Harvard Law vs. Yale Law

James Eimers

Harvard Law vs. Yale Law

You spent hundreds of hours trying to convince the gatekeepers of the nation’s best law schools that you are worthy of joining their ranks. Much to your surprise, you actually succeeded: Harvard Law School and Yale Law School are knocking at your door! Maybe you are ridiculously lucky or just that good. Either way, you now find yourself staring at a pile of acceptance letters deep enough to bury an elephant. After weeding through the rest, you now need to compare Harvard Law vs. Yale Law.

So, are you going to go to law school “in Boston” or just a bit farther south? Fortunately, this blog will help you narrow it down. Keep reading for a side-by-side comparison of Harvard Law vs. Yale Law:

Size: Harvard Law vs. Yale Law

If there is one immediately notable difference between HLS and YLS, it’s the size of the student and faculty populations. Each year, nearly triple the 1Ls show up on campus at HLS than do at YLS (~550 vs. 200). If you are looking for a bit of anonymity in your law school experience, then you aren’t likely to find it among Yale’s 600 or so total JD students. On the other hand, if you are interested in a more tight-knit community of students and professors, then YLS might just have your number.

In the Harvard Law vs. Yale Law rivalry, there’s no denying that a larger student body ultimately equates to more comprehensive resources and class offerings. Harvard maintains a total faculty of over 350, including visiting professors and lecturers—approximately three times larger than Yale’s faculty headcount! As a result, at HLS you’ll have the ability to select from over 400 distinct courses and seminars; at Yale, that number shrinks to a bit under 200.

While you might be able to take broader and more specialized classes at HLS, there’s a tradeoff: Some of these courses (depending on your interests) will likely be harder to get into, and star professors will often prove much less accessible.

If you have a clear idea of the types of law you’d like to explore during your time in school, you should spend some time researching each school’s faculty and course offerings for a better conception of which school might be best for you.

Clinical Opportunities: Harvard Law vs. Yale Law

Despite Harvard’s size advantage, Yale has always held its own by offering outsized clinical education opportunities. If you are interested in incorporating a host of practical work into your legal education, then both schools will provide resources. About 78% of HLS students participate in clinics during their three years, while 80% do so at Yale. Both schools offer an incredible range of in-house and associated clinics (~30 each), touching on subject areas from immigration advocacy and nonprofit organizations to corporate crisis management.

In a departure from most clinical education programs (HLS included), YLS permits its students to begin participating in many clinics beginning in the spring of their 1L year (including the opportunity to appear in court). Many students at the school take advantage of this opportunity.

As with each school’s classroom offerings, if there are certain subjects you know you’d like to experience hands on, then you should research the clinical programs at YLS and HLS in further detail.

Grading: Harvard Law vs. Yale Law

If you had applied several years ago, the stark difference in grading methodology at YLS and HLS might have been a helpful deciding factor for you. Unfortunately for you, you were probably born well after the Reagan administration, so this is no longer the case. At YLS, outside of a true Pass/Fail first semester, classes are graded on the following scale: High Pass, Pass, Low Pass, Fail. At HLS? Honors, Pass, Low Pass, Fail. Look familiar?

Although the grading systems have now converged, it might be true that the competitive legacy left in the wake of a more recently graded law school experience plays a role in the overall attitude of students when it comes to grades. There are undoubtedly students at both schools who seek to distinguish themselves by racking up as many Honors and High Passes as possible, but the general environment surrounding grades at YLS (beginning with the Pass/Fail first semester) is still more laid back.

Both Harvard and Yale law are hailed for being the best of the best, but these acclaimed institutions differ substantially. If you are faced with an enviable Harvard law vs. Yale law decision, but nonetheless difficult, decision on the road to law school, think critically about which institution fits you!

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