Thinking About Your Job Prospects When Choosing Law School

These days, if you’re considering law school, your job prospects upon earning your degree remain a big point of discussion. And well they should. The job market remains tough and the debt you incur during law school will be there for a while when you graduate — whether you have a job or not.

Back in July, we posted on this topic, observing that “the business of law school has been getting a fair share of attention lately,” and that escalating tuition costs, increased student debt loads and the employment data reported by law schools – and what all that means – were a hot topic.  Specifically, we pointed to the following:

• The New York Times, published an article Law School Economics: Ka-Ching!, where David Segal wrote that “[l]egal diplomas have such allure that law schools have been able to jack up tuition four times faster than the soaring cost of college. And many law schools have added students to their incoming classes — a step that, for them, means almost pure profits — even during the worst recession in the legal profession’s history. . . In short, law schools have the power to raise prices and expand in ways that would make any company drool. And when a business has that power, it is apparently difficult to resist.”

• Commenting on a May 2011 NYT article, Law Students Lose the Grant Game as Law Schools Win, the WSJ Law Blog posted that “some schools lure top students with offers of merit scholarships that pay thousands of dollars annually. The schools bolster their U.S. News rankings by attracting academic overachievers, but there’s a catch: the students must maintain high GPAs to retain their scholarships, which students often are unable to do partly because schools grade on a curve, thus ensuring that only a small percentage of student will earn the sort of grades needed to retain their scholarship money, according to the Times.”

• Last year, two Vanderbilt law students started an effort — Law School Transparency — to collect more accurate employment data from law schools.

• The ABA Council on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has taken steps to approve new standards to report law school placement data. The new reporting rules, which have been reported on extensively by Law School Transparency, will require schools to report jobs data on whether a new J.D. grad is employed in a job requiring bar passage, in a job for which a J.D. is preferred, in another professional job, in a nonprofessional job, or in a job of unknown type. For those that are not employed, the categories of possible responses are will be pursuing a graduate degree, unemployed not seeking, unemployed seeking, or status unknown. In addition, the schools will have to report if the jobs are full time or part time and long term or short term. Schools will also need to indicate the number of jobs that are funded by the law school or university. Jobs will be broken down further in law firms of various sizes, business and industry, government, public interest, judicial clerkships, academia, and employer type unknown.”

Since our postThe Wall Street Journal reported that disgruntled law graduates had filed suit in Michigan and New York, seeking to recover hundreds of millions in tuition and alleging that two schools, New York Law School, and Thomas S. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich. , had distorted post-graduate employment information and inflated graduates’ average salaries.

Given all the talk on this topic, prospective law students might be interested in resources that can shed some light on career prospects for recent law grads.  That’s where the “best career prospects” ranking given to ten law schools in Princeton Review’s newly released guide,  The Best 167 Law Schools, 2012 Edition, might come in handy.

Since 1993, Princeton Review, a test prep and educational services company, has been putting out a law school guide. While for many years the guides included ratings for such things as academic experience, quality of life and best professors, in recent years the guides have also ranked career prospects for graduates.

In compiling the rankings, Princeton Review used both institutional data released by schools and surveys it collected from 18,000 students who attend the 167 schools in the guide. From the schools, Princeton Review got data that includes: average starting salary of graduating students, percent of students employed nine months after graduation, percent of students who pass the bar exam the first time they take it. From students, Princeton Review used survey data that asked students how much their law schools offer and encourage practical experience, how students rate their schools’ opportunities for judicial externships, internships and clerkships, and how prepared the students feel they are to practice law after graduating.

Northwestern University School of Law in Evanston, Ill. tops the list of schools. According to data provided by Northwestern, 93% of grads find a job when they’re out of school for nine months, and the average starting salary is $130,557. Ninety-five percent pass the bar exam on the first try. The majority, 58%, work in private practice, and 6% in the public interest realm. Princeton Review reports that annual tuition, room, board, books and fees come to almost $71,000 and the average student carries a debt of $127,000 at graduation.

University of Chicago Law School comes in second second place in the career prospect category.  Ninety-nine percent of grads find jobs by the time they’re nine months out, the average starting salary is $160,000 and 98% pass the bar the first time they take it. Total for annual tuition, room, board, books and fees: $61,000 with the average student debt coming to $128,000. Though those numbers look even stronger than Northwestern, David Soto, Princeton Review’s director of rankings and ratings says Northwestern edged out University of Chicago on the student surveys. Seventy percent of University of Chicago law school graduates wind up in private practice and 8%, in public interest work. The average debt upon graduation from University of Chicago: $128,000.

Coming in third in the survey, is Columbia University School of Law, also with 99% of graduates finding work once they’ve been out of school for nine months, an average starting salary of $160,000 and a 96% first-time bar exam pass rate. Total cost at Columbia for tuition, room, board, books and fees: $70,500. The average graduate has a debt of $125,000.

You can hear more about the Princeton Review rankings, how they are compiled, and how they can be used, by listening to our podcast, Law School Rankings: What Do the Numbers Mean? Princeton Review’s Senior Vice President-Publishing, Robert Franek, was a guest on that show.