Now is the season when law school applicants, having received their admission and rejection letters, need to make up their minds about where to attend law school (or if they want to go at all). We’ve received a number of inquiries from anxious 0Ls seeking advice about whether to matriculate at School X or School Y (which we might work into a post at some point, but which we don’t have the time to answer individually, for which we apologize). See also this post (asking whether you’d go to Notre Dame, for $X, or a lower-ranked school, for some number lower than $X).

In these discussions, the question of value looms large. We’ve previously mentioned lists of “best value” law schools in these pages, but some of these lists have methodological problems. And other lists — like the National Law Journal’s recent list of law schools that will get you into Biglaw on the cheap — while helpful, are too narrow in focus for some readers. Maybe you’re not looking for a Biglaw job, but you would like to attend a law school that is worth the price (i.e., a law school that can get you a job that will allow you to service the debt you incur).

Say hello to yet another set of law school rankings: U.S. News & World Report’s list of “10 Law Degrees With Most Financial Value at Graduation,” i.e., law schools whose graduates “have the highest first-year salaries relative to debt load.”

Did your school make the cut? Try to guess at some of the names you’ll see on the list, and then read on to see if you’re right….

Here’s a bit of background and explanation, from U.S. News:

With tuition increasing at nearly every law school for the 2011-12 school year, incoming students may want to consider the initial value a law degree will render. A legal education can cost upwards of $150,000, and students, on average, graduate from law school with $93,359 in debt, according to an analysis of school-reported data to U.S. News.

What you’ll learn next shouldn’t shock you:

The time it takes to recover your student debt can vary widely by job choice, since median starting salaries in the private sector are, on average, about twice as large as median public sector starting salaries. Law school graduates in the private sector earned an average median wage of $91,708 in 2010, according to the schools’ self-reported data; in the public sector, graduates garnered an average median of $49,831.

We’re getting closer to the list. Here’s the methodological explanation:

Of 190 law schools surveyed each year by U.S. News, 188 schools reported both the average indebtedness of their 2010 graduates and the median starting salary of graduates who accepted jobs in the private sector. The salary-to-debt ratio, used in the table below, is a calculation of how many times a student’s reported starting salary covers their debt load. For this list, only private sector starting salary data was considered, and schools that were designated by U.S. News as Unranked are not included.

And here are the top five schools, ranked by salary to debt ratio (the higher the number, the better). According to U.S. News, “this list comprises [five] law schools whose students leave with the least amount of debt relative to their first year salaries in the private sector.”

You can view the complete top ten list — which actually includes 11 schools, due to a tie (U.S. News loves those ties) — and read additional commentary, over at U.S. News.

The #1 school: Southern University Law Center. SULC has nothing to sulk about when it comes to U.S. News rankings. As you may recall, it was recently named the #4 most popular law school by the magazine, right behind Yale, BYU, and Harvard.

Are you a student at, or alumnus of, one of these top 11 best-value law schools? If so, are you happy with the choice that you made? Please discuss, in the comments.

10 Law Degrees With Most Financial Value at Graduation [U.S. News & World Report]

Earlier: New Rankings List ‘Best Value’ Law Schools
Law Schools That Will Get You Into Biglaw On The Cheap
More Law School Rankings: The Top Ten Most Popular Schools


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