Next month, graduates will sit through one final lecture. They won’t need to take notes (or worry about being cold called). Instead, their deans will deliver the time-honored graduation speech. Chances are, this address will check off every box in the commencement template.
Deans will salute loved ones and acknowledge sacrifices from this “remarkable journey.” They will tick off accomplishments and anecdotes that reflect the class’ stamina, imagination, and commitment. And they will pose questions that challenge graduates to remain compassionate and courageous. Most annoying, they’ll wax poetic on how law stands between a just society and the abyss.
That will be your last day of law school. As your dean trades in ideals and metaphors, your mind will be centered on more practical concerns: passing the bar, finding a job, and paying off your debt. For new graduates, law is a trade. It is a means to make a living.
TWO-THIRDS OF LAW SCHOOLS REPORT HIGHER PLACEMENT IN 2013
In this area, some schools are better investments than others. Take the Northeastern University School of Law in Boston for example. For $55,000 a year, students can enjoy a 55.5% placement rate within nine months of graduation. Those who land jobs earn just $63,000 to start in the private sector – and carry an average debt of $134,918. Compare that to higher-ranked area programs like Boston University (71.9% placement with $150,000 starting private salaries) and Boston College (71.5% and $145,000). When it comes to debt, Boston University ($107,850) and Boston College ($97,006) are better alternatives too. They yield higher returns and lower costs than Northeastern.
Some prospective students rely on reputation, location, specialties, support, and networks to guide their choice. And each is a valid criterion. By the third year, jobs take priority over all else. Think of the legal job market as musical chairs. Despite shrinking enrollments, there are still more graduates than openings. When the music stops, you’d better have a seat. Sure, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) has reported that average starting salaries for the class of 2013 had climbed from $80,798 to $82,408. Still, just 57% of this class had landed permanent, full-time jobs that required bar passage according to the American Bar Association (ABA). Chances are, job hunting will be the most confusing and time-consuming enterprise you’ll undertake in law school.
So which schools are doing better than others in this area? To compile its 2016 law school rankings, U.S. News & World Report factors in placement rates and starting salaries for the Class of 2013. And you’ll find plenty of good news.
Among top 50 law programs, 34 had increased their placement rates over the previous year (and another 40 had experienced growth over the past three years). Overall, nearly two-thirds (66) of the top 100 programs reported higher nine month placement over the previous year. Similarly, over three-fourths (76) of these schools can tout higher placement in the past three years. At some schools, starting pay has risen as well.
COLUMBIA, VIRGINIA AND PENN AGAN TOP PLACEMENT RATES
When it comes to placement, Columbia University and the University of Virginia again lead the field. This year, each reported a 97.0% placement rate within nine months of graduation. Their secret? Their students already hold jobs at graduation, at a 97.3% (Virginia) and 94.7% (Columbia) clip to be exact. The same applies to the University of Pennsylvania, where nine month placement (96.5%) and graduation placement (95.8%) are also very high. Other programs that maintain nine month placement rates above 90% include: the University of Chicago (96.3%), New York University (95.5%), Harvard (95.0%), Emory University (93.5%), Stanford University (92.8%), Northwestern University (90.8%), Vanderbilt University (90.8%), and the University of California-Berkeley (90.4%).
Alas, each of these programs ranks in the top 20. But there are plenty of schools whose placement outpaces their rank. First and foremost is the University of Kentucky. Despite ranking 63rd overall, the program boasts an 84.2% placement rate, ahead of stalwarts like UCLA, Washington University, and Notre Dame. However, Kentucky is undercut by low starting salaries ($50,000 in the private sector and $41,250 in the public), which each rank among the lowest earnings in the top 100. Florida State, Oklahoma, Louisiana State, and Louisville follow a similar pattern with relatively high placement rates (80%-81%) and very low starting salaries in the private sector ($57,500-$60,000).
In addition, several recognized programs lag behind their peers in placement. The University of California-Hastings is the top 100’s biggest riddle. While its graduates pull down above average $113,750 salaries in the private sector (a $23,500 raise over the previous year), just 47.2% of grads hold jobs within nine months of graduation. This is despite the school earning above average scores from lawyers and judges in U.S. News’ professional survey (even higher than in-state rivals like USC, California-Irvine, and California-Davis). Even more, Hastings grads pass the bar at nearly a 10% better rate than other first-time test-takers in the state.
Other programs with a placement rate below 60% include: Penn State (52.3%), Northeastern University (55.5%), Santa Clara University (56.2%), Michigan State (56.8%), Loyola Marymount (59.1%), and the University of Connecticut (59.9%).
EMORY, VANDERBILT AND INDIANA DRIVING HIGHEST PLACEMENT GROWTH
Higher placement rates mean faster starts for graduates. This, in turn, produces a virtuous cycle where grads gain valuable experience earlier that (in turn) enhances their network, options, and earning power.