BYU, Baylor top list of Best Value private law schools

Brigham Young University and Baylor University School of Law are the best value private law schools, according to a new study by The National Jurist.

Notre Dame Law School, Duquesne University and Hamline University round out the top five. (See below for complete list).

The National Jurist ranked private law schools in addition to an overall Best Value ranking for the first time. The overall ranking will premiere in the October issue of The National Jurist. Brigham Young University is the only private law school on the overall list this year, and was one of only two on the list last year. In 2007, there were 13 private schools on the Best Value list.

“With rising tuition, it has become increasingly difficult for private law schools to make the Best Value list,” said Editor in Chief Jack Crittenden. “But some schools have made great strides to keep debt low through scholarships, even if tuition is high. We felt it was important to recognize the schools that deliver excellent results and have a lower debt load than most private law schools.”

The Best Value rankings look at tuition, debt, and cost of living and compare these numbers with percent employed and bar pass rates. The study is designed to identify and recognize law schools that help students pass the bar exam and land jobs without burdening them with huge debt. Schools must meet all criteria to be included, and then the National Jurist applies a weighting system to determine each schools' grade. 

The top five private law schools have an indebtedness below $105,000 and met all other criteria. Twelve other private law schools met all criteria when the debt ceiling was raised to $115,000. By comparison, only four law schools in the overall ranking exceed a debt load of $100,000. But that is up from three last year, and none in 2011.

The data in the study is based on the Class of 2012. Law schools began to offer more scholarships for the class of 2014, and increased them dramatically for the Class of 2015 and 2016.

“It is possible that debts will reach a high water mark with the Class of 2013,” Crittenden said. "We are also now seeing tuition going down at some schools. These are very good signs for the future of legal education."

The National Jurist created the Best Value rankings in 2004 as a way to honor schools that took the cost of legal education seriously. The magazine has published articles about the problems with rising tuition in almost every year since it was founded in 1991. 

The rankings saw dramatic changes last year, after the American Bar Association released new, more detailed employment data. The changes were not as significant this year, with 34 of the 45 schools returning to the list.

Six additional schools rejoined the overall list this year, after not being included last year. They are: University of Cincinnati, University of Connecticut, University of Minnesota, University of South Dakota, University of Washington, and William and Mary Law School.

Three additional schools make their first appearance on the Best Value list: Northern Illinois University, University of Tulsa and University of California, Irvine. UC Irvine was added with an asterisk since it has very high tuition and cost of living. Its low debt was due to substantial scholarships which were given to the inaugural class, and are no longer available at the same level. 

"It is likely that this will be the only year that UC Irvine will make this list," Crittenden said. 

The overall rankings will be released in the October issue of the National Jurist, due out in the last week of September.

Best Value Private Law Schools (with grade)

Brigham Young University (A)

Baylor University School of Law (B)

Notre Dame Law School (B)

Duquesne University (B)

Hamline University (B)

Boston College Law School (B-)

Boston University School of Law (B-)

Chicago-Kent College of Law (B-)

Drake University (B-)

Emory University (B-)

Lewis & Clark Law School (B-)

Mercer University (B-)

SMU Dedman (B-)

South Texas College of Law (B-)

St. Mary’s University (B-)

Stanford University (B-)

University of Richmond (B-)

Yale Law School (B-)

Quinnipiac University (C+)

Villanova University (C+)

Washington and Lee University (C+)

Editor's note: an earlier version of this story mistakenly identified the Best Value private list as a ranking when it was actually in alphabetical order. The grades have since been added to differentiate the schools.