10 Law Schools with the Best Return on Investment vs. 10 Law Schools with Terrible Return on Investment
by Teresa Lo
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Summary: Find out what the 10 law schools with the best return on investment are in this article.
The cost of law school can make it a very expensive proposition.
From monetary costs through to emotional, mental and physical costs, the investment of law school can be very pricy.
With that established, young lawyers need to know ahead of time that their law school experience will be worth the debt into which they will inevitably get themselves; i.e. is the return on investment (ROI) worth the overall costs?
This article presents 10 schools where ROI has a high level of importance, both for better and for worse.
Law school is an expensive endeavor, and until recently, the high cost and lack of job options, scared off many potential students. Now that people are interested in legal careers again, it is worth exploring what law schools are good investments and which ones should be avoided.
SoFi released data in 2017 of the best and worst law schools, based on how much graduates earned compared to how much debt the school left them in. The finance company based their analysis on 60,000 student loan refinancing applications they received from January 2015 to December 2016.
“After taking a long, hard look at the average salary and student debt load of law school graduates three years out of school, we compiled objective data that can’t be found anywhere else—verified income and debt, not just reported figures. The result: Rankings of how the top (and bottom) JD programs stack up when it comes to how your financial future will fare,” Sofi wrote.
The Top 10 Law Schools with the Best Return on Investment (ROI)
Based on Sofi’s report, Brigham Young University is the best choice for students wanting a good salary with low debt. Graduates from the Utah-based university with an affiliation to the Mormon church have average salaries of $108,916, but only $64,873 in average debt. This five-figure debt is rare in itself, considering that most schools cost six-figures.
“Brigham Young University is a surprise list topper when it comes to offering the top salary-to-debt ratio (a whopping 1.7). Although this school only ranks No. 38 on the U.S. News and World Report Best Law Schools List it offers tremendous value—especially for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who pay a tuition of just under $12,000 per year (non-LDS members pay that much per semester),” Sofi stated. “That’s one of the reasons the average student loan debt among Brigham Young graduates is less than $65,000. Half of graduates stay in Utah to practice law, however, which likely accounts for the lower salaries its graduates command after graduating.”
While BYU Law’s placement was a “surprise” to Sofi, it was not a surprise to its faculty or students. Upon hearing the news of its top ranking on Sofi’s list, BYU law school leaders said the school was an excellent choice, and associate professor Aaron L. Nielson told The Daily Universe that BYU’s lower cost allowed its students to have a choice in jobs.
“If students aren’t carrying around what amounts to a second mortgage, they have a lot more career options, including public service,” Nielson said.
After graduation, UT-Austin Law graduates earned on average a salary of $147,444 and had an average debt of $105,254. This gave them a salary-to-debt ratio of 1.4, which was the same ratio that Yale and Houston had. Yale grads had the impressive average salary of $171,779 but a higher debt of $123,793. University of Houston Law alums enjoyed an average salary of $136,370, and they had average debt of $100,160.
Top 10 Best Law Schools To Pay Off Your Student Debt
Brigham Young University
University of Texas at Austin
University of Houston
University of Georgia
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Connecticut
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
*Based on Sofi’s 2017 Law School Rankings
The Law Schools with the Worst ROI
While the law schools listed above deserve praise for their high return on investment, Sofi released a contrasting list of schools that may put their graduates in bad financial situations.
“You’ll want to steer clear of the law school programs on our list with a 0.6 or lower salary-to-debt ratio,” Sofi stated. “That means graduates of these programs are burdened with approximately 1.5 times more debt than their annual salary.”
On the Worst Of list, three schools—Florida Coastal, Charlotte School of Law, and Saint Thomas in Florida—tied for number one. Two of them, Florida Coastal and Charlotte, were sanctioned by the American Bar Association for their low admission standards, and Charlotte shuttered in August of 2017 after its license to open had expired.
According to SoFi, Florida Coastal accepts 72% of its applicants, and this includes students with LSAT scores as low as 148 (the scale is 120-180.) While the average salary for a Florida Coastal graduate is vastly less than an Ivy Leaguer’s, the school charges a similar tuition, leaving students with an average debt of $158,427.
After being sanctioned by the ABA, Charlotte Law was mired in controversy, and the state of North Carolina eventually chose to not renew its license. The state’s Attorney General Josh Stein said that while some attorneys had graduated from Charlotte Law, the majority of students were ill-prepared by the for-profit university.
“Charlotte School of Law told students they would be ‘ready to practice upon graduation,’ but fewer than one in five incoming students of the Class of 2016 graduated, passed the bar and got a job that required the degree for which they spent more than $100,000,” Stein said.
Saint Thomas University School of Law is accredited by the ABA, but with an average debt of $175,075 and an average salary of $96,356, Sofi said that this school is not a winner.
Three other schools on Sofi’s list were also sanctioned by the ABA for lax admission standards: Appalachian, Arizona Summit, and Thomas Jefferson.
“It is logical to ask these schools to demonstrate that the students who are coming into their programs have a reasonable likelihood of success with academics and on the licensing or bar exam, and that the schools have programs to maximize the students’ likelihood of success,” Barry Currier, the ABA managing director of accreditation and legal education, told Law.com.
Top 10 Worst Law Schools To Pay Off Your Student Debt
Charlotte School of Law
Saint Thomas University School of Law in Florida
Appalachian School of Law
Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Roger Williams School of Law
*Based on Sofi’s 2017 Law School Rankings
The Top 10 Law Schools with the Highest Average Salaries
In addition to the best and worst return on investments, Sofi also listed the ten schools with the highest salaries. Three New York law schools topped the list, with Cornell at number one, followed by Columbia and New York University. New York is well-known for its high-paying legal jobs thanks to its concentration of Big Law firms in New York City, and the three schools’ placement shows that location really does matter when it comes to where you attend school.
The salary list was comprised of all Tier One universities, many of them ivy league schools. Besides location, SoFi said that these schools are highly ranked because of their excellent job placement rates of 90% or above. This is in addition to rigorous curriculum and access to networking.
It should be noted that of the top 10 law schools with the highest average salaries, only Harvard and Yale were also on Sofi’s Best Return on Investment list.
What does the data mean?
The schools on Sofi’s Top 10 Highest Salary list are Tier One law schools with highly-respected reputations. However, it is notable that the best return on investment schools feature a lot of state universities that are well-regarded regionally, which is good news for potential law students. To get the most value, one doesn’t only need to go to an ivy league school.
Harrison Barnes of the country’s leading legal recruitment firm, BCG Attorney Search, said where you went to law school matters because it affects your first job. Yet, after that, your law school will not matter, long-term. Other factors, such as your specialty, where you are located, and your book of business will determine your ultimate level of success.
“The law school you went to matters surprisingly little the longer you are out of law school,” Barnes stated on BCG Attorney Search’s website. “In fact, better law schools are often a detriment to attorneys practicing law for an extended length of time. Many attorneys who went to great law schools think that they will get special treatment due to having attended top law schools. They are quickly disabused of this notion after the cold, hard facts of practicing in the real world wear off. This is a competitive game and there are far more important things than top law school credentials at stake. In fact, if you think your law school matters—and act like it around people higher up who went to lesser law schools—they will quickly crush you with poor reviews, no assignments and so forth. Your law school will quickly become something that becomes your demise and not something that helps you.”
Thus, as the best return of investment schools have shown, you are not limited in choice to only big name schools with six-figure price tags.
When deciding on the right law school for you, you should consider what school will be the best investment for your future. To make this decision, you can ask the following questions:
9 Questions To Consider Before Enrolling in Law School
How much is the tuition?
Does this law school offer scholarships?
What is the average first-year salary of graduates?
How many students end up with jobs less than one year after graduation? Are those jobs full-time and in the legal field?
What is the percentage of students admitted into the school?
What is the annual attrition rate?
The rate of first-time bar passages for gradates?
Where do most students live and work after graduation?
What types of networking opportunities does this school offer?
All students who consider law school should look at it as an investment. Not only in money but in time and energy.
“Law school is a huge investment of both time and money. And because there’s a good chance that a large portion of your paycheck in the years immediately following graduation will go toward paying down student loans, it’s important to choose a school that will help you earn a premium salary,” Sofi stated.
For students with low LSAT scores or poor grades, they may consider attending a school with lower admission standards. However, as Sofi’s data has shown, this leads to a financial burden down the road, and the only benefactor in the situation is the law schools that collected an astronomical amount of tuition. These types of students are better off saving their money and seeking jobs elsewhere.
What do you think of Sofi’s list of best and worst law schools for ROI? Let us know in the comments below.
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