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Nine Law Schools to Avoid

Vivia Chen

March 28, 2012

Piggy©zimmytws-Fotolia.comListen up, aspiring law students and nagging parents. Before you send in your application fee or deposit check, make sure these law schools aren't on your list.

I'm not just talking about the obvious—poorly ranked law schools  (or schools so dubious that their rankings are not published—"RNPs"). The ones that should be avoided like STDs have another trait: They are also ridiculously expensive to boot. So here's the ultimate don't-go-to list, courtesy of U.S. News & World Report

Law School                 
Tuition & Fees   
Average Debt   
US News Rank
John Marshall (IL) $38,100 $165,178 129
California Western $42,600 $153,145 RNP
Thomas Jefferson $41,000 $153,006 RNP
American $45,096 $151,318 49
New York Law School $47,800 $146,230 135
Phoenix $37,764 $145,357 RNP
Southwestern $42,200 $142,606 129
Catholic $41,830 $142,222 82
Pace $40,730 $139,007 142

The list of “ten law schools that lead to the most debt” in U.S. News also includes Northwestern University Law School. But I think you'll agree we should give Northwestern a pass because it ranks in the top ten, and its grads do well in the job market. (Arguably, it's also unfair to lump American University Law School in this group because it did make the top 50—barely.)

To keep it all in perspective, remember that students overall graduated with an average debt of $100,584. But in this list, the average debt burden was $147,717!

As for the "good value" law schools, where the average debt is around $38,000, U.S. News offers these choices:

Law School                   
Tuition & Fees   
Average Debt   
US News Rank
Georgia State $14,770 $19,971 58
Southern $10,124 $22,138 RNP
Rutgers-Camden $25,464 $27,423 99
Texas Southern $16,262 $32,449 RNP
Drexel $36,051 $33,562 119
Barry $33,630 $41,190 RNP
Kansas $16,460 $41,574 89
Nebraska $13,887 $52,396 89
SUNY-Buffalo $20,718 $52,447 82
BYU $10,600 $54,766 39

Low-ranking schools dominate this "value" list as well (only Brigham Young hit the top 50), which, to me, means you might as well blow your money on lottery tickets.  I realize, however, that I'm making a gross generalization, and that I'm too New York-centric about the legal market. So if you really want to be a lawyer and you didn't get into a top school, the schools above serve their purpose (although I can't in good conscience advise anyone to go to an unrated school). At least you won't feel totally ripped off if you do go.

U.S. News also offers a list of schools that delivers both value and financial rewards upon graduation, based on median private-sector salary to debt ratio in 2010. Of all the law school data that U.S. News offers, I find this list highly dubious. For instance, number one on this coveted list is unranked Southern University Law Center , which claims a median salary $100,000 for its graduates. Also on the list are eighty-fourth-ranked Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey—Camden School of Law ($115,000 median salary); sixty-fifth-ranked University of Cincinnati College of Law ($115,000 median salary); and 143rd-ranked Loyola University New Orleans School of Law ($84,500 median salary).

Bottom-ranking law schools where the median salary is six figures? Yeah, sure.

I hate to sound like a naysayer (which you know I am) about the legal academic industrial complex, but let me give you my rule of thumb: Believe the negative stuff but don't buy anything that sounds too good to be true.

Hat tip: Wall Street Journal Law Blog and TaxProf Blog.

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Taft Law school is an online and I am in my third and final year, but I can attest that what we learn is equivalent to any law school in the country, and we do any and all exams that regular day time law school students go through equally.

Best of luck

I too am also curious about the online option, I've heard of Concord, Taft Law School, I guess that's it. It seems relevant and timely to gauge the effectiveness of online law learning. For most people becoming a lawyer is their way of aiding in the public good. I'd like to become rich, sure, but helping those who really need my help is very satisfying and and full of gratification. i imagine they're cheaper. Well anyways, I'll be checking back to see if you have decided too check this sector out and by the way I do like your column..')

My daughter is contemplating Roger Willaims Law versus Suffolk Law. She has toured both after acceptance and is now trying to decide. Does any one have good useful info to help us decide as it is a huge commitment. She is interested in criminal law.

It seems to me that Vivia should be working at Above the Law, where this type of superficial reporting is king.

In all candor Ms. Chen, I must wholeheartedly agree with Benjamin's comment.

There is significant spinning of the findings of the US News list going on in your article. So much so that, if you weren't engaged in DISCOURAGING people from attending schools (but instead, were ENCOURAGING people to attend particulars school [and were associated with said schools]), I would be afraid for you...Misrepresentation

Therefore, it's good that, you are not creating exposure for ALM. Then again, maybe you are...

I agree that the debt amount is of no relevance to value.
The fact that rich young people - or people who've worked and saved for a few years before law school - attend in greater numbers may drive down the debt number, but it means nothing about the value someone else will get.
Indeed, disproportionately high debt numbers may simply prove that people have found you get MORE value at the school than its other numbers would indicate - i.e. that the school is worth borrowing more for.
For every ranking system, there are big flaws. This one's obvious.

Due respect Ms. Chen, but you have terribly misrepresented the US News list. The US News list to which you cite and draw support does not list these schools as schools to avoid. Rather, it states that their graduates have the most debt. That is all the list says; it does not include a judgment on whether or not these schools are good value or offer top notch education. Moreover, all of these schools are in large cities (Washington, DC, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, etc.). Tuition is almost always higher in a large city. Your list also does not take into account employment opportunities or reputation. For example, American Law puts a substantial emphasis on public interest law and government service, placing very well in the highly competitive D.C. market. It also places a fair number of graduates at big firms throughout the north east. Frankly, based on the evidence you use, your claim that it is a school to avoid is misleading and flat out wrong.

I often read your column, but if this is the kind of analysis you offer, perhaps I will stop. You should take care to review all the facts before making grandiose statements.

Hopefully this will deter a few people from attending these schools. But to be really useful the list should be expanded.

In the current market "The 192 law schools to avoid" wouldn't be inappropriate.

Hold on...

American, rank #49, tuition $45,096, is on the "avoid at all costs list," but on the good values are Nebraska and SUNY, which are much lower ranked, and a good bit more expensive.

Absolutely Correct -
Spot on the Worst Law Schools.

Reality Check.
Dont Go to the Worst.

Been there done that.
As a Former lawyer from the 9 worst schools list, I'm faced with going to Nursing/Medical school training and filing bankruptcy!

You for got Thomas Cooley in your list of schools that leads to most debt and not to go to, or were you afraid you'd get sued?

This list makes no sense. Schools that graduate students with the most debt could be due to a number of factors. I think you should look at the price of the school and their employment prospects as a better indicator. For example, Hofstra's tuition is $45K and I'd be shocked if more than 50% graduate with jobs that require law degrees and of those most will make $50K. I'd go to American before going to Hofstra.

What do you think of the online option? Could you do a review of online law schools? I'm almost afraid to ask, though at the same time, snicker at the possible carnage that lay in store. hehe. Be kind, be wily, but for God's sakes, don't hold back! From what I've gleaned, one notable online school is called Concord. They actually claim to employ ivy-league level law professors who telecommute virtually. To what extent, not sure, t'is why I'm requesting a shakedown. ;)

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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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