USNWR Rankings Out: Law School Debt Figures Climb

UNC Law School RankingsLegal academics, law students, and prospective law students are pouring over the latest US News law school even if they say they aren’t.

For me – who graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Law School but started law school at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law – the rankings are especially humorous.

When I first went to law school ASU was ranked in the 50s and UNC was ranked in the 20s. Having been at both, I’ve always said that ASU’s program was much better than UNC’s even though I love the Tarheels. The rankings have flipped, such that ASU is ranked 29 and UNC is ranked 31. That seems about right.

If you’re going to law school, the rankings are meaningless. Unless you’re going to Harvard, Yale, or Stanford where employment is all but assured, you want to consult two sets of number before going to law school: The cost of attendance and average debt on the one hand and the employment outcomes on the other.

UNC does better than most law schools in terms of debt, but “better than most” is of course a relative term. The average UNC grad will leave the school with $75,000 in law school debt plus an additional roughly $10,000 in accrued interest plus whatever undergraduate or other educational debt the person brought into school.

While there are no average total educational debt figures available to my knowledge from UNC, a fair estimate would be somewhere close to $100,000.

That is a lot of money.

At this point, if you’re a prospective law school student, you’re probably telling yourself, “Why should I worry? I’ll get one of those $160,000 BigLaw jobs, pay off my debt in four or five years, and it’ll be fine.”

Sadly, that is almost assuredly not going to happen out of UNC, where employment in BigLaw firms that can pay those kind of figures is few and far between. As Law School Transparency shows, UNC has an overall employment rate of just 62.7 percent. That includes all long-term law-related jobs.

A mere 9.7 percent of all UNC-Chapel Hill law school grads were employed in firms of more than 500 employees, which are the kind of firms that can pay starting salaries of $140,000 to $160,000.

In fact, one out of five UNC law school 2011 gradautes were either unemployed (13.4 percent!) or underemployed in part-time or short-term jobs (7.3 percent!)

So if you want to go to a law school where the average debt is close to $100,000, but you have only a 1 in 10 shot of earning the money to pay it back or a 1 in 5 shot of being unemployed or underemployed, then go to UNC.

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Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.