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The 10 Most Underrated Law Schools in America

Vivia Chen

December 8, 2016

130415UKSTUDENTS554For 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?




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Interesting article. Without question the school that you attend has an impact. When I started my practice many fellow attorneys would start the conversation with "What school did you attend?". As you get older the conversation turns to the work that you have done and the people that you know. Regardless your school tier networking is vital.

Good article. I think an important point is that, not all, but most of the top tiered law schools are in California and the North East, but there is an entire country in between. I understand that Big Law wants top tiered, but there are plenty of graduates from "normal" schools that actually work for both national and international firms in places like their Phoenix or Huston offices. In addition, my degree is from a second tier school and I make a fantastic living in my personal injury/consumer firm that I started and built. Quite frankly, I make more money than most "Big Law" lawyers. So my perspective is that a law degree was the path to a law license, which is the path to building one's own destiny within the legal field. But I do agree that certain paths are directly tied to an education from a particular school, but I also believe that an attorney can build much more than a "modest" career with a degree from a lower tier school. Thank you for starting a conversation on such an interesting topic. Especially at a time when so many law schools exist and continue to put out new graduates.

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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: VChen@alm.com

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