We’re familiar with the fact that the number of law school applicants is down. Indeed, quite a bit of metaphorical ink has been spilled on analyzing the ramifications of this trend on law school applications. For instance, The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story analyzing the LSAT scores at top law schools. Somewhat surprisingly, the numbers were fairly consistent with previous years, despite fewer applicants. Above The Law followed up with the analysis of a few additional schools, though all were still T14 (with the exception of ATL’s favorite whipping boy, Cooley). And, of course, we here at Blueprint analyzed these changes and discussed how to use them to your advantage.
So the implications of the decrease in law school applicants have been fairly well documented for top law schools. However, only a small minority of law students will be applying to them, and an even smaller amount attending. This begs the question: What’s going on further down the law school chain?
We took a look at the 25-75% LSAT ranges for a random sample of law schools from the 2012 and 2013 law application cycles. (School rankings were taken from the 2014 US News & World Report law school rankings).
|School, USNWR Rank||2012 25th – 75th%||2013 25th – 75%|
|Indiana University, Bloomington, #25||158/167||156/166|
|Boston University, #29||163/167||162/167|
|Florida State, #48||160/163||157/162|
|Georgia State, #54||159/162||156/161|
|American University, #56||159/163||156/162|
|Seton Hall, #64||155/161||154/161|
|Louisiana State University, #76||155/160||153/160|
|University of Oregon, #94||157/160||155/160|
While there are some schools that have managed to maintain their LSAT numbers, it seems that the further down you go, the more likely the numbers are to decrease. Three points in one year, such as American’s 159 to 156, or Georgia State’s 159 to 156 is an astronomical slip in LSAT numbers, and shows that lower-tier schools may be scrambling to fill classes.
So while it may be just as difficult to gain admittance to top schools, it seems it’s easier than ever to get into schools in the shallower end of the law school pool.
But are these schools worth it? Or will you just find yourself spending a lot of money on a degree that won’t get you a job?
That calculation comes down to your total indebtedness after law school compared to your expected salary. U.S. News & World Report did a study a few years ago to calculate the salary-to-debt ratio for a number of schools. It wasn’t always the top schools with the best ratio. However, most of the schools on the list were located close to a major metropolitan area where there are a large number of Big Law firms paying $160,000 a year right out of law school. A number that large will skew any poll, especially one looking at medians instead of averages. In addition, not everyone can or wants to go into Big Law, taking those data points out of the question entirely.
So as we’ve always said, figure out how much you’re going to pay for your degree. Don’t weigh that against the average or median salaries at the law school you’re analyzing; instead, try to find information about the average salary for the person going into your area of interest. If you want to go into the public sector, find the median salary for that; if you are interested in opening your own firm (which, really, is a bad idea), then look at numbers for that. There are plenty of sites that collect employment, tuition, and scholarship data. Make sure you become familiar with all of them (Law School Transparency, Above The Law’s Job Statistics articles, and The Law School Tuition Bubble are three great places to start) so that when you make the decision to go to law school, it’s not a bad one. Use sites like these to figure out your own salary-to-debt ratio based on both best- and worst-case scenarios. If that ratio isn’t well over 1, it’s time to look elsewhere.
Our credo has always been going to law school isn’t necessarily a bad decision, but it’s very easy to make a bad decision by going to law school. If you calculate the expected return on your investment of both time and money, however, you’re more likely to come out ahead.