Washington College of Law

The American University Washington College of Law (WCL) is the law school of American University. It is located on the western side of Tenley Circle in the Tenleytown section of Northwest Washington, D.C., one block south of the Tenleytown-AU Metro station. The school is fully accredited by the American Bar Association, and a member of the AALS.

Washington College of Law
Seal of the school
MottoChampion What Matters
Parent schoolAmerican University
School typePrivate
DeanCamille A. Nelson
LocationWashington, D.C., USA
38°56′42″N 77°04′48″W
Enrollment1,678 (1503 JD, 160 LLM, 15 SJD)
USNWR ranking77th (2020)[1]
ABA profileABA Profile

WCL is ranked 77th in the nation in the Best Law Schools by U.S. News & World Report. Additionally, it was recently ranked by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2019 as 75th in the world for law. Begun in 1896, it was the first law school to be founded by women, the first with a female dean, and the first to graduate an all-female class.


Early beginnings

Ellen Spencer Mussey and Emma Gillett began teaching in Mussey's law offices in 1898 after they were approached by three women who wished to study with them.[2] Not originally intending to create a full-fledged law school, they requested the law school of Columbian College to accept the six women for their final year. When Columbian refused the request on the ground that "women did not have the mentality for law", the two women became determined to complete the students' education themselves and to found a co-educational law school that was specifically open to women.[2] Although Gillett was a graduate of Howard University School of Law, Washington College of Law only accepted white applicants.[3]

With its first graduating class, the Washington College of Law became the first law school to be founded by women, the first with a female dean, and the first law school to graduate an all-female class. Mussey's male law clerk enrolled in 1897, making the school officially coeducational.

Continuing growth

Washington D.C. incorporated WCL in 1898. After several temporary locations, the school moved to the Le Droit Building on 8th & F Streets in 1900. Enrollment rose to 55 students by 1908 and doubled in five years to 128 students. Dean Mussey secured a lease in 1909 in the Chesley Building on New York Ave, until the school outgrew the six-classroom lease. The school moved to its first permanent home in 1920; the former residence of Robert G. Ingersoll on K Street. Continually growing, WCL moved in 1924 to the former home of Oscar Underwood, and former residence of Archibald Butt. WCL merged with American University in 1949[2] and graduated its first African American student in 1953.

The Women & the Law Program was launched in 1948, to promote the integration of women's rights and gender studies into legal education, practice and doctrine.[4]

After years of work by Dean Myers, the John Sherman Myers Law School building was constructed on the American University main campus and dedicated in 1963 by Chief Justice Earl Warren. In the same year, U.S. Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) graduated from WCL after ten years of night-study classes, the first time a sitting member of Congress had begun and completed a law degree while serving.[4]

By 1988, WCL had grown to over 1,000 students. Dean Milstein pushed for a new building, and in 1996 WCL moved less than a mile to The John Sherman Myers and Alvina Reckman Myers Law Center on Massachusetts Avenue in the American University Park section of Northwest Washington, D.C. The building was two and a half times larger than the previous Myers building, and included the new Pence Law Library.[5]

Move to Tenley Campus

In April 2012, the D.C. Zoning Commission approved the plans for American University Washington College of Law to relocate from Spring Valley to American University's Tenley Campus. The approval of plans for further processing and zoning variances for the law school was handed down after American University's full campus plan was approved in March. Construction began in the summer of 2013, with relocation of the law school to the new campus completed in early 2016. Spring 2016 semester classes began at the new campus on January 11, 2016.[6]

Academic reputation

WCL's Master of Laws (LL.M.) program ranks 13th nationally in the 2012 AUAP rankings.[7] The Brian Leiter Law School rankings placed the WCL 47th in the 2012 Top 70 Law Faculties in Scholarly Impact.[8] National Jurist ranked WCL the fifth best law school for Hispanic students in 2008.[9] It ranked WCL the 4th best public interest law school in the nation.[10]

U.S. News & World Report ranks WCL 77th in the nation among the 146 ranked schools. WCL's clinical training, international law, intellectual property, and part-time programs are ranked 4th, 6th, 9th, and 7th in the nation respectively.[11]

The school maintains programs in both human rights and public interest law. WCL's Equal Justice Foundation (EJF) provides scholarships to students who obtain unpaid summer internships with public interest organizations.[12]

Costs and student debt

The total cost of attendance (indicating the cost of tuition, fees, and living expenses) at WCL for the 2018-2019 academic year is $81,922.[13] The Law School Transparency estimated debt-financed cost of attendance for three years is $293,573.[14] According to U.S. News & World Report, the average indebtedness of 2013 graduates who incurred law school debt was $158,636 (not including undergraduate debt), and 88% of 2013 graduates took on debt.[15]

Employment outcomes

According to WCL's official 2018 ABA-required disclosures, 56% of the class of 2018 obtained full-time, long-term, JD-required employment nine months after graduation, and 23% were employed in J.D. preferred or professional positions.[16] Five percent of 2018 graduates worked part-time or short term within 9 months of graduation, and 1% are pursuing an additional degree. Thirteen percent of the class of 2018 were seeking employment within 9 months of graduation.[17]


WCL receives over 5,000 applications annually for its full-time program.[18] For the 2017 admissions cycle, WCL received 3890 applications. It enrolled 351 full-time first year students, 62 percent of whom are female.[19]

The 2017 incoming class had a median undergraduate GPA of 3.42 and a median LSAT of 156 (out of 180).[20][19]

There was 41% minority representation in the 2017 entering class[19] with representation from 40 States.

Degrees offered

WCL offers the Juris Doctor (J.D.), Master of Laws (LL.M.) in either international or constitutional law, and Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) degrees.[21] The Washington College of Law now offers an online Master of Legal Studies degree.[22]

Additionally, students can enroll in one of several dual degree programs:

Clinical program

WCL's clinical program is one of the most comprehensive in the nation. The school was one of the first law schools to develop a modern clinical legal education program. With over 200 students participating in the 11 clinics every year, the program is one of the largest in the country.[24]

The clinic serves a variety of clients including immigrants and refugees, victims/survivors of domestic violence, juveniles, criminal defendants, low-income taxpayers, individuals seeking help with family law, consumer, disability, and intellectual property issues, community groups and nonprofit organizations.

Clinics include the General Practice Clinic, Community and Economic Development Law Clinic, Criminal Justice Clinic, DC Law Students in Court Clinic, Disability Rights Law Clinic, Domestic Violence Law Clinic, Janet R. Spragens Federal Tax Clinic, Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Law Clinic, Immigrant Justice Clinic, International Human Rights Law Clinic, and Women and the Law Clinic.

Study abroad programs

WCL's study abroad program is considered to be among the best in the country, with 30% of the student body studying abroad every year. In 2012, the National Jurist recognized it as one of the "most robust study abroad programs out of the 200 U.S. Law Schools."[25]

Students are able to study law for a semester in over 18 countries. WCL also offers summer abroad programs in Chile, Europe (London, Paris, Geneva and The Hague), Turkey, and Israel.

Campus and facilities

The Washington College of Law is located on American University's Tenley Campus at 4300 Nebraska Avenue NW. in northwest edge of Washington, DC, approximately 1 mile from the Maryland state line. Construction on the Tenley Campus was completed in early 2016, and includes three primary buildings:

  • Capital Hall - Historically preserved and renovated, this building includes administrative offices, student publications, 4 courtrooms, 2 classrooms and an atrium.
  • Warren Building - Brand new construction, housing the Pence Law Library on two and a half floors, 9 classrooms, the ceremonial courtroom, an active learning lab, and a roof deck.
  • Yuma Building - Brand new construction, housing 13 classrooms, faculty offices, clinical and international programs, dining, and Claudio Grossman Hall, which seats 500.

The law school campus is less than a mile from the main American University campus, however a shuttle system is available for students and staff to travel between the two locations.[26] The campus is accessible to students and faculty 24/7 with the use of an AU ID card.

The Pence Law Library

The Pence Law Library is 54,000 square feet, with more than 600,000 volumes, access to multiple databases, 14 group-study rooms and seating for over 600.[27] The library is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to students and faculty with the use of an AU ID card.[28]

The library collection includes European Community and US government depositories and the Baxter Collection in International Law. Students and faculty also have access to the university's library, the Library of Congress, specialized agency libraries, and other area law libraries electronically.[27]

The National Jurist placed WCL's Library 41st out of 199 in its Best Law Libraries ranking.[29]

Programs and centers

WCL participates in several popular study abroad and student exchange programs with universities around the world, including a semester-long program with the School of Law at City University of Hong Kong.

In 2002, the Jessup Moot Court Team was the top ranked team in the United States and third in the World.

Online Programs

WCL offers an online Master of Legal Studies (MLS) that was created for professionals who have law-related responsibilities.[30] The MLS program provides professionals in a variety of industries with an understanding of the U.S. legal system, but it is not meant for students who want to become a practicing attorney. The program offers the following concentration tracks: General MLS, Business, Health Care Compliance, and Technology. Each concentration features fundamental legal training and industry-specific knowledge in order to improve a student’s ability to make informed decisions and legitimize their credibility with clients, co-workers, and partners. The MLS can be completed in as little as 15 months and does not require a GRE/LSAT.[31]


  • Administrative Law Review
  • The Alternative Dispute Resolution Newsletter
  • The American Jurist
  • The American University International Law Review (which publishes ASIL's annual Grotius Lecture).
  • The American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law
  • The American University Law Review
  • The American University Business Law Review
  • The Criminal Law Brief
  • The Human Rights Brief
  • The Intellectual Property Brief
  • The Modern American
  • National Security Law Brief
  • Sustainable Development Law & Policy
  • Health Law & Policy Brief
  • Legislation & Policy Brief
  • International Commercial Arbitration Brief

Notes and recognition

  • The National Jurist, in its 100 Best Law Review rankings, placed the American University Law Review 47th and the International Law Review 84th.[10]
  • Administrative Law Review is the official publication of the American Bar Association Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice.
  • In 2005, the ABA recognized "The Business Law Brief" (since renamed to The American University Business Law Review) as the "Magazine of the Year."
  • On several occasions, the ABA has recognized The American Jurist as the "Best Law Student Magazine."

Notable current and former faculty

Notable alumni




Politics and government




Education, business, media, and entertainment


  1. "American University (Washington)". Best Law Schools. U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  2. "History - Law With Impact". American University Washington College of Law. Retrieved Sep 27, 2019.
  3. Drachman, Virginia G. (November 29, 2001). Sisters in Law: Women Lawyers in Modern American History. Harvard University Press. p. 153. ISBN 0674006941.
  4. "WCL Timeline". Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  5. "Locations History". Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  6. "American University 2011 Campus Plan (pg. 33)" (PDF). Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  7. "AUAP Rankings". Retrieved 2009-01-23.
  8. "TOP 70 LAW FACULTIES IN SCHOLARLY IMPACT, 2007-2011". www.leiterrankings.com. Retrieved Sep 27, 2019.
  9. "National Jurist February 2008 Issue". Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  10. "National Jurist WCL Page". Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  11. "AU WCL US New Rankings". Retrieved Sep 27, 2019.
  12. "WCL Equal Justice Foundation". Retrieved 5 March 2013.
  13. "Cost of Attendance". American University Washington College of Law. Retrieved Sep 27, 2019.
  14. "American University, Finances". www.lstreports.com. Retrieved Sep 27, 2019.
  15. http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-law-schools/grad-debt-rankings
  16. "WCL 2018 ABA Required Disclosures".
  17. "WCL 2018 Required Disclosures".
  18. "U.S. News Education". Retrieved 2012-08-15.
  19. "Admissions Profile". American University Washington College of Law. Retrieved Sep 27, 2019.
  20. "LSAC Official ABA Data". Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  21. American University-Washington College of Law, "Admissions", http://www.wcl.american.edu/admissions.cfm (last visited July 16, 2008).
  22. "Master of Legal Studies". Retrieved 2018-11-09.
  23. "International JD Dual Degree Programs". American University, Washington College of Law. Retrieved 22 May 2012.
  24. "LSAC Official Guide". Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  25. "National Jurist Magazine". Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  26. "AU Shuttle Information". Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  27. "LSAC Official Description". Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  28. "Pence Law Library FAQ". Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  29. "National Jurist Best Law Libraries". Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  30. "Master of Legal Studies". Retrieved 2018-11-30.
  31. Writers, Staff. "Best Online Master's in Legal Studies for 2018 | BestColleges.com". BestColleges.com. Retrieved 2018-11-30.
  32. Department of State (1950). Biographic Register. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 365.
  33. Evans, Judith (March 21, 2000). "Lacrosse Is Catching in City". The Washington Post. p. D8; DeBonis, Mike (September 20, 2013). "Beverley Wheeler, Robert White seek D.C. Council seats". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
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