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Lifestyle Law Schools--University of Texas or NYU?

Vivia Chen

July 13, 2011

Texas What's the endgame of going to law school? Getting the highest-paying job possible in the most glam city in the land? Or settling down to a nice standard of living?

If "standard of living" (we'll debate what that means later) is your thing, you might as well toss that acceptance letter from NYU School of Law into the garbage, and Fedex your deposit check to the University of Texas Law School tout de suite.

That's more or less the advice of The National Jurist, which ranked law schools according to the standard of living of their graduates. Weighing "median starting salaries, average debt payments, estimated federal and state taxes, and cost of living adjustments for the regions where graduates were employed," the study ranked 50 law schools.

Here are the top ten law schools for graduates' standard of living:

1.  University of Texas
2.  University of Georgia
3.  Vanderbilt University
4.  University of Virginia
5.  Northwestern University
6.  University of Chicago
7.  University of North Carolina
8.  University of Michigan
9.  Washington University in St. Louis
10. Duke University

Graduates of UT "take home a net of $101,308 after debt and taxes, and modifying for cost of living adjustments," reports The National Jurist. "More than half of the schools in the study netted less than half of that amount, with six lower than $25,000."

NYU-Law Rock bottom on the list is NYU School of Law--my alma mater. Even though it's ranked sixth in the nation in U.S. News & World Report and sends truckloads of grads to Gotham's powerhouse firms, NYU grads are losers when it comes to living well.

"Cost of living adjustments had significant negative impact on schools in California and the Northeast, especially New York law schools," reports The National Jurist. (Columbia Law School, which was not on the list, presumably would also score low in this study.) And though the study didn't say where the graduates ended up working, my assumption is that most UT grads ended up in Texas, and most NYU grads stayed in New York.

Which brings me back to one of my favorite debates: How do you judge standard of living? By most normal measures, New Yorkers are seriously deprived. It's probably the only city where some big firm associates actually lived better in their undergraduate days.

Grimy streets, infernal subways, whopping taxes, and relentless competition--New York is a tough place to eke out a living. So why do we put up with all this? Are we masochists?

Honestly, there's no rational answer. But for me, it's hard imagining living anywhere else.



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That UT and UVA are high on this list is not surprising at all. Those are "elite" schools for the markets they predominantly serve, and you can indeed live the high life in Dallas or Richmond, much less quainter places like Charlotsville or the Texas Hill Country. Once you get out of major cities the cost of living plummets -- thus, if you're working, say, at an "insurance defense" firm making $125,000/year as a young, 7th year partner, your buying power is about the same as if you were making $300k in Manhattan, 225 in Chicago. Many people don't want to live in Texas Hill Country, or Omaha, however. So be it. The lesson is that for those aspiring law students who are from fly-over country and wouldn't mind living there, DO NOT take on loads of debt to attend a US News high ranking school. Just go to the best local school you can. If you want to be the governor of Iowa one day, the Univ. of Ioway is your best shot -- but Drake is also a MUCH better choice than, say, Boalt Hall or NYU. The only schools worth going to other than your local school are Harvard, Yale or Columbia. Period.

"As a UT grad from a couple of decades ago . . . that has rebounded to the benefit of local schools like NYU and Fordham."

I suspect you're not totally aware of the caliber of NYU's law school these days.

As someone who has lived in NYC, LA, and TX (Austin and Houston), I'm able to afford a lot more on my legal salary in Texas than I ever could on the East or West coast. It's so nice to be completely debt-free and in a nice house in a great neighborhood inside the city by age 30 (and no, my parents did not foot the bill for any of my tuition).

BostonT is wrong. NR is wronger. There is so much more to Austin than those events. The hill country. Miles and miles of hiking and biking trails. Kayaking on the river. Even crew. The usual cultural events - ballet, symphony, etc. I think you'll change your mind if you visit for a while. Hope you do.

And the gun -toting rednecks are in the rest of Texas. ATX is an island of blue in a sea of red.

The ONLY good thing about Austin is SXSW (annual music and film convention) -- period. Other than that, it's replete with taco stands and ATMs on every corner, a host of well-known but unremarkable chain restaurants, and hoards of UT undergrads on 6th Street. It is a boring place for those who enjoy natural scenery, culture, and outdoor activities besides two-stepping and getting drunk. Even Nashville is more fun.

The first part of Arthur's final assertion is incorrect. Tuition at NYU Law and UT Law (non-residents) is roughly equivalent.
Compare: http://www.utexas.edu/law/finaid/costs/ with http://www.law.nyu.edu/financialaid/budgetandbudgeting/studentexpensebudget/index.htm
At least UT still gives a decent benefit to its in-state residents. My alma mater, Michigan Law, no longer gives much of a discount.

I think that was fairly obvious. What is not so obvious is why you think UT is the only school on this list that skewed their statistics in such a manner. This is a trademark of law school career centers across the country.

One consideration of the study was to compare the average net income of the graduates. It reports UT's as $101,308 and praises UT for it. Unfortunately, when reaching this number, UT does not take into account graduates with part time jobs, contractual jobs, or internships with employers that graduates are taking in which UT is paying. In calculating this number, UT only takes into account full-time jobs, so this number does not paint an accurate picture of the salaries of UT graduates.

I encourage all New Yorkers to STAY IN NEW YORK!

NR clearly knows nothing about Austin, Texas.

The need for talent redounds to the benefit of local schools, not rebounds.

New York is where I'd rather stay. I get alergic smelling hay. I just adore that penthouse view, darling I love you but give me Park Avenue!

I thought NYU was higher than six. You forgot to mention its strong commitment to public interest lawyering which brings down the average income. Loved your ending!

It comes down to what kind of lifestyle you want and what culture you're comfortable with, as we were discussing the other day about Nebraska. With Nebraska, Texas, NY or anywhere else, some will love it and some will hate it.
I think it's well worth the effort to make sure you end up in a place where you enjoy the culture, people and leisure activities. The best decision I ever made was moving from Kansas to Chicago. And I was so young and clueless back then! I knew nothing, only that I wanted to live in a big city.
I like subways better than messing with a car and traffic - I like a cozy apartment better than a big high-maintenance house - and I love being able to see and talk to people everywhere I go - in front of my building, on the bus, etc. The big city is perfect for me. :-)

As a UT grad from a couple of decades ago, but who has practiced (and still practices) at well-known NY and DC firms, I'm not sure that either credential is better than the other. Quality of life is more about where you choose to live when you get out of school. When the NY firms are hiring, they need lots of talent, and that has rebounded to the benefit of local schools like NYU and Fordham, but when that is the case they will hire UT grads just the same. I suspect that when the Dallas and Houston firms are hiring, then they are about as likely to take NYU grads as UT ones. Of course, UT is a lot cheaper, and Austin is a pretty nice place.

The study failed to take into account the gun-toting redneck factor.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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