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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Thursday, August 15, 2013

U.S. News Law School Rankings: Return on Investment

US News (2014)U.S. News & World Report:  10 Law Degrees With the Biggest Return on Investment:

Of 194 ranked law schools surveyed by U.S. News during the 2012-2013 school year, 186 schools reported both the average indebtedness of their graduates and the median starting salary of graduates who accepted full-time jobs in the private sector.

Five of the 10 law schools with the highest salary-to-debt ratio are in the top 10 law schools ranked by U.S. News. ... Below are the 10 schools whose students leave with the least amount of debt relative to their first-year salaries in the private sector. 

Law school
Median  starting salary
Average student debt
Salary-to-debt ratio U.S. News rank
Texas $155,000 $86,312 1.796 15
N. Carolina $117,500 $74,485 1.577 31
BYU $84,500 $56,112 1.506 44
Stanford $160,000 $110,275 1.451 2
Yale $160,000 $110,741 1.445 1
UC-Berkeley $160,000 $115,349 1.387 9
BC $145,000 $106,550 1.361 31
Pennsylvania $160,000 $118,278 1.353 7
$117,500 $87,272 1.346 86
Michigan $160,000 $120,136 1.332 9

Florida Coastal School of Law had the lowest salary-to-debt ratio, with students earning median starting salaries of $45,000 in 2011 and graduating with an average debt load of $143,111 in 2012.


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I'm disappointed that you would post something so incorrect and misleading. If you look at the source data for the chart, you'll see this is the median starting salary for people who REPORTED a salary and took jobs in the private sector. Since it well known that people with lower salaries are less likely to report, this clearly overstates any return on investment. This is most clearly illustrated by Rutgers which has a "median" income of $117,000. In fact this statistic only reflects 44 out of the 238 students who graduated from Rutgers (and only about half of those who took private sector jobs). In addition, the table implies anyone who wanted a private sector job could get one. In fact less than half of Rutgers students got a private sector job suggesting many could not obtain one.

Posted by: matt | Aug 15, 2013 8:54:20 AM

Hoo, boy. I'd be tempted to either use the modal [rounded to, say, 5K] salary as being a more accurate assessment of return, or at least do something with the probable bi-modal distribution of salaries. I don't trust this at all.

Posted by: JorgXMckie | Aug 16, 2013 7:45:20 PM

I question the recurrence of exactly $160,000 on half these schools. Round numbers showing up consistently like that seems highly improbable.

Posted by: David Gulliver | Aug 16, 2013 11:01:32 PM


USN&WR has conspired (yet again) to propagate the oldest scam in the law scam playbook - the non-median, median.

This was *exactly* the kind of abuse that ABA standardized reporting was designed to end (after *decades*) - the systematic exclusion of *huge* numbers of JDs in order to misleadingly goose up reported "medians".

I wonder if USN&WR worries about negligent misrepresentation lawsuits.

With the ABA data in hand (finally!), half of a *very* pissed off profession is looking for blood .

Posted by: cas127 | Aug 17, 2013 12:16:15 AM

You mean to tell us that these schools salary reports aren't better fiction than War and Peace?

Posted by: PTL | Aug 17, 2013 8:33:33 AM

It's time to remind people once again of "Law Deans in Jail" by Emory Law professors Morgan Cloud and George Shepherd. From the synopsis:

"U.S. News itself may have committed mail and wire fraud. It has republished, and sold for profit, data submitted by law schools without verifying the data's accuracy, despite being aware that at least some schools were submitting false and misleading data. U.S. News refused to correct incorrect data and rankings errors and continued to sell that information even after individual schools confessed that they had submitted false information. In addition, U.S. News marketed its surveys and rankings as valid although they were riddled with fundamental methodological errors."

Posted by: Unemployed_Northeastern | Aug 17, 2013 9:31:14 AM