Friday, March 30, 2012

Number Crunching: Debt and Salaries in the Modern Age of Lawyering

I get most of my lawyer information from ABA publications. The articles are written for lawyers, which means that they're concise and well-written because time is money.

(I've taken to computing my study time into dollar signs where I fantasize about paying myself per hour and figuring out how much I would make in a year just from studying. There's a hierarcy of per hour wages dependent on the quality of the studying.)

This morning I opened up my e-mail to find an article entitled "Average Debt of Private Law School Grads is $125K; It's Highest at These Five Schools."

Of course I followed that up with US News and World Report confirmation. USNWR might as well be the word of God in terms of rankings. Everyone says the rankings don't matter but when it comes down to it, EVERYONE looks at USNWR to get a good overview of program caliber. Even the administration of the school. The day that the rankings came out, the Dean of our school sent out an e-mail apologizing that our school dropped another two slots on the rankings but suggesting that the rankings were arbitrary and didn't take into account our strategic planning efforts. #DamageControl

So, for the curious, the most indebted of private law school graduates:

Law school (name) (state)Annual tuition and fees*Average indebtednessU.S. Newsrank
California Western School of Law$42,600$153,145RNP
Thomas Jefferson School of Law (CA)$41,000$153,006RNP
American University (Washington) (DC)$45,096$151,31849
New York Law School$47,800$146,230135
Phoenix School of Law$37,764$145,357RNP
Southwestern Law School (CA)$42,200$142,606129
Catholic University of America (Columbus) (DC)$41,830$142,22282
Northwestern University (IL)$51,920$139,10112
Pace University (NY)$40,730$139,007142
Whittier College (CA)$39,090$138,961RNP

*Annual tuition and fees are for full-time, in-state programs.

Of course, now we wonder about public school debt. According to US News and World Report, UC 'School of Public Interest Law':
Percentage of Grads with Debt: 88%
Average Indebtedness: $102, 030
Using an online loan calculator (the credibility of which is debatable because I just used a Google search), payment over 10 years at 6.8% means monthly payments of $1,174.16. 

For the record, our school was at the very bottom of the fourth page. There are 99 schools ahead of us in average loan debt.

US News and World Report suggests that if you'd like to pay down this debt faster and find a good job in a specialized field, go into Health Law or Intellectual Property. These fields are complicated and require a certain degree of specialization. 
According to PatBar, the average salary of an IP associate is $125,000 in the first year.  That's fantastic!

Wait, rewind. According to US News and World Report, many law schools report that their first year post-grads are making an average of $160,000 in the private sector. How does that work? If IP pays the most at $125,000 and it's a highly specialized field where very few grads find jobs because of experience requirements, then how can most Tier 1 schools report that the average salary of their first year grads is $160,000? It seems as though there's some number fudging going on. 

I turned to The Association of Legal Career Professionals to remedy this confusion. Unfortunately, they had the numbers from 2010, when the legal market was stronger than it is now:
2010 Associate Salary Survey (Private)

Overall median first-year salary was $115,000:

$72,000 in firms of 2-25 lawyers, 
$117,500 in firms of 501-700 lawyers, 
$125,000 in firms of 251-500 lawyers, and 
$160,000 in firms of more than 700 lawyers.
$160,000 in Chicago, LA, NY, D.C. 
$130,000 to $145,000 in Boston, SF 

2010 Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney Salary Report

The median entry-level salary varies: 

civil legal services organization -- $42,000, 
public defenders -- $45,700,
local prosecuting attorneys --  $50,000, 
public interest organizations with issue-driven missions -- $45,000. 

tl;dr Law schools report whatever they want to. But we knew that already, didn't we.

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