Vanderbilt University Law School

Vanderbilt University Law School (also known as Vanderbilt Law School or VLS) is a graduate school of Vanderbilt University. Established in 1874, it is one of the oldest law schools in the southern United States. Vanderbilt Law School has consistently ranked among the top 20 law schools in the nation.[3] It is ranked 12th on Above the Law's 2018 Top Law School Rankings[4] and 16th in the 2022 edition of U.S. News & World Report.

Vanderbilt Law School
Vanderbilt Law School logo.svg
School typePrivate
Endowment$100 Million
Parent endowment$6.4 billion
DeanChris Guthrie
LocationNashville, Tennessee, United States
36°08′53″N 86°48′01″W / 36.1480°N 86.8003°W / 36.1480; -86.8003Coordinates: 36°08′53″N 86°48′01″W / 36.1480°N 86.8003°W / 36.1480; -86.8003
USNWR ranking16th (2022)[2]
Bar pass rate92.5%[1]

Vanderbilt Law School is one of the most selective law schools in the United States and has a 22.57% acceptance rate. Vanderbilt Law enrolls approximately 640 students, with each entering Juris Doctor class consisting of approximately 175 students.

The dean of the law school is Chris Guthrie, who began his third five-year appointment as dean on July 1, 2019.[5]

According to Vanderbilt Law School's 2020 ABA-required disclosures, 84.44% of the Class of 2020 obtained full-time, long-term, bar examination passage-required employment nine months after graduation, excluding solo practitioners.[6]


Thomas H. Malone, dean from 1875 to 1904.

Vanderbilt Law School was established in 1874, and was the first professional school to open (Vanderbilt University itself did not start its undergraduate classes until 1875).[7] The law school's first class consisted of only seven students and eight professors, with a two-year course of study comprising the school's curriculum. William V. Sullivan was the school's first graduate and would eventually represent Mississippi in the United States Senate. William Frierson Cooper, who had been nominated by Jefferson Davis to serve on the Supreme Court of the Confederate States of America, served as the first dean from 1874 to 1875.[8][9] He was succeeded by Thomas H. Malone, a veteran of the Confederate States Army,[10] who served as dean from 1875 to 1904.[9]

Through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the law school remained small, never exceeding 70 students. The law school offered a two-year departmental program, and changed locations between downtown Nashville and the Vanderbilt campus. By 1941, it had expanded into the old chapel area of Kirkland Hall on the Vanderbilt campus, but faced very limited enrollment during World War II. Classes were suspended in 1944.

VLS was based in Kirkland Hall from 1944 to 1962.

Vanderbilt Law School was revived with a $1 million endowment in 1947 and experienced significant growth through the 1960s. Facing overcrowding, in 1962, it moved out of Kirkland Hall and into a dedicated law school building on 21st Avenue South, where it is still located.

Since then, VLS has undergone a series of renovations and expansion, notably including a $24 million upgrade under then-dean Kent D. Syverud completed in 2002.

By 2000, VLS had established a Law & Business Program, new clinical programs, multiple law journals, and an LL.M. program for foreign lawyers. At this point, Vanderbilt had greatly solidified its regional prestige and was well on its way to aggressively developing a national reputation.[11]

In 2005, Edward L. Rubin was appointed to replace Syverud as dean of the law school. During Dean Rubin's tenure, Vanderbilt Law School significantly developed its Litigation & Dispute and Resolution Program (resulting from a $2.9 million endowment donation), established or formalized a number of academic programs, and increased its reputation in the field of Law and Economics by establishing a Ph.D. Program in Law and Economics based within the law school and headed by noted economist W. Kip Viscusi; students earn both a J.D. and a Ph.D. through the program.

Chris Guthrie succeeded Rubin as the law school's dean in July 2009. In addition to its Law and Business and Litigation and Dispute Resolution Programs, the law school now offers programs in Intellectual Property Law; International Legal Studies; Energy, Environment and Land Use Law; Criminal Justice; Social Justice; and Law and Government. Vanderbilt University and the law school also offers a joint-degree law and neuroscience program in which students earn both a J.D. and Ph.D., and the school introduced a joint-degree J.D./M.S. in Finance in conjunction with Vanderbilt's Owen Graduate School of Management in fall 2014.


The total enrollment of students pursuing either a Juris Doctor (J.D) or LL.M. is approximately 640. The program usually enrolls no more than 175 students to the J.D. class, and approximately 50 students to the LL.M class each year. VLS has more than 45 student organizations,[12] which support many lectures, presentations and social events throughout the year. Students are also encouraged to form new organizations tailored to their personal interests, which has most recently produced Law Students for Social Justice (LSSJ), a new organization within the Social Justice Program that aims to facilitate an increasing number of students interested in pursuing public interest careers or hearing from legal practitioners on various ways to implement social justice values into their practice.


Vanderbilt University Law School Building, Nashville, Tenn.

Vanderbilt's upper-level concentration programs allow students to earn a certificate in Law & Business as well as concentrate their studies in such fields as international law,[13] intellectual property law; litigation and dispute resolution; energy, environmental and land use law; criminal law and social justice. In 2005, the Cecil D. Branstetter Litigation & Dispute Resolution Program received a $2.9 million endowment through a cy pres settlement of a class action lawsuit. Vanderbilt also has programs that allow students to focus on intellectual property law; energy, environmental and land use law; international and comparative law; criminal justice; and social justice. In fall 2011, Vanderbilt University received a $4.85 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation[14] for the establishment of a national MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience.[15]

Vanderbilt's Ph.D. Program in Law & Economics was the first program of its kind in the nation[citation needed]. The program, which is directed by economists W. Kip Viscusi and Joni Hersch, admitted its first class in fall 2007 and graduated its first student, Jennifer Bennett Shinall, in 2012. Shinall joined Vanderbilt's Law and Economics faculty in fall 2014.

Vanderbilt Law School also offers a summer study program, Vanderbilt in Venice,[16] which is open to students from all accredited law schools and offers courses in comparative and international law. While classes in the program are held in Venice, Italy, the faculty include members of the Vanderbilt Law School faculty as well as faculty from the Ca' Foscari University of Venice.[17] Past courses included Transnational Litigation, Counter-Terrorism Law, European Union Law, and Comparative Environmental Regulation.[18]

Post-graduation employmentEdit

According to Vanderbilt Law School's official 2013 ABA-required disclosures, 85.9% of the Class of 2013 obtained full-time, long-term, bar passage-required employment nine months after graduation, excluding solo-practitioners.[6] Vanderbilt Law School ranked 12th out of the 201 ABA-approved law schools in terms of the percentage of 2013 graduates with non-school-funded, full-time, long-term, bar passage required jobs nine months after graduation.[19]

Vanderbilt Law School's Law School Transparency under-employment score is 6.3%, indicating the percentage of the Class of 2013 unemployed, pursuing an additional degree, or working in a non-professional, short-term, or part-time job nine months after graduation.[20] 94.2% of the Class of 2013 was employed in some capacity while 1% were pursuing graduate degrees and 3.9% were unemployed nine months graduation.[6]

Vanderbilt Law School is currently the 10th best law school for securing federal clerkships, with 10% of its recent graduates having secured such positions.[21] In 2017 and in 2018, recent Vanderbilt Law graduates have clerked for Justices Clarence Thomas[22] and Sonia Sotomayor[23] of the Supreme Court of the United States, respectively.


The total cost of attendance (indicating the cost of tuition, fees, and living expenses) at Vanderbilt Law for the 2020-21 academic year is $92,004.[24]

The Law School Transparency estimated debt-financed cost of attendance for three years is $270,165.[25]


The Vanderbilt Law Review is ranked 18th among general-topic law reviews, based upon the number of times its articles are cited.[26] Other journals are the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, founded in 1967, and the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law, founded as the Journal of Entertainment Law and Practice in 1998.

The Environmental Law and Policy Annual Review, a joint publication with the Environmental Law Institute, debuted in 2008. ELPAR is released each year as the August issue of the Environmental Law Reporter, one of the most widely circulated environmental law publications in the country.[26]

Notable alumniEdit




U.S. Vice PresidentsEdit

Members of the Cabinet and federal agenciesEdit

U.S. GovernorsEdit

U.S. SenatorsEdit

Members of the U.S. House of RepresentativesEdit

U.S. Ambassadors and diplomatsEdit

Other U.S. state officialsEdit


Notable facultyEdit




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External linksEdit