Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Law Schools Rankings by Mid-Career Salaries

Wall Street Journal, Harvard Law Graduates Top Salary Survey:

SalaryAt $201,000 a year, Harvard Law School alumni earn more than those of any other U.S. graduate school by the midpoint in their careers. ...

The data come courtesy of the online salary-information company PayScale [press release], which has asked 1.4 million people what they earn in return for finding out how they stack up against their peers. ... The survey pulled data for more than 600 graduate schools, including only those for which there were enough respondents to make their answers statistically valid. ...

Among their findings: the midcareer median salary for seven of the top 10 graduate programs were law schools, but business schools produced eight out of the top 10 highest salaries for those less than five years past graduation. Eight of the top 17 programs that produced graduates with the highest midcareer salary were in California, many in and around Silicon Valley.

Among the top law schools ranked behind Harvard by salary were Emory, Santa Clara, UCLA, Pepperdine, Georgetown, Columbia, Fordham, Berkeley and University of Texas at Austin.

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(Hat Tip: Derek Muller.)   Update:

Law School Rankings, Legal Education | Permalink


Something very odd is going on here. Of the US News Top 14 law schools, only four make the PayScale Top 55 law school list. Schools that don't include Yale, Stanford, Chicago, NYU, Penn, U Va, Duke, Michigan, Northwestern, and Cornell. Schools that make the PayScale Top 55 list include at least six schools "unranked" by US News: New England, Suffolk, Thomas M. Cooley, Western New England, Western State, and Widener. I don't mean to suggest that the latter are not good schools. But are their grads really more likely, on average, to get high-paying jobs?

Posted by: Theodore Seto | Oct 22, 2014 10:20:25 AM

It's obviously a limited data set (and they had to get a certain number of alumni responses to count the school, which is why so many are missing. There may be some bias from that as well--if they went by the absolute number of responses, they would be more likely to include large-school graduates--like Cooley--even if the percentage of respondents was small and tilted toward the high end of incomes). But it's definitely a good start to getting more data relevant to the ROI of going to law school, and I would love to see the data developed further. Simkovic & McIntyre didn't look at debt levels, but with this data you can get a sense--at least at the margins--of how much debt is too much to rationally take on. (Remember, at many schools, fully debt-financing a degree means ending up with $250,000 or more in law school debt--the midcareer salary numbers give a better idea of how difficult it would be to pay that off at current federal-loan interest rates). It also seems that the numbers vary to some extent by geography (Suffolk and NESL, in particular, feed into high-cost-of-living areas where the salaries are also likely to be somewhat larger). It also appears that the numbers are influenced by the likelihood of graduates entering the practice of law--schools that send more graduates into legal practice look as if they have higher mid-career salaries, whereas schools relying more the JD Advantage/other professional category look like their midcareer salaries are relatively lower. So, I'm not sure it's a great tool to compare two individual schools--but it is very helpful for getting an idea of the midcareer earnings of law school graduates (and not just the midcareer earnings of "lawyers," which is what we normally see, but which does not account for those who are not practicing).

Posted by: CBR | Oct 22, 2014 11:36:53 AM

Two other peculiar results to ponder. According to PayScale, midcareer graduates of Santa Clara make more on average than midcareer graduates of Hastings or Berkeley (all in the northern California legal market). Really? And midcareer graduates of Pepperdine make more on average than midcareer graduates of USC (both in the southern California legal market). Really?

We know that the PayScale sample is not randomly selected. It's made up of folks who use PayScale's services. What we do not know is what kind of selection biases, if any, operate in determining who uses those services.

Posted by: Theodore Seto | Oct 22, 2014 12:00:03 PM

If you read the press release closely the source of the oddness is revealed. The survey isn't identifying the top 55 law schools by pay. It only released pay data based on alumni responses FROM 55 law schools. That's it. All the others you mention aren't part of the data set at all.

Posted by: Former Editor | Oct 22, 2014 12:46:19 PM