Everyone who has been through the law school application process knows exactly where their school sits in the rankings. The general perception is that the entire legal education market is a pyramid, and if you get better LSAT scores, you go to a better school, which gets you a better job, etc. (e.g. “If I go to law school at Harvard, I will get a top job at a New York firm and make lots of money.”) The converse is also assumed to be true.
Something has always seemed fishy about this to me. Looking over the data reported to the ABA, the so-called “T-14” only produces about 4600 graduates per year, or roughly 10% of the total number of law school graduates. Are they the only lawyers to get good paying jobs? Is everyone else out on the corner selling pencils? Of course not.
So assuming most law school graduates have a job, and you know roughly how much they’re making, you can compare this with the cost of their legal education and figure out the “value” or instant return-on-investment for any law school. So here’s the formula:
Average Starting Salary/(Average Debt Burden x Percentage of Students with Debt)
[Note: Average starting salary data comes from Princeton Review as reported in National Jurist and the debt burden numbers come from U.S. News]
The resulting number suggests that for an average graduate, what you expect in return that for every dollar you invest in your legal education. The numbers are surprising:
A couple of quick notes on methodology. First, the data points I plugged into my formula are not readily available for all schools. If you have data for your school, please send it to us. Second, I’m not interested in handicapping quality of cities. I make no empirical claims about Boston being a preferential legal market and place to live than Cleveland. Third, I’m working on a second version of this that tweaks the numbers based on cost-of-living, so these might get adjusted up or down.
In trying to make sense of these numbers, I’m working on a series of follow-up posts. My initial reaction is that the conventional perception – “unless you’re going to a T-14 school you’re wasting your money” – is garbage.
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