Law Schools, Money, Rankings

The Best Law Schools — For Getting Rich

Scrooge McDuck must have attended the right law school.

Another day, another set of law school rankings. The world’s appetite for these things knows no bounds. Earlier this week, we covered U.S. News & World Report’s best law schools as ranked by law firm recruiters — and the reader interest and traffic were off the charts. Apparently there’s no such thing as “rankings fatigue.”

(Wait until we launch our list of law schools ranked by the quality of the toilet paper in their public restrooms. Because that’s something that actually matters to law students — probably more than, say, the number of volumes in the library, or even the square footage of the place.)

Today we bring you law school rankings by Forbes. The eye-catching title of Kurt Badenhausen’s post: “The Best Law Schools For Getting Rich.” Because you all went to law school in the hopes of becoming rich, right?

(If so, that was pretty dumb. According to some observers, a junior associate’s salary means you’re poor, and even a midlevel- to senior-associate salary doesn’t make you rich. Partner-level compensation is better, but even a million or two won’t get you access to the top slam pieces.)

Okay, let’s take a look at this list of law schools ranked by their graduates’ median compensation. Some of the schools on it may surprise you….

A discussion of rankings should begin with methodological notes. Forbes explains why it’s not focusing on how many of a school’s graduates land $160,000-a-year jobs right out of school:

Starting pay is important at law schools, but many grads at elite schools choose prestigious clerkships right out of school that pay peanuts. More important is mid-career compensation when many lawyers are typically on a more lucrative career path. With this in mind we turned to the experts at PayScale who track the compensation of their 24 million unique users….

To determine the schools with the highest-pay, PayScale culled its database for 98 popular law schools. There is a massive range in pay for law school grads, but our compensation figures are all medians where half of a school’s grads make more and half less. The ranking is based on mid-career median total compensation for those in the private sector, while public sector salaries were excluded. We included private sector employees now working in both law and non-law professions. The median years of work experience for the data set is 16, with a median age of 45.

So which school came out on top? According to the Forbes rankings, it’s Stanford Law School, with mid-career median pay of $236,000.

It’s not shocking that Stanford is #1. As Kurt Badenhausen notes, it has an impressive list of alumni, many of them quite wealthy:

Grads include Supreme Court Justices (Sandra Day O’Connor and William Rehnquist), Washington D.C. elite (Max Baucus, Josh Bolten and Warren Christopher) and billionaires (Riley Bechtel and Penny Pritzker). The school has also produced alumni with business chops including Paypal founder and billionaire Peter Thiel as well as TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington.

If you want to be general counsel at a leading technology firm, head to Stanford. The GCs for Cisco Systems, Ebay, Google and countless other tech firms attended Stanford Law. William Neukom, Microsoft’s first and long-time general counsel who retired in 2002, attended as well. Neukom is now owner and managing partner of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

More surprising is the #2 school: Duke University School of Law, with median pay of $221,000. Duke is, to be sure, a superb law school. But what about Harvard, Columbia, NYU, or Chicago?

They’re on the list, just not as high as Stanford or Duke. Here are the top 10 law schools for getting “rich,” according to Forbes and PayScale:


1. Stanford – $236,000
2. Duke – $221,000
3. Columbia – $217,000
4. UVA – $212,000
5. Boston University – $206,000
6. NYU – $204,000
7. Harvard – $203,000
8. U. Penn. – $201,000
9. UCLA – $200,000
10. Berkeley – $191,000

(The absence from this list of Yale Law School, the #1 school according to U.S. News & World Report, should surprise no one. Too many of us go into academia, which pays decently but not spectacularly, or do weird things like start up legal blogs. YLS comes it at #33 on the Forbes list, with median mid-career pay of $159,000 in the private sector.)

You can check out the full Forbes piece — which also contains (1) an interesting discussion of trends in law school enrollment (rising) and graduate debt loads (rising faster), (2) fun facts about each of the schools in the top 10, and (3) a short history of Stanford Law School — over here.

The Best Law Schools For Getting Rich [Jock Rich / Forbes]

Earlier: The Best Law Schools — Ranked By Law Firm Recruiters
Earning $250,000 Does Not Make You Rich, Not in My Town
Poor You! (Literally.)
Biglaw Bros: Why Slam Pieces Don’t Want You

ATL Law School Directory
(hidden for your protection)

comments sponsored by

Show all comments