Cost-Benefit Analysis of American Law Schools

Compiled in 1996, the following table re-ranks "the top 50 law schools"--as designated by U. S. News & World Report--in terms of cost-of-living adjusted median salary, ranked from lowest to highest.

For the cost-of-living data, the average of the COL indices available was used for all cities in the state where the law school is located, with seven exceptions. For Yale, University of Connecticut, Harvard, and Rutgers-Newark, the New York cost-of-living average was used. For Duke, University of Virginia, and Vanderbilt, the Washington, D. C. cost-of-living average was used.

Obviously, the table below is only a rough approximation, but it reflects the reality that most schools in the top 50 have a primarily regional reach. This view is borne out by the employment location data for each school, as supplied in the directory portion of the 1996 USN&WR Best Graduate Schools Special Edition, the source for most of the data. The majority of the cost-of-living indices are pulled from the ACCRA homepage and reflect the cost-of-living in each state's larger MSAs, which is where the NALP firms are almost always located. For those few states without even one representative MSA on the current ACCRA homepage (Q4 1995), the ACCRA data (Q1 1994) was substituted from Table 766 in the 1995 edition of the Statistical Abstract of the U.S. As all figures are normalized to 100, the national average COL for that period, merging the two data sets probably has a negligible impact on the results.

CAVEAT: Any cost-benefit analysis of this sort is necessarily incomplete for at least three noteworthy reasons. Firstly, the rankings do not take into account grants that knock down the "sticker" price. Secondly, the rankings ignore subsequent raises and partnership earning potential, etc. Lastly, calculating a median starting salary for each school depends upon recent graduates' providing salary information to their school. To the extent a lower percentage of graduates disclose salary information to their school, results may be skewed. All of these objections are valid.

What the table below attempts to do is to create a first-draft analysis based upon widely available data. It is by no means perfect, but, perhaps, it is better than operating wholly in the dark. These rankings are intended to give potential students an idea of the value of a median starting salary if they plan to practice in the same region in which the law school is located. Lastly, this analysis has been included in the ILRG as a public service. The inclusion of it does not constitute an endorsement of the methodology.

New Rank
U. S. News & World Report Rank)
School NameSTEnroll-mentAvg. SalaryCost of
 6 Months
 Room & Board
 Total Cost
 for Loan
 for Loan
Annual Pay-
ment as % of Start-ing Salary
Annual Payment
as % of COL
Adjusted Salary
1 (27)U. of GeorgiaGA64158,00058,46846%92%26%8,2372,9556,84045,2315556,65711.48%11.39%
2 (32)BYUUT46145,50047,54454%95%52%4,600 8,35038,8504775,71812.57%12.03%
3 (46)U. of HoustonTX81152,00054,62252%86%18%8,8384,9639,08653,7726607,91415.22%14.49%
4 (18)U. of TexasTX146853,00055,67280%89%75%11,3605,34010,15264,5367929,49917.92%17.06%
5 (48)Ohio StateOH69150,00050,55634%87%65%13,9805,8607,33063,9307849,40918.82%18.61%
6 (25)Notre DameIN54057,00059,06785%95%27%18,420 7,15076,71094111,29019.81%19.11%
7 (47)U. of Tenn. - KnoxvilleTN47738,00038,65739%92%29%8,9583,5648,07451,0966277,52019.79%19.45%
8 (40)U. of FloridaFL108243,40042,36245%86%40%10,7763,3967,92056,0886888,25519.02%19.49%
9 (34)UNC - Chapel HillNC69645,00044,95568%83%12%12,3972,2438,72863,3757779,32820.73%20.75%
10 (9)U. of VirginiaVA115275,50061,18392%97%41%18,69410,29010,13586,4871,06112,72916.86%20.81%
11 (23)U. of WashingtonWA50950,00048,54477%87%60%11,8934,78911,05368,83884410,13220.26%20.87%
12 (36)U. of UtahUT36640,00041,79761%90%47%10,1164,51610,14360,7777458,94522.36%21.40%
13 (20)Washington and LeeVA37350,00050,05072%88%71%15,471 8,89573,09889710,75921.52%21.50%
14 (30)William & MaryVA52454,00054,05480%93%35%16,3246,07410,13079,36297311,68121.63%21.61%
15 (33)U. of IowaIA68244,00044,31065%85%42%12,8764,6608,82065,0887989,58021.77%21.62%
16 (50)U. of ArizonaAZ48044,00043,39351%87%66%9,9783,95011,85065,4848039,63821.90%22.21%
17 (21)U. of MinnesotaMN81146,00045,59095%93%19%14,1248,2288,96469,26485010,19422.16%22.36%
18 (19)U. of IL - UrbanaIL62353,00043,58687%94%37%14,1365,0008,24467,1408239,88218.65%22.67%
19 (37)Ind. U. at Bloom.IN61542,25043,78283%87%31%12,9904,9269,51167,5038289,93523.52%22.69%
20 (43)U. of Wisconsin - Mad.WI88446,00042,99175%85%61%13,4885,2118,83066,9548219,85521.42%22.92%
21 (12)UC BerkeleyCA85867,00052,73589%94%53%16,4998,80010,89782,1881,00812,09718.05%22.94%
22 (17)UCLACA92470,00055,09659%92%43%16,4818,78213,14888,8871,09013,08318.69%23.75%
23 (7)U. of MI - Ann ArborMI111770,00060,39781%92%42%22,02015,82012,180102,6001,25815,10121.57%25.00%
24 (14)NorthwesternIL60670,00057,56688%89%40%20,128 12,53297,9801,20214,42120.60%25.05%
25 (23)EmoryGA73052,00052,41969%92%30%19,600 10,82091,2601,11913,43225.83%25.62%
26 (3)StanfordCA57071,00055,88499%96%40%22,350 10,50698,5681,20914,50820.43%25.96%
27 (45)UC HastingsCA120966,00051,94856%74%70%15,8748,17514,80192,0251,12913,54520.52%26.07%
28 (12)GeorgetownDC152673,00059,15798%94%34%21,280 13,790105,2101,29015,48521.21%26.18%
29 (42)Rutgers - NewarkNJ73462,00034,58953%88%15%12,2438,4888,36361,8187589,09914.68%26.31%
30 (4)U of ChicagoIL54470,00057,56685%96%45%21,528 12,837103,0951,26415,17421.68%26.36%
31 (44)Case WesternOH62047,00047,52350%86%31%18,300 10,07085,1101,04412,52726.65%26.36%
32 (8)U. of PennsylvaniaPA74170,00054,94592%94%32%20,664 12,786100,3501,23114,77021.10%26.88%
33 (50)VillanovaPA69062,20048,82335%87%6%17,200 12,59089,3701,09613,15421.15%26.94%
34 (49)TulaneLA101353,00052,52769%76%36%21,286 11,03096,9481,18914,26926.92%27.17%
34 (15)USCCA63470,00055,09675%94%54%21,566 12,596102,4861,25715,08421.55%27.38%
36 (16)VanderbiltTN55962,00050,24376%95%47%19,750 12,50096,7501,18714,24022.97%28.34%
37 (29)Boston UMA109868,00048,95664%83%40%19,676 11,84094,5481,16013,91620.46%28.43%
38 (10)DukeNC59363,00051,05398%98%67%21,200 11,92399,3691,21914,62523.21%28.65%
39 (41)UC DavisCA46351,00040,14290%81%63%16,4958,7969,55578,15095911,50222.55%28.65%
40 (22)George WashingtonDC131066,00053,48589%92%45%21,092 13,680104,3161,27915,35423.26%28.71%
41 (35)Wake ForestNC47340,00039,96081%93%16%16,600 11,10083,1001,01912,23130.58%30.61%
42 (1)YaleCT57382,00045,74695%99%39%21,660 10,55096,6301,18514,22217.34%31.09%
43 (26)Boston CollegeMA82962,00044,63678%87%30%20,180 11,60595,3551,17014,03522.64%31.44%
44 (39)U CO at BoulderCO49835,00033,68670%79%40%14,6304,39410,10074,19091010,92031.20%32.42%
45 (5)ColumbiaNY107183,00046,30485%96%30%23,178 12,000105,5341,29415,53318.71%33.55%
46 (6)NYUNY133085,00047,420100%97%25%22,144 14,485109,8871,34816,17419.03%34.11%
47 (31)Washington Univ.MO62242,00043,79663%93%55%19,380 15,331104,1331,27715,32736.49%35.00%
48 (11)CornellNY56770,00039,05275%95%43%21,135 11,76598,7001,21114,52720.75%37.20%
49 (2)HarvardMA165872,00040,16787%97%28%20,500 13,790102,8701,26215,14121.03%37.69%
50 (28)FordhamNY112767,50037,65783%92%47%20,499 14,426104,7751,28515,42122.85%40.95%
51 (38)U CTCT42558,00032,35750%88%25%21,19410,13613,200103,1821,26615,18726.18%46.93%