely know the answers, ask them all, ask them everything – grill them to your heart’s content! If you genuinely want to become a law student in the States, you want everything to be just right!

Pic: University of Houston Law Center

4. Explore the opportunities

The qualification is one thing, but in an increasingly competitive international marketplace, opportunity and experience are virtually invaluable. Be sure to look into the practical experience offered outside of the classroom environment for each institution you are considering. Does the course provide placements, workshops, guest speakers, externships or any other opportunities that could prove useful to your future career?

Another thing to consider is the university’s career service. With the right pastoral facilities and dedicated staff who really know what they are talking about, you’ll have an in-built support network firmly in place for the duration of your studies.

Pic: Southwestern Law School

Read on to learn more about some the leading law schools for international students in the United States…

Not only do Southwestern LL.M. students get to enjoy southern California’s agreeable climate with plenty of leisure activities close by, they can also make the most of the institution’s state-of-the-art facilities and beautiful campus.

LA’s cosmopolitan setting is comfortable, yet stimulating, for its international student population. The people of Los Angeles hail from many different countries, creating warm, welcoming enclaves in various areas of the city.

“Meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures – coming from both civil and common law legal systems – further opened my eyes and expanded my experiences,” says Southwestern Law student Matthew Giuliani, originally from Australia. “Learning alongside my diverse classmates was something that really added value to my time at Southwestern.”

Southwestern’s custom LL.M. program allows students to put together their own roster of classes based on their interests and needs. They can choose from focus areas like:

  • International Business Law and Negotiation
  • Advocacy and Dispute Resolution
  • American Law & Legal Systems
  • International Human Rights
  • Environmental Law/ Land Use/ Real Property

“Southwestern’s general LL.M. program gave me the opportunity to choose my classes, and that was very important to me because I was really interested in focusing on criminal law and human rights,” said Argentinian student Mariano Gaitan, a Southwestern Jose Siderman-Fulbright Human Rights Fellowship recipient.

Caroline Stussi from Switzerland noted, “I really enjoyed the networking opportunities over the lunch break with alumni and other speakers. It’s good to build networks like that because once you’re done with your degree, you’re going to need them.”

Cristal Gonzalez Obregon from Mexico was delighted not only with Southwestern’s history and beauty, but also its people. “There was never a day when someone on campus did not make me feel happy, make me laugh, encourage me to go on, or make me feel a part of the Southwestern family.”

Pic: University of Houston Law Center

The Houston Law Center has been cited as one of the best value options in legal education today. It is the leading law school in the nation’s fourth-largest city, and its curriculum is one of the broadest the country has to offer.  

The Law Center enrols more than 800 students in its prestigious degree programs, offering J.D., LL.M. and ‘concurrent’ qualifications that allow students to obtain two degrees in less time than the program would normally require.

The School is currently ranked 58th among the 200 or so law schools in the United States, and also represents one of only eight public law schools to offer multiple ‘Top 10’ programs.

The Law Center currently has in excess of 13,000 alumni, about 56 percent of whom remain in the Houston area. More than 700 Law Center alumni belong to the Order of the Coif chapter, an honorary scholastic society that recognizes high achievement among law school graduates. All students of the Houston Law Center leave equipped with the skills to thrive in any legal setting.

Students come from throughout the United States and around the world to pursue their legal studies at Washington University School of Law. Each year, Washington University has over 750 students enrolled in its J.D., post-J.D., and joint degree programs.

A rich variety of courses in substantive law and applied lawyering skills provides Washington University law students with the training necessary to excel in both legal reasoning and practice techniques.

In addition to offering a curriculum leading to the J.D. degree, the School of Law offers multiple joint degree programs with other graduate schools on campus as well as a variety of advanced, post-J.D. degree programs. The School also offers a range of graduate degree programs online.

UNC School of Law is part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first state-supported university. The school has been accredited by the American Bar Association since 1928.

Carolina Law prepares outstanding lawyers and leaders to serve the people and institutions of North Carolina, the nation and the world. Home to multiple centers and initiatives, the school offers strong expertise in civil rights, banking, environmental law, intellectual property, entrepreneurial and securities law, critical studies, bankruptcy, and constitutional inquiry.

When not in class, Carolina law students can be found working on law review journals, volunteering for community projects, playing intramural sports or enjoying the stunning Chapel Hill campus. The three years at Chapel Hill help students become the lawyer they’ve always hoped to be, and provide them with a wealth of memories and relationships upon which they can build their career.

Pic: Stetson University College of Law

Stetson University College of Law is ranked #1 in trial advocacy and #3 in legal writing education by U.S. News, and also leads the nation in blending legal doctrine with practical training.

Since its inception in 1900 as Florida’s first law school, Stetson has prepared students to become highly skilled, ethical lawyers and leaders. The School’s graduates include prominent attorneys, judges, CEOs and advocates for positive change.

Stetson Law is located in Tampa Bay, Florida, home to a diverse legal community and hundreds of clinic and externship opportunities for law students. Stetson offers students more than 400 clinic and externship opportunities annually across the Tampa Bay metropolitan area.

The University of New Hampshire School of Law is an intimate, innovative law school committed to developing graduates who enjoy challenging dialogue from the first moments of orientation. Students embrace practice-based learning, and stand ready to join the ranks of alumni who are global leaders in intellectual property, general practice, public interest and social justice, and commerce and technology.

Students study in a close-knit, cooperative environment. The curriculum emphasizes an intensive, practice-based approach involving a wealth of opportunities for hands-on learning. The School’s extensive alumni network, which spreads throughout the United States and around the globe, provides limitless options for graduates seeking employment.

Accredited by the American Bar Association, UNH Law is located in Concord, New Hampshire, home to the state’s legislature, state offices, as well as local, state and U.S. federal courts. Concord is just an hour’s drive from Boston, and less than an hour from mountains, lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.