Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

National Jurist: Law School Ranking by Starting Salaries of Graduates

National_jurist_jan_2008_2Among the interesting articles in the just-released January 2008 edition of The National Jurist is How Much Will You Earn?, by Ursula Furi-Perry:

Some 2008 Graduates will earn $160,000 in their first year. But while big firm salaries keep rising, most recent graduates will earn far less. Find out where your school places in terms of starting salaries, why big firm salaries are outpacing other employers, and why you might not want that $160,000-a-year job after all.

From the article:

The ... salary differences between large law firm associates and new lawyers at other employers are essentially creating two classes of recent law graduates:  The haves and the have-nots.

And the differences can easily be seen on a school-by-school basis.  While there are ten [actually, there are seventeen by NJ's figures] law schools with average starting salaries above $100,000, there are 58 with salaries of $60,000 or less.

Here are the 25 law schools whose graduates earn the most and the least [click on chart to enlarge]:


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Thanks to the posters with trenchant critiques and helpful career tips.

Dave, as a fellow prospective I feel ya. But my concern is less what my starting salary will be and more about my ability to secure a decent job in my area of interest. I'm a big firm paralegal now and already have been dismissed as overqualified for a fairly similar job at a non-profit (which they were again looking to fill a mere 8 mos. later). Yet I see other openings that all but require an advanced degree.

Posted by: cms | Feb 9, 2008 7:08:02 AM

T2 Chicago-Kent at a $125,000 median starting salary? It's a decent school, but that figures is completely unrealistic. It reminds me of Tulane's recent tout that their average starting salary was $135,000 (higher than most Ivy law schools). Of course, that represented only something like 25% of all reporting students.

In assessing how much JD grads actually make, it's important to look at what percent of the graduating class responded to the survey AND disclosed their incomes. It's also wise to consider the size of the graduating class and look into how many actually work at firms that pay $125-160K. A few law schools outside the top 10-20 actually DO appear to live up to their salary statistics (Emory, Houston, and Case Western to name a few)...but most are about as reliable as used-car dealerships when it comes to honesty.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 18, 2008 10:45:02 PM

These numbers are garbage, and you should really put a disclaimer when reporting them.

Taking often maligned Loyola as an example, the article claims an average starting salary of $87,400 for Loyola graduates. How did they get this? They went to the link below, and averaged the starting salaries for the group who went into private practice.

$68,991 x 45% = $31,046
$76,130 x 13% = $9,897
$79,850 x 7% = $5,590
$85,500 x 5% = $4,275
$126,517 x 28% = $35,425

The sum of the above is $86,232, which is essentially the average they reported.

The problem is students who went into private practice group only represent about 1/2 of Loyola's graduating class. On top of that, you don't know how many of the private practice graduates reported salaries. By excluding such a large portion of graduates, it's a terribly misrepresentative number.

Posted by: anonymous | Jan 11, 2008 4:55:40 PM

I question the accuracy of this chart as well. My 4th tier alma mater is listed well above our only in-state competition, which is first tier. I graduated 2nd in my class, am clerking for an appellate judge, and can't find a job at all, nevertheless making $80k.

And to Dave: now is a good time to look for another career path. It may be too late for me. I'm trying to figure out how to pay for community college nursing or accounting classes to ensure some job security for the future. It's 3-5 years that you'll never get back. And, it won't help you in any other job (except for maybe lobbying) - most employers will dismiss your resume immediately as overqualified.

Posted by: LDS | Jan 11, 2008 11:24:19 AM

It's a shame that the numbers are blatantly false. However, I'm going to law school because I want to be an attorney, not because I think it will make me rich.

Posted by: Ross Lustman | Jan 11, 2008 11:01:51 AM

OK, so the data are off by an order of magnitude. But is anyone surprised by the fact that there are disparities among schools?

For the poster who's rethinking continuing in law school - it's an investment in your career, not just in the starting salary. And if you're just starting to think about cost-benefit, that's pretty poor planning on your part. But all is not lost.

After graduating from one of those "low pay" schools, I've done pretty well because (a) I developed some expertise to set me apart from all the GP's, (b) I worked my butt off to do top quality work for my clients, and (c) I constantly looked for opportunities beyond my current employer. Develop your plan to do the same.

Posted by: Slingshot Willy | Jan 11, 2008 10:13:57 AM

We refer to the National Jurist as "the useless rag" in my law school, despite the leading student editor of the magazine graduating this year in my class. All the stories are crap, their statistics have no real backing or research by the looks of it, and yet this magazine does somehow get respect. About the only redeeming quality of this magazine is the back page humorous column.

If you read "the rag" and actually believe the blatantly false statistics they publish in headline stories like this one, I highly question your competence to read critically. The problem with this article in "the rag" is the same as many others: it can be summed up in one obvious sentence. Gee, I never would have guessed that top-ranked law school graduates moving into big law firms are the only ones making 160K a year, while most law school graduates are lucky to get half that.

Ugh. I cannot decide what I dislike more: the law school ranking system which creates this mess, or the National Jurist itself. At least I'll graduate in 4 months and move on to my six figure Ohio salary while counting my blessings every day for what I get for the work that I love. I'm sure my firm will not be subscribing to "the rag" so I'll forget about the irrelevant magazine.

Posted by: Fitz | Jan 11, 2008 7:28:54 AM

This chart is ridiculous. Obviously, top schools where lots of the very highest-ranking graduates go into judicial clerkships and some into public interest jobs will rank lower. And schools based in major metro areas on the coasts with inflated law firm salaries will do better on the averages, even if only a relatively small number of students get into the largest firms, since only a small number of their grads get clerkships as well.

Posted by: Art Leonard | Jan 11, 2008 7:24:05 AM

This is no surprise. A big factor is probably law firm screening. Most of the high paying firms simply do not recruit at schools outside of the first page of the US News and Report Guide.

Posted by: Jacob | Jan 11, 2008 7:05:31 AM

Oh, my God.

This is making me seriously rethink whether I should continue in law school. 120k in debt for 60k a year?

That is insane.

Posted by: Comment | Jan 11, 2008 7:00:42 AM

Yeah the statistics are certainly misleading. I went to a mid/lower tier law school - University of Miami (FL) which reports an average starting salary of $81,000 and there is NO way that number is correct. It might be the number the school reports to National Jurist, but I know very few of my classmates who make that much (or more to bring the average up given the large number of State Attorneys / Public Defenders making $35-40k to start.

Posted by: Dave | Jan 11, 2008 6:58:30 AM

It's ridiculous these rankings continue to allow such obvious falsehoods without clarification. The table is WRONG.

Those cannot be historical "average salaries." The numbers match the 2006-07 top tier firm starting rates, exactly! One of the #1 schools, which reported approximately 23% of 2006 graduates started in non-private firm careers (9% gov't; 13% clerkships; 7% other), the numbers clearly do not add up to $135k graduate unless every first-year graduate at a private firm makes $165k/year. (I hope we can all accept 100% maximum salary assumption for firm associates isn't true given many top-salary firms now offer a less-hour/less-pay split.) Moreover, there is no description of the numbers other than "Average Salary of Graduate." Obvious questions are unanswered: What year graduates (historical or prospective application of historical rates)? Is this a select group of graduates (e.g., non-governmental)? This thing would get hammered if presented by an expert before a jury. By either a wilfull ignorance of stastics or arrogance by those who want to claim superiority via the bad facts, the legal community allows these "statistics" from law schools to persist.

Why won't the professional community voice concern over such blantantly false reports regarding our profession? At least stop citing it like it's factual and not crap without further information.

Posted by: SlyOne | Jan 10, 2008 11:15:30 AM

Very good point. Although it has been many years, prestigious clerkships and public interest jobs were low paying in my day.

Posted by: Andy | Jan 8, 2008 1:38:07 PM

It's not just that, though it probably accounts for the odd rankings at the top. These rankings are meaningless. According to CNN, a first year associate earning $140,000 at big law in Dallas would need to earn $307,000 at big law in Manhattan to account for the difference in cost of living. Good idea for big law firms:

(1) Move all associates to Dallas
(2) Cut their nominal salaries in half.
(3) $Profit$

To put it another way, the average student from a fourth tier Texas school, (Texas Wesleyan $57,497), would need to earn close to $100k to live in Queens and work in NY.

Posted by: Apep | Jan 8, 2008 1:30:50 PM

I would assume that schools where more people do clerkships or public interest law would have lower salaries. Is there a ranking that only includes people who go to law firms?

Posted by: Marilyn | Jan 8, 2008 12:25:30 PM