Thursday, March 16, 2017

Bracket, rankings, and money oh my!

So the NCAA 2017 Division One Men's Basketball Tournament began this week. As computer-based workers stop doing their jobs and start watching basketball, it seems like a good time to look at another famous ranking that came out this month. I refer to the US News and World Report's annual ranking of Best Law Schools.  

According to the rankings, the best law school in the country is Yale Law School. Tuition and fees at Yale's law school total $59,865 per year according to the rankings. I have no firsthand knowledge of the quality of legal education one can receive at Yale but, per Wikipedia, 8 Yale Law School graduates have ended up on the United States Supreme Court. 3 of those 8 are currently on the Court so maybe a Yale Law School degree is trending when it comes to Supreme Court appointments.

Aside 1:  the first United States Supreme Court Justice to attend law school was Levi Woodbury, who went to Litchfield Law School. Justice Woodbury was appointed to the Supreme Court by President James K. Polk in 1846. To give that some perspective, the Supreme Court first convened in 1790-56 years before Justice Woodbury's appointment. Coincidentally, my maternal grandfather lived most of his life in Woodbury County, Iowa, which is named in honor of Justice Woodbury. 

Aside II: the last Supreme Court Justice to not attend law school was Stanley Reed who retired from the Supreme Court in 1954 (but lived until 1980). It has been a little over 62 years since Justice Reed retired. So the  Supreme Court has now gone longer without a non-law-school-attending justice than it went without a law-school-attending justice.  

I am sad to report that the law school from which Mr. Torvik and I graduated is no longer ranked in the top 20 law schools (as it was when Mr. Torvik and I were there). The University of Minnesota is tied with Boston University for 23rd place on the list. The in-state tuition and fees at our Alma Mater are $43,224 per year. I did not go back and check but I am pretty sure that is over 300% higher than when Mr. Torvik and I started there at the turn of the century.   

The most expensive law school in the top 25 is Columbia University. Tuition and fees at Columbia are $65,260 per year.  Given that Columbia is ranked 5th, I guess Yale can say it is a relative bargain. The real bargain in the top 20, however, is the University of Iowa.  Tuition and fees at 20th ranked Iowa are $24,930.  The University of Texas-Austin is the next best bargain at $33,995 in tuition and fees per year.  The downside to UT, of course, is that one has to live in Texas.

The obvious point is that law school is expensive. I cannot say I would not have applied to law school because of those costs. But I definitely would not have taken out the necessary loans to pay 40,000 (or more) a year to go to law school. Instead, I would have looked more closely at Iowa, Wisconsin ($21,000 per year and tied for 30th), Georgia (19,000 per year and tied with Wisconsin), and North Carolina ($24,000 and tied for 39th).

I suppose the countervailing argument is that the high tuition at the schools in the top 20 (besides Iowa) are worth the money because higher ranked law school will result in a better paying job.  I wonder if the future salary difference is really great enough to justify the difference in price.

What do you think Mr. Torvik? Should we go back to the days when folks simply read to become a lawyer? Would today's tuition prices scare you off from attending law school?  Should we come up with a law school March Madness bracket?

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