With the release of the American Bar Association’s statistics on job opportunities for law school graduates, many are asking—Which are the best schools to go to if you actually want to put that degree to use? In a challenging market where recent grads are struggling to find jobs and pay off massive student loans, the choice of which law school to attend and how it will play into a future career is more important than ever.
And choosing a school isn’t the only problem. “Ironically, while thousands of new law graduates fret about the chronic joblessness that awaits them, tens of millions of Americans need attorneys but cannot afford them,” noted former US attorney Kendall Coffey in a Law.com article. “And much of the unmet need rests in America’s middle class, which is neither rich enough to pay $250 an hour for lawyers nor poor enough to qualify for legal aid organizations.”
The US News Rankings for law schools in 2015 came out as one might expect, with Yale at number 1, Harvard at number 2, and Stanford at number 3. But while these schools may continuously rank well in terms of the quality of education, the cost (and the competition) is more than a little tough: Yale costs $56,200 a year and enrolls only 607 students in their law program; Harvard costs $55,842 and enrolls 1,752; and Stanford costs $54,366 and enrolls 577 students. And, of course, there’s no guarantee of a job post-graduation to pay off those loans—or to serve the people who most need lawyers.
Interestingly, part of the answer may be smaller schools such as the University of Pennsylvania Law School, which sent 91% of its 2014 graduates into full time work—more than any other school in the country.
Another case of a smaller school providing is Cornell Law School, which ranked 13th in the US News & World Report list for 2013 but far outdid other schools in terms of finding students jobs that made use of their degrees. According to dean Eduardo M. Peñalver, Cornell’s biggest advantage is its size. “Two-thirds of our students end up in large law firms, and most get jobs early, which means that we can concentrate on students who need help,” he said. “We have a superb career service and public service staff.”
While the solution to joblessness for law students—not to mention the lack of financially viable legal services for those in need—is still uncertain, the education trend over the past few years suggests that smaller schools with more personalized service may be the key to keeping would-be lawyers in the market for profitable, successful careers.