In terms of boosting placement, look no further than Vanderbilt University. In 2012, Vanderbilt churned out a respectable 74.5% placement rate. A year later, that number jumped to 90.8%. Overall, nearly a third of 2013 Vandy grads work in government, public interest, and judicial clerkships. And 100% of them passed the Tennessee bar in 2013. Talk about a special class (especially since 86% of the next class passed the bar). And employers obviously picked up on that. However, these accomplishments were offset by declining starting salaries, which fell from $130,000 to $110,000 in the private sector from the previous year. And that’s never helpful at a school where student debt averages $122,327 (despite 96.4% of students receiving grants).
While Indiana University (Maurer) dropped five spots to 34th in the latest U.S. News rankings, their placement rose substantially. Last year, Indiana was weighed down by a 64.7% placement rate, lower than the University of New Mexico and the Illinois Institute of Technology. However, the school bounced back in 2016 with an 80.5% placement rate within nine months of graduation. And average starting salaries (private sector) climbed $10,000 for Indiana grads as well.
Most impressive, however, was Atlanta’s Emory University, which pulled off a double play. Ranked 19th overall for the second consecutive year, Emory’s placement rate vaulted from 78.6% to 93.5%, placing the school higher than Yale, Michigan, and Duke in this category. What’s more, starting private sector salaries for Emory’s class of 2013 skyrocketed from $100,000 to $135,000, representing a 26% increase. The University of Colorado (14.4%), the University of Oregon (13.8%), Brooklyn Law (11.5%), Arizona State (11.2%), Loyola Marymount (11.2%), and the University of Illinois (10.7%) also enjoyed double digit growth in placement.
Conversely, a handful of schools witnessed a double digit decline in nine month placement over the past year. These programs include: Wake Forest University (-14.6%), Penn State University (-12.6%), and the University of Connecticut (-10.5%).
Over the past three years, the University of Illinois has made the biggest head way in placement, rising from 56.3% to 78.8%. In the same period, you’ll also find heavy improvement from the Georgetown Law Center (18.7%), Brigham Young University (18.2%), the University of Washington (17.7%), Emory University (17.5%), UCLA (17.4%), the University of South Carolina (16.1%), the College of William & Mary (15.8%), Case Western Reserve (15.5%), and the University of Kansas (15.0%). These improvements are especially impressive when you consider that the latest U.S. News rankings discounted university-funded positions in its placement metrics.
Among schools where nine month placement dropped over the past three years, the decline was relatively minimal. For example, placement only fell by three percent or less among nine of the 17 schools experiencing a decline. The biggest plunges were sported by the University of Arizona (-8.4%), West Virginia University (-6.1%), University of Louisville (-6.1%), the University of Richmond (-5.3%), and the University of California-Hastings (-4.4%). Compared to the 26 schools with double digit placement growth over the past three years, you could argue that the law school hiring hit rock bottom in 2011-2012 – and is starting to roar back (for top 100 programs at least).
BOSTON COLLEGE AND HOUSTON GRADS AMONG SURPRISE BIG EARNERS
If you attend a T14 school, you can expect $160,000 to start in big law. That’s been a tenet for years. And 2016 isn’t any different. The top 16 schools list $160,000 as the average starting pay in the private sector. How accurate is the number? Think of it more as a badge that confers membership in an exclusive club. This year, two schools outside the top 20 cracked it. They are 22nd-ranked George Washington and 34th-ranked Fordham. That said, one member of this elite group – the University of Southern California – fell out, with the starting salaries tumbling from $160,000 to $152,000.
Outside of the top 20, there are 16 schools where students pull six figure incomes after graduation (in the private sector at least). And the biggest name is the University of Houston Law Center. Ranked 59th overall, 2013 graduates are already earning $135,000 (though only two-thirds are working in jobs requiring bar passage). The school’s pedestrian 77.8% placement rate after nine months should also serve as a caveat.
The College of William & Mary is another success story. Over the past year, starting salaries have risen from $98,000 to $120,000 at the school. At the same time, the University of Alabama, a rising power over the past five years, saw private sector pay climb from $77,500 to $105,000 over the previous year. Other programs outside the top 20 where students earn six figures to start include: Boston University, Boston College, the University of California-Irvine, University of Wisconsin, University of North Carolina, University of Arizona, University of California-Hastings, University of Notre Dame, University of Washington, University of New Hampshire, Seton Hall University, Rutgers University (Newark), and Santa Clara University.
However, not all graduates enjoyed major pay raises. At the 20th-ranked University of Minnesota, for example, starting pay fell from $102,000 to $89,000 for the class of 2013. At the same time, Brigham Young graduates also took home less than the previous class, slipping from $100,000 to $90,000.
PRIVATE SCHOOLS DOMINATE HIGHEST PAYING PUBLIC SECTOR JOBS
Not surprisingly, the worst-paying programs (in the private sector) were public schools far removed from major metropolitan areas. Aside from the University of Kentucky, the lowest-paying schools include: the University of Nebraska ($52,000), the University of Buffalo ($53,250), and the University of Hawai’i ($54,756).
In the public sector, four elite private schools – Cornell, USC, Harvard, and Yale – produced the highest salaries (between $61,000-$65,000 to start). For bargains, consider Santa Clara University and the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville), where grads make $60,500 and $60,000 respectively. What’s the difference between the schools? Santa Clara’s debt load is nearly double that of the University of Arkansas ($136,990 vs. $63,541). Not to mention, Arkansas grads pass the bar at a 13.8% higher rate.
With 2013 graduates making an average income of $38,500, the University of Louisville is the worst place to go for the public sector. However, the program is closely trailed by the University of Tulsa ($40,000), the University of South Carolina ($40,334), and the University of Pittsburgh ($41,184).
(See the following pages for the placement rates and private and public sector salaries for the top 100 law programs).