Real jobs. Good pay. Low debt.
These are the key benchmarks behind Above The Law’s annual law school ranking. Forget decorative inputs like LSAT scores or subjective measures like academic opinion. They don’t answer the big question: Is law school worth it? Just as important: Can I afford it?
As an education investment, you won’t find a safer bet than Yale Law. Thanks to its elite student body and sterling reputation among academics and practitioners alike, Yale Law has reigned as U.S. News & World Report’s top law program for nearly three decades running. When it comes to landing the best jobs at the highest pay at a reasonable cost, Yale Law again stands out from its peer schools — ranking as the top law school in the country according to Above The Law (ATL).
Consider it a return to normal after Yale Law tumbled from 1st to 5th in the 2015 ATL rankings. In a bit of irony, the top 2015 school, Harvard Law, took the same plunge to 5th in the 2016 rankings. Stanford Law, Chicago Law, and Penn Law held the 2nd through 4th spots, respectively, for the second consecutive year.
RANKING MEASURES WHAT MATTERS MOST: RESULTS
You can think of ATL as the “output ranking” — a meat-and-potatoes rubric hyperfocused on identifying the law schools where law graduates hit the ground running. Compiling data from sources like the American Bar Association, National Law Journal, and Law School Transparency, ATL evaluates schools in eight all-important categories.
The largest two are employment and quality jobs, which each account for a 30% weight. Employment covers full-time, long-term positions, excluding temporary jobs (along with those that don’t require bar passage or are school-funded). Quality jobs include graduate employment at the 250 “BigLaw” firms and federal judicial clerkships. It makes sense: The former is known for high pay and stability, while the latter confers a prestige and Rolodex that makes these graduates highly coveted over time.
Another 15% of the ATL ranking is devoted to the total cost — tuition and living expenses — of a three-year stint at each school. This gives students a clear idea of how much to budget (and how much debt they’ll amass) over time. Beyond these three categories, ATL also mixes in alumni judgeships, graduate clerkships, debt-per-job ratio, and salary-to-debt ratio, with each carrying a 5% weight.
Despite its quant leanings, ATL doesn’t eschew survey data entirely. Instead, ATL conducts a confidential alumni survey, where respondents rate their programs in areas like academics, financial aid, social life, and clinical training. However, the survey (as a whole) only informs 5% of the ratings. That’s a sharp deviation from U.S. News & World Report’s popular law school ranking, where a 40% weight is given to survey data from academic peers and lawyers and judges. Even more, another 25% of U.S. News’s rank is based on inputs like LSAT scores, undergraduate GPAs, and acceptance rates — data points that have little direct correlation to the likelihood and quality of employment.
Couple that with U.S. News’s 15% weight on faculty resources, and nearly three-fourths of its ranking has little to do with what law applicants worry about most: jobs.
And outcomes are more important than ever. According to ATL’s research on the nearly 40,000 law school graduates from the Class of 2015, just 59% found jobs that required a JD. Another 10% were unemployed. A 2015 ATL applicant survey also found that employment, large firm placement, federal clerkships, and cost were the four most relevant factors in choosing a law school. In other words, the ATL ranking is more in tune with the market — law school candidates — than its U.S. News counterpart.
YALE’S LOWER DEBT TIED TO MORE GENEROUS SUPPORT AND LOWER COSTS
In terms of giving the market what it wants most, Yale Law leads the pack. So what sets them apart? That’s hard to explain in one succinct statement. When it comes to total cost, Yale Law’s $282,077 average ranks third-lowest among the L14 schools. Tuition-wise, Yale Law’s $58,000 price tag lines up with its peers. For financial aid, Yale is a shade more generous than the other top five ATL schools, with 59.6% of the 2018 Class earning grants worth $22,997 on average. Compare that to Stanford (48.6% at $22,399), Chicago (75.9% at $15,000), Penn (48.1% at $18,775), and Harvard (47.8% at $21,080) and Yale comes out on top across the board.
The annual cost of room and board, books, and miscellaneous expenses at Yale Law ($20,176) also is lower than the likes of Stanford ($29,644), Chicago ($24,564), Penn ($23,312), and Harvard ($26,758), according to the most recent school-supplied data to U.S. News.
Better financial aid and lower cost of living means Yale Law boasts the lowest average debt among ATL’s top five law schools, at $122,796 (with 75.6% of students accruing some debt). That beats out Stanford ($132,970 at 78.9%), Chicago ($129,636 at 67.8%), Penn ($144,153 at 73.7%), and Harvard ($149,754 at 72.2%). More impressive, Yale Law dominates in prepping students for federal clerkships. Over a third of the 2015 class — 33.8% — found work here (up 7% from 2014), edging out Stanford (26.2%) and Harvard (19%) for top honors.
Technically, however, these areas have always played to Yale’s strengths. The real driver behind Yale’s return to the top lies in its LST score — a formula that removes jobs that are part-time, short-term, solo practice, school-funded, or don’t require bar passage. In 2015, Yale Law sunk to an all-time low of 71%. This year, Yale popped back up to 84%, making it at least competitive with Stanford (88%), Chicago (94%), Penn (92%), and Harvard (89%).
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