Vivia Chen
March 28, 2012

stack of money and a graduation cap

Listen up, aspiring law students and nagging parents. Before you send in your application fee or deposit check, make sure these law schools aren’t on your list.
I’m not just talking about the obvious—poorly ranked law schools (or schools so dubious that their rankings are not published—”RNPs”). The ones that should be avoided like STDs have another trait: They are also ridiculously expensive to boot. So here’s the ultimate don’t-go-to list, courtesy of U.S. News & World Report :

Law SchoolTuition & FeesAverage DebtUS News Rank
John Marshall (IL)$38,100$165,178129
California Western$42,600$153,145RNP
Thomas Jefferson$41,000$153,006RNP
New York Law School$47,800$146,230135

The list of “ten law schools that lead to the most debt” in U.S. News also includes Northwestern University Law School. But I think you’ll agree we should give Northwestern a pass because it ranks in the top ten, and its grads do well in the job market. (Arguably, it’s also unfair to lump American University Law School in this group because it did make the top 50—barely.)
To keep it all in perspective, remember that students overall graduated with an average debt of $100,584. But in this list, the average debt burden was $147,717!
As for the “good value” law schools, where the average debt is around $38,000,U.S. News offers these choices:

Law SchoolTuition & FeesAverage DebtUS News Rank
Georgia State$14,770$19,97158
Texas Southern$16,262$32,449RNP

Low-ranking schools dominate this “value” list as well (only Brigham Young hit the top 50), which, to me, means you might as well blow your money on lottery tickets.  I realize, however, that I’m making a gross generalization, and that I’m too New York-centric about the legal market. So if you really want to be a lawyer and you didn’t get into a top school, the schools above serve their purpose (although I can’t in good conscience advise anyone to go to an unrated school). At least you won’t feel totally ripped off if you do go.
U.S. News also offers a list of schools that delivers both value and financial rewards upon graduation, based on median private-sector salary to debt ratio in 2010. Of all the law school data that U.S. News offers, I find this list highly dubious. For instance, number one on this coveted list is unranked Southern University Law Center , which claims a median salary $100,000 for its graduates. Also on the list are eighty-fourth-ranked Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey—Camden School of Law ( $115,000 median salary); sixty-fifth-rankedUniversity of Cincinnati College of Law ($115,000 median salary); and 143rd-ranked Loyola University New Orleans School of Law ($84,500 median salary).
Bottom-ranking law schools where the median salary is six figures? Yeah, sure.
I hate to sound like a naysayer (which you know I am) about the legal academic industrial complex, but let me give you my rule of thumb: Believe the negative stuff but don’t buy anything that sounds too good to be true.
Hat tip: Wall Street Journal Law Blog and TaxProf Blog .
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Posted by Vivia Chen at 01:54:12 PM