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The Private Law Schools With The ‘Best Value’ (2013)

Our readers love nothing better than law school rankings, so it was kind of the National Jurist to roll out its first-ever list of the Best Value private law schools. This new ranking comes in addition to its regular ranking of Best Value schools (which is usually dominated by public institutions of learning). These lists are usually released in alphabetical order, but this time, National Jurist assigned letter grades to each school due to a post-publication error. We’re off to a great start already.

The Best Value ranking typically takes into account the following criteria: tuition, cost of living, average student debt, the percentage of graduates employed nine months after graduation, and bar passage rates.

When the National Jurist created the Best Value rankings to “honor schools that took the cost of legal education seriously,” why choose to highlight private law schools at a time when tuition is higher than ever?

We’ll explore possible answers to that question, as well as reveal the rankings, after the jump…

Why separately rank the value of private law schools now? We suspect that the National Jurist may be trying to gin up excitement for future rankings of the classes of 2014, 2015, and 2016. As we’ve discussed at length, many law schools have seen their class sizes shrink dramatically due, so they’ve been tossing out scholarships like Mardi Gras beads just to convince students to enroll. If you think this list of private law schools looks good now, it’ll look even better a few years from now (even if deceptively so).

Here’s what Jack Crittenden, editor-in-chief of the National Jurist, had to say about these rankings:

“With rising tuition, it has become increasingly difficult for private law schools to make the Best Value list. But some schools have made great strides to keep debt low through scholarships, even if tuition is high. We felt it was important to recognize the schools that deliver excellent results and have a lower debt load than most private law schools.”

When tuition is absurdly high, scholarships are a great way to keep student debt low, but it’s important to note that many of those scholarships are conditional and oftentimes difficult to keep — they are the students’ to lose. According to a recent study, about one-third of the class of 2014 lost their scholarships after completing the first year of law school. It figures that two of the private schools that had the worst scholarship retention rates of all made it onto the National Jurist’s best value list. (In fairness, we should mention that three of the private schools with the best scholarship retention rates also made the list.)

Here’s some additional information about the indebtedness of students graduating from the schools on the National Jurist’s list of the private law schools with the best value. You wouldn’t be shocked if we told you that graduates’ indebtedness was still in the six-figure range, would you? Take a look:

The top five private law schools have an indebtedness below $105,000 and met all other criteria. Twelve other private law schools met all criteria when the debt ceiling was raised to $115,000. By comparison, only four law schools in the overall ranking exceed a debt load of $100,000.

If you graduate from one of the top five schools on this list, you’ll be slightly less poor than if you were to have graduated from the rest. This is what “best value” means in a time of skyrocketing tuition.

We won’t keep you waiting any longer. Here are the Best Value Private Law Schools of 2013, with grades differentiating their values from good to better to best. We’ve included some employment and financial fun facts, courtesy of U.S. News & World Report, Professor Jerry Organ’s study on scholarship retention, and Law School Transparency’s employment reports, under each school’s name:

Brigham Young University (A)
– 51% of students entering school in 2011 retained their conditional scholarships.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $56,112.
– 80% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 63.9% of 2012 graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

Baylor University School of Law (B)
– 96% of students entering school in 2011 retained their conditional scholarships.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $99,852.
– 78% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 68.3% of 2012 graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

Notre Dame Law School (B)
– No conditional scholarship programs (i.e., all scholarships are guaranteed).
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $101,512.
– 86% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 66.8% of 2012 graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

Duquesne University (B)
– No conditional scholarship programs.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $100,081.
– 92% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 52.7% of 2012 graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

Hamline University (B)
– 77% of students entering school in 2011 retained their conditional scholarships.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $104,647.
– 91% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 42.6% of 2012 graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

Boston College Law School (B-)
– No conditional scholarship programs.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $106,550.
– 84% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 65.4% of 2012 graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

Boston University School of Law (B-)
– No conditional scholarship programs.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $110,437.
– 82% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 64.1% of 2012 graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

Chicago-Kent College of Law (B-)
– 42% of students entering school in 2011 retained their conditional scholarships.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $112,750.
– 86% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 59.6% of 2012 graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

Drake University (B-)
– 51% of students entering school in 2011 retained their conditional scholarships.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $106,368.
– 91% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 56.1% of graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

Emory University (B-)
– 100% of students entering school in 2011 retained their conditional scholarships.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $105,838.
– 76% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 73.3% of 2012 graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

Lewis & Clark Law School (B-)
– 76% of students entering school in 2011 retained their conditional scholarships.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $109,419.
– 88% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 56% of 2012 graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

Mercer University (B-)
– No conditional scholarship programs.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $113,935.
– 89% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 73.2% of 2012 graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

SMU Dedman (B-)
– 73% of students entering school in 2011 retained their conditional scholarships.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $113,266.
– 70% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 75.1% of graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

South Texas College of Law (B-)
– 73% of students entering school in 2011 retained their conditional scholarships.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $113,551.
– 87% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 71.4% of 2012 graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

St. Mary’s University (B-)
– 21% of students entering school in 2011 retained their conditional scholarships.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $111,758.
– 89% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 67.5% of 2012 graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

Stanford University (B-)
– No conditional scholarship programs.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $110,275.
– 80% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 91.2% of 2012 graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

University of Richmond (B-)
– 73% of students entering school in 2011 retained their conditional scholarships.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $110,830.
– 79% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 56.8% of 2012 graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

Yale Law School (B-)
– No conditional scholarship programs.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $110,741.
– 82% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 82% of 2012 graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

Quinnipiac University (C+)
– 69% of students entering school in 2011 retained their conditional scholarships.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $111,952.
– 87% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 41.1% of 2012 graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

Villanova University (C+)
– No conditional scholarship programs.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $113,283.
– 79% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 51.2% of 2012 graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

Washington and Lee University (C+)
– 94% of students entering school in 2011 retained their conditional scholarships.
– The average indebtedness of 2012 graduates with law school debts was $111,825.
– 88% of 2012 graduates carried student loan debt.
– 49.2% of 2012 graduates were employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

There’s a lesson to be learned here, and it’s quite simple: if you want to keep your debt loads low and have a prayer of buying a home in the future, then you should consider enrolling at a public law school.

Did your school make the cut for the National Jurist’s inaugural list of the private law schools with the best value? Do you see schools on this list that shouldn’t be there, or a school not on the list that you think should be recognized? As always, your comments are welcome.

BYU, Baylor top list of Best Value private law schools [National Jurist]
Which law school graduates have the most debt? [U.S. News & World Report]
Better Understanding the Scope of Conditional Scholarship Programs Among American Law Schools [SSRN]
LST Law School Profiles [Law School Transparency]

Earlier: Are Law School ‘Merit Scholarships’ A Big Racket?
The Law Schools Where You’re Most Likely to Kiss Your Merit-Based Scholarship Goodbye
New Rules Make It Harder For Attorneys To Buy Homes

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