For those of you who've accused me of being an Ivory Tower snob about law schools (and probably everything else), I'm eating crow, acknowledging the new political order and making amends to Red State constituents. This time, I'm not writing about those elitist T-14 law schools. Instead, I'm focusing on the forgotten schools—lowered ranked schools that deliver for the consumer.
So here's the news flash: There are a number of not-so-highly ranked schools that managed to get a high percentage (70 percent or more) of their graduates into full-time jobs that require J.D.s or are J.D. advantaged. So take that, you stuck-ups: You don't have to go to a top law school to get a decent job!
Thanks to Daniel Filler, professor of law at Drexel University, we now have a definitive list of law schools based on job placements. (See his Faculty Lounge blog for complete list.)
I've refined Filler's list further (I only considered schools ranked No. 50 or worse on U.S. News & World Report) to come up with the 10 most underrated law schools in the land:
Job Placement Rank US News Rank Law School % Employed
2 60 Kentucky 92%
12 65 Seton Hall 87
15 55 Baylor 86
21 57 Nebraska 84
21 86 Arkansas-Fayetteville 84
25 86 Tulsa 83
29 100 Indiana-Indianapolis 82
29 111 Idaho 82
29 103 Florida International 82
37 74 St. John's 81
Let me repeat: There are three regional schools (Kentucky, Seton Hall and Baylor) that landed in the top 15 for job placement! Kentucky (127 grads), which is nestled between Duke and Cornell for the highest percentage of jobs, benefits from being "dominant in the region," says Filler.
But the school that Filler calls the "unsung hero" is Baylor (108 grads) because Texas is a competitive markets filled with law schools. Despite placing 86 percent of its graduates, Baylor is still a very regional school, says Filler, where "96 of their grads were employed in Texas, and there wasn’t a single other state in which more than one Baylor grad was employed."
A trait often shared by schools that outperformed their ranking is that their placement offices work hard at getting jobs for graduates. "Seton Hall invests a lot of energy and resources into job placement," says Filler. "Kudos to them for doing so." He says that's also true for Drexel, where he teaches, which is second only to Penn for job placements in Pennsylvania. (Ranked #111, Drexel boasts a 79 percent placement rate, while Penn's is 93 percent.) "What that says is that once you have a good law school in place, you don’t need a long history or a massive alumni base to deliver jobs," explains Filler.
Does this mean that the much-touted T-14 schools are overrated and that rankings are meaningless? No.
If you want to make the big bucks of Big Law, the gold standard is still US News' top 15-20 schools, says Filler. In fact, the further down you go on the rankings, the more remote your chances of getting one of those big law firm jobs. "Anyone who chooses US News #30 over #100 because they think it’s going pay off for them in Big Law is being a bit unrealistic," he says. "I didn’t put those numbers out, but they’re pretty stark."
My takeaway from all this: If your career goals are modest, you don't have to go to a top school to be gainfully employed. That said, I'd pick a second or third tier school very carefully, looking closely at the percentage of graduates in full-time J.D. jobs and doing due diligence on their placement offices.
And if you do go to a regional law school, make sure you're happy about staying local.
That means no complaining about spending the rest of your life in Omaha, Boise or Indianapolis. Got that?