US News & World Report 2017 Ranking: 2
Stanford, or the Harvard-of-the-West, is set in beautiful Northern California. Stanford Law Law School is ranked 2nd equal (tied with Harvard Law School) and has been ranked as one of the top three law schools in the United States (with Yale Law School and Harvard Law School) every year since 1992.
As can be expected, Stanford Law School has distinguished legal alumni. These include current Chief Justice of New Zealand Sian Elias, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (first female United States Supreme Court justice), the late Associate Justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court Rhoda V. Lewis, and the late Chief Justice of the United States William Rehnquist.
While Stanford Law School may not be where Elle Woods earned her law degree, it may provide some consolation to current, and prospective, Stanford Law students that the film Legally Blonde was originally intended to be based on Elle’s experience at Stanford (as it is in the book). However, Stanford, in all its classiness, did not approve of the script, so the setting was changed to Harvard. “Stanford Law: what, like it’s hard?” just does not have the same ring to it. But, I digress.
Like Yale Law School’s LLM, the Stanford LLM is not for anyone. This is not because, like Yale, it is aimed purely at budding legal academics, but rather because it is a specialized LLM program. The Stanford LLM program has four specialisations (if you haven’t noticed yet, I am flagrantly going in and out of American spelling):
- Corporate Governance & Practice;
- Environmental Law & Policy;
- Law, Science & Technology; and
- International Economic Law, Business & Policy.
Stanford accepts between 15–20 students in each LLM specialization. Thus, you’re out of luck if your legal interests do not fit into these categories. Notably, and by way of example, prospective LLM students interested in constitutional law, criminal justice, or international human rights law, will not find their academic niche at Stanford.
As is standard, applicants to Stanford’s LLM are required to submit the following:
- The Stanford Graduate Study Application;
- Application Fee ($125);
- Resume or curriculum vitae (1–2 pages);
- Personal statement;
- Two letters of recommendation;
- Official transcripts; and
- TOEFL score report.
As to the personal statement, Stanford gives the following direction (spoiler: it’s a standard personal statement):
“This statement of two to three pages seeks information about the applicant’s experience in legal practice, and interest in graduate study (in the applicable specialization). This statement should also discuss the applicant’s professional goals, and how the completion of an LLM degree could benefit his or her legal career.”
Importantly, and unlike many of the other schools, Stanford Law School places a heavy emphasis on prior legal work experience (ideally over two years). If you do not have two plus years work experience, you will need to request a waiver in your personal statement. This is the official position of Stanford:
We believe that the LLM program is most valuable for students who already have significant law practice experience. Except under unusual circumstances, candidates must have at least two years of professional legal experience before commencing the LLM program. Applicants seeking a waiver of this requirement should explain in their application materials the personal or professional circumstances that they believe justify a waiver.
Financial Aid (or lack thereof)!
Unlike many of the other top US law schools, Stanford does not offer financial aid to LLM students (link). Thus, unless you have deep pockets, or are able to secure generous outside funding, you may struggle to pay for a $tanford LLM (the tuition for 2016–2017 being US$56,079).
In addition to the LLM degree, Stanford Law School offers the Stanford Program in International Legal Studies (SPILS). In essence, this is a graduate program for those wanting the “opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary research that applies empirically based methods, adapted from the social sciences, economics and other disciplines, to analyze legal issues”. This culminates in a thesis.
One may ask, what is the point of doing the SPILS ? Well, Stanford’s JSD program is only open to a few SPILS students each year. Thus, if you are a budding academic and want to do a doctorate at Stanford, you must do the SPILS.
Prepare for the Journey, LLMSherpa