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Where Are the Best Law Schools for Return on Investment?

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 18, 2017 2:00 PM

'Go West, young man,' Horace Greeley's admonition, could apply to law students, too, with some exceptions for states like California.

According to a new study on the best value for cost, the least expensive states for students to attend law school are public colleges in the West, such as Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and Hawaii. Brigham Young University, a private school, also has a low base tuition.

Overall, the study says, tuition has declined at most middle-ranked schools in states with public colleges. All things considered, such as bar pass rates and job opportunities, they may offer the best return on investment.

Middle-Ranked Best

In an article published in the Journal of Legal Education, Jerry Organ shows where legal education is more and less expensive. He analyzed tuition trends by LSAT category, accounting for inflation and geographic differences between 2010 and 2014.

"[T]he geographic differences in tuition ... are not insignificant," reported Organ, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

The study also looks at employment outcomes, bar pass rates and first-year income figures. "[O]n average, the short-term return on investment varies significantly depending upon where someone is in the LSAT distribution," he said.

While western colleges at public schools are less expensive, eastern schools are generally more expensive. These include Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania. California is also very expensive, according to reports.

High Cost, Low Scores

The ABA Journal, reporting on Organ's study, said it reflects findings about net tuition based on LSAT scores in a 2016 study. Robert Zemsky, a University of Pennsylvania professor, said private schools with the best LSAT scores were a better value than private schools with the highest attrition rates and worst LSAT scores.

"You'd think the least attractive school would charge the lowest price," he said. "What they're doing is admitting students with relatively low LSAT scores, and charging them a high price for gambling on them."

As enrollments have decreased, some law schools have closed. Zemsky estimated that 10 to 15 more schools will close if the market continues to contract.

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