Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Best Value Law Schools

Cover The October 2010 issues of the National Jurist and preLaw magazines include a ranking of 59 Best Value Law Schools:

  • Bar passage higher than the state's average
  • Average indebtedness after graduation < $100,000
  • Employment rate 9 months after graduation > 85%

These 59 schools were ranked in four tiers, based on this methodology:

  • 45%:  tuition
  • 45%:  average indebtedness
  • 7%:   employment nine months after graduation
  • 3%:   bar passage rate

 Here are the Top 20 Best Value Law Schools:

  1. Georgia State
  2. BYU
  3. Louisville
  4. Nebraska
  5. Kansas
  6. New Mexico
  7. Mississippi
  8. Florida State
  9. Memphis
  10. Florida International
  11. Tennessee
  12. South Carolina
  13. Northern Illinois
  14. Kentucky
  15. Georgia
  16. Alabama
  17. Texas Tech
  18. LSU
  19. North Dakota
  20. Florida

The other three tiers are:

For more, see:

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I have come across this ranking of law schools multiple times now, and this discussion pertaining to it seems particularly interesting. What seems troubling to me is the specific metrics used to judge the best law school , or in this case, the "Best Value Law School". Specifically, I have trouble accepting the theory that the best "value" can be judged by the value afforded the graduate immediately upon graduation (bar passage, job placement, average indebtedness?). A Juris Doctorate, to me, seems to be the culmination of a lifetime's worth of academic work, and a degree that should be valuable well into the future, not just immediately after graduation, or even after the period of loan-repayment (again, the indebtedness concept). Finally, it seems to me that a state school would carry an inherent advantage in the "indebtedness" metric as lower costs associated would lead to lower average indebtedness.

Posted by: Eugene K | Oct 4, 2010 12:26:05 PM

No way is $130K accurate for UNC. I was right near the top of the class in '04 and only made $125K my first year out. I know salaries have increased since then, but there's no way that the top half of the private sector hires are now making more than the top 5% of the class 6 years ago. I'd guess that $80K is more accurate.

Posted by: Mike | Sep 29, 2010 8:29:49 PM

Until the schools reporting the "data" are independently audited, these ranking efforts (although improving) are always going to be largely an exercise in futility.

The schools have every incentive to lie (how else do you get somebody to go over $100k into debt, if not by promising a sufficient economic reward - whether true or not?) and are subject to almost no accountability for the "cooking" of their data.

To mention but the absolute worst "flaw" in the schools'/NALP's methodology: projecting median salaries based solely upon the 50% or so of students who self report salaries.

Leaving aside the huge problem of self-selection (who is more likely to report their salary? Beaming NLJ 250 associates or an army of the ashamed unemployed?) the fact is that it is *statistically improper* to project sample statistics (like median salary, etc.) based on anything other than a *random* sample.

Which the schools' surveys are not.

Neither is NALP's.

So until NALP or the schools get a helluva lot closer to a complete graduate population census (already 50% of the way there after a mere 30 years!) or engage in honest graduate sampling, the numbers that they offer are biased, self-interested crap.

And, unfortunately, any independent analysis of them (however well-meaning and honest) is necessarily built upon a foundation of bullshit.

Thank the schools and NALP.

It is time to hold them accountable by only applying to schools that submit to independent audits.

Posted by: cas127 | Sep 29, 2010 5:54:05 PM

Something's clearly wrong with the survey when they have different statewide bar passage rates for schools in the same state.

For example:


William & Mary (83.5)
George Mason (82.7)
University of Richmond (82.7)


Cleveland State (88.09)
University of Toledo (87.12)
Ohio State (88.09)


Arizona State (84.03)
U. of Arizona (82.49)
Phoenix School of Law (84.00)

I'm not sure that these variances make any difference in the scores, but it sure does raise the question of what else they screwed up.

Posted by: MichaelW | Sep 29, 2010 12:50:12 PM

Prof. Livingston, your statement comes across as very elitist. I think the better comparison would be Georgia State versus Emory. As has been said many times, if you can't go to an elite law school, is it really worth taking on a private school burden?

Posted by: Matt | Sep 29, 2010 9:15:29 AM

This ranking is far better and more useful than USNews. As to Mr. Livingston's jibe, who is paying? Is Yale the beginning of a path to unemployment and debt slavery? Georgia State might lead to being a partner in a big Atlanta law firm or a politician in an important state.

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Sep 29, 2010 9:00:49 AM

FBN, we can compare notes now, sort of. I graduated from Georgia in 1986, and work side-by-side with Yale graduates, making just as much money. There were periods when I was making less than now, but Yale grads also were working with me in government service and non-profit groups. The only difference is that their Rolodex has different contacts than mine. That's worth something, true, but I'm not sure it's worth the difference in tuition rates and cost of living.

Posted by: Debbie A. | Sep 29, 2010 8:50:53 AM

The starting salaries in the top group are, by and large, pathetic. I would gladly take on an additional $20k-$40k in debt to go to a school with an average starting salary of $125k/yr versus one with an average starting salary ranging $50k-60k.

Posted by: Triangle_Man | Sep 29, 2010 8:47:55 AM

"What do you say you send your kid to Georgia State, I send mine to Yale, and we compare notes after 30 years?"

Let's assume both kids can get into Yale. This is an indication that both kids are smart and driven. In such case, both kids will probably do well in life no matter which law school they choose.

If you have kid A who can get into Yale and kid B who can only get into Georgia State, and both go to Georgia State, who will do better?

This is the whole flaw with school rankings and hypothetical arguments about where the "value" is. The "value" of your education is what you yourself DO with it.

Posted by: gullyborg | Sep 29, 2010 8:46:10 AM

Obviously employment is important, but I'd think salary would matter as well. Low debt loads mean less when you can barely pay the rent.

Posted by: S | Sep 29, 2010 7:30:33 AM

What do you say you send your kid to Georgia State, I send mine to Yale, and we compare notes after 30 years?

Posted by: Michael A. Livingston | Sep 29, 2010 6:39:37 AM

The methodology seems odd. Tuition and average indebtedness are highly correlated, I'm not sure they needed to account for 90% of the score. Granted, it's possible that certain schools have high levels of financial aid and high tuition levels, but those individuals who get financial aid obviously have a more nuanced position.

Despite the huge imperfections with the 9 months after graduation employment figure, it's one of the more important factors in determining the value of a school. Also, bar passage rates are incredibly important (at least if one wants to be employed as a lawyer) and are so clustered together that to be weighted at 3% essentially gives a negligible value to such an important factor.

Posted by: FBN | Sep 29, 2010 5:38:53 AM