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Open Thread: 2013 U.S. News Law School Rankings (The Second Tier)

Welcome back to our series of open threads on the latest batch of U.S. News law school rankings. Last time, readers weighed in on the law schools that traditionally made up what used to be the alphabetically listed third tier. Last year, however, the law schools that once constituted the “third tier” received the gift that keeps on giving: numerical rankings.

Today, we’ll be talking about the law schools that used to comprise the fourth tier, but now have a new name. These days, this segment of the U.S. News list is referred to as the “second tier,” and although they are all ranked, those rankings are not published (presumably because no one wants to brag about going to the worst law school in the nation).

Let’s use this post to discuss these schools, collectively or individually, and to compare and contrast….

Here are the schools that are classified as the second tier, according to U.S. News & World Report:

Atlanta’s John Marshall
Ave Maria
California Western
Faulkner (Jones)
Florida A&M
Florida Coastal
Golden Gate
Mississippi College
New England
North Carolina Central
Northern Illinois
Northern Kentucky (Chase)
Nova Southeastern (Broad)
Ohio Northern (Pettit)
Oklahoma City
Roger Williams
South Texas
Southern Illinois
Southern University
St. Mary’s
St. Thomas University
Texas Southern (Marshall)
Texas Wesleyan
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas M. Cooley
Touro (Fuchsberg)
University of Dayton
University of Detroit Mercy
University of La Verne
University of Memphis (Humphreys)
University of South Dakota
University of the District of Columbia (Clarke)
Western New England
Western State

And let’s not forget about the unranked schools: Catholic University, Inter-American University, UC–Irvine, University of Puerto Rico, and University of St. Thomas (thanks to some misreported stats).

Before we get into this discussion, a brief comment: yes, we often poke fun at graduates of lower-ranked law schools. But, in our defense, we only take shots at people who have done things that are worthy of a punchline. Graduates of Yale Law School do stupid things too, and when they do, we give them their just deserts. We make fun of idiocy and ridiculousness at Harvard Law School as well. We are equal-opportunity offenders here at Above the Law.

So what can be said about these law schools? Why should you bother attending a lower-ranked school?

Having attended one myself (what up, Western New England!), I have firsthand knowledge that the quality of education is on par with that of any other law school on the U.S. News list. After all, law professors at these second-tier schools attended the same Ivy league law schools as the professors that teach at the institutions ranked #1 – #145. Law students at lower-ranked law schools don’t ride the short bus. In most cases, your classmates at a second-tier law school will be incredibly intelligent (and some will even be brilliant).

Sure, getting a degree from second-tier law school might not be as prestigious as getting one from a higher-ranked school, but to burst the elitist bubble: not everyone cares about prestige. Some of the people applying to and attending these schools just want to be lawyers, while others just want to stay close to home.

In fact, contrary to popular belief, some of these schools do very, very well in regional job markets. As unbelievable as this statement may seem, not everyone wants to get a job in Biglaw (although some second-tier graduates do end up in Biglaw). Some people are more than content to join small law firms or perform public service work.

Those niceties having been put on the table, one has to ask whether it’s worth spending ungodly sums of money to attend a second-tier law school. Is it worth the economic risk? I’d love to say yes, but for most graduates of second-tier law schools, that’s just not the case. For the vast majority of students, the post-graduation job situation sucks. It sucks to the point where lawsuits have been filed over their allegedly deceptive employment statistics. But what sucks more is the post-graduation debt situation.

For what it’s worth, four second-tier law schools appear on the U.S. News list of schools graduating students with the heaviest average debt loads. Just take a look at the average indebtedness for these schools:

  • California Western School of Law – $153,145
  • Thomas Jefferson School of Law – $153,006
  • Phoenix School of Law – $145,357
  • Whittier College – $138,961

Unfortunately, making a financial gamble like that will not pay off for most second-tier law school graduates. Some — myself included — will be digging themselves out of student loan debt ruins for the rest of their lives. But would I do it over again? Call me stupid (come on, you were going to do that anyway), but I would. I appreciate every opportunity that my second-tier law school gave to me, and many others feel the same way.

So, readers, what do you think? We’re asking all of the second-tier law school graduates (yes, we know you’re reading) to come out of the woodwork and comment on this open thread. Was it worth it for you to attend a lower-ranked law school? Let us know how you really feel.

Earlier: Open Thread: 2013 U.S. News Law School Rankings (101 – 145)
Open Thread: 2013 U.S. News Law School Rankings (76 – 99)
Open Thread: 2013 U.S. News Law School Rankings (51 – 69)
Open Thread: 2013 U.S. News Law School Rankings (34 – 49)
Open Thread: 2013 U.S. News Law School Rankings (15 – 29)
Open Thread: 2013 U.S. News Law School Rankings (1 – 14)
The U.S. News Law School Rankings Are Out!

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