Best law schools for standard of living

Graduates of the University of Texas who enter private practice enjoy the best standard of living in the nation, according to an exclusive study by National Jurist magazine.

To determine standard of living, The National Jurist used median starting salaries, average debt payments, estimated federal and state taxes and cost of living adjustments for the regions where graduates were employed.

The National Jurist first did the standard of living study in 1999 and reported that graduates who entered private practice at six law schools at that time had a lower standard of living than they did as students. Since then, salaries have increased dramatically, improving the standard of living at almost every law school in the nation. Debt repayment options also improved in 2009 with a new federal law. 

However, there are big differences between schools. For example, graduates at the University of Texas take home a net of $101,308 after debt and taxes, and modifying for cost of living adjustments. More than half of the schools in the study netted less than half of that amount, with six lower than $25,000.

Sixty-three law schools in the study were excluded from the final ranking because the percent of graduates with a known salary was below 40 percent. Seven schools were omitted due to lack of data.

“This ranking gives prospective students an important look at what life is like in the first few years after graduation,” Crittenden said. “But we felt it would be unfair to include schools where the salary data was not representative.”

Cost of living adjustments had significant negative impact on schools in California and the northeast, especially New York law schools.

The National Jurist used Class of 2009 salary data from NALP, debt data from U.S. News & World Report, tax data from the Tax Foundation, cost of living data from the Council for Community and Economic Research, and debt repayment information from Jeffrey Hanson Education Services. 

Best Law Schools for Standard of Living (private practice):

1 University of Texas
2 University of Georgia
3 Vanderbilt University
4 University of Virginia
5 Northwestern University
6 University of Chicago
7 University of North Carolina
8 University of Michigan
9 Washington University in St. Louis
10 Duke University
11 Southern Methodist University
12 Emory University
13 University of Notre Dame
14 Stanford University
15 Washington and Lee University
16 Yale University
17 Harvard University
18 University of California--Berkeley
19 Boston University
20 University of Pennsylvania
21 Catholic University of America
22 Boston College
23 University of Illinois
24 Wake Forest University
25 George Washington University
26 University of California-Hastings
27 College of William and Mary
28 University of California--Los Angeles
29 Georgetown University
30 University of Wisconsin
31 University of Cincinnati
32 University of Southern California
33 Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago-Kent)
34 Temple University
35 University of New Hampshire School of Law
36 Brigham Young University
37 Ohio State University
38 George Mason University
39 University of Houston
40 University of Arizona
41 Villanova University
42 American University
43 Cornell University
44 University of Minnesota
45 Case Western Reserve University
46 Wayne State University
47 University of Florida
48 University of Washington
49 Rutgers--Newark
50 New York University 

Editor's note: Rankings changed slightly from first posting due to a recalculation of debt repayment. We are now using the lowest possible repayment option for new graduates.

The National Jurist will publish the top 50 school in the Back to School issue of preLaw magazine with details on salary, debt and cost of living. It will publish a complete list of 135 law schools in its September issue.