Law School Discussion

Starting salaries... wrong, or just false?

loki13

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Starting salaries... wrong, or just false?
« on: March 30, 2006, 07:03:17 AM »
I've been ruminating on this topic for a while, and it was recently exacerbated by the Franklin P v. UF post. Most of us have perused the 25th-75th percentile starting salaries. Some people are even unwise enough to make decisions based on them. So here's my question. How wrong do you think they are? Why are they wrong? My answers:

1. For the most part, very wrong in particulars, somewhat wrong in general. You can get an idea for the general idea of where a school is (starting salaries of the T10 schools v. the tier 4 schools) and where they place with BigLaw in BigCities, but that's about it. And they tend to get more wrong the lower ranked you go.

2. Why? Many reasons...

a. They're self-reported. Let that sink in a second. While there are fewer abuses than there were during the mid-90s (when Suffolk reported much higher salries than BU and BC), it's still pretty bad. It's almost like when you give Cooley a chance to create their own law school rankings... things get a little wonky.
b. No COLA (cost-of-living-adjustment). Graduates from BigCity U will earn more than grads from CornField St. Why? Because it costs more to live in a big city! Seems obvious, huh? A school near Boston is going to have higher starting salaries than a school in near Birmingham. But you can actually afford a house in Birmingham (not saying you want to live there... just using it as an example). Median salaries measure the average cost of living of the area the school places more than they measure the desirability of the jobs the school places.
c. They're too round. Yes, 50k-70k looks good, and they're obviously rounding. But to what? Do they always round up? It doesn't look like to the nearest k... the neares 10k? Does every school do it differently? If one school is 41k-61k, and another school is 55k-75k, do they both report the figures as 50k-70k, or, if they're in Lansing, do they just report it as 60k-100k?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Re: Starting salaries... wrong, or just false?
« Reply #1 on: March 30, 2006, 09:20:48 AM »
It's interesting that you started this thread, and I feel it's a good idea.  I've even seen conflicting numbers for the same school, depending on where you get the numbers from.  I know there's been talk on another thread about discrepancies with NYLS salary numbers.  Unfortunately I don't have any answers to this, but thankfully someone is asking this question.

orky13

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Re: Starting salaries... wrong, or just false?
« Reply #2 on: March 30, 2006, 09:35:19 AM »
I agree. Straight out of undergrad, I accepted a position in a Cleveland suburb for around $30,000. My best friend went to the Big Apple and got $40,000. She comes out on top, no? Well my rent & utilities are $400 a month for a lovely townhouse (I have a roomie so 800 total for TONS of space) and hers is $1500 (rent only) for a shoebox size efficiency apartment near the projects. She is barely making ends meet (her parents send her infusions of $), and I've been packing hundreds monthly into my IRA on top of being able to live comfortably.

Now this will all change when I quit to go to law school, but for now, it is a helpful and real illustration of the Cost of Living factor many take for granted. One of the reasons Willamette has a slight advantage in my mind over Seattle... though I am still undecided.

tam3784

Re: Starting salaries... wrong, or just false?
« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2006, 09:37:54 AM »
Check out these two sites.  the data is 4 years old, but since it compares all the schools, and prices go up everywhere, it should be proportionally pretty sound.

This gives the raw data for all the schools (Median public and median private salary): http://www.ilrg.com/rankings/law/median.php/1/asc/LawSchool

This gives the cost of living adjusted figures (the only prob is that it doesn't include every school, but you may find it helpful): http://www.ilrg.com/schools/analysis/

Re: Starting salaries... wrong, or just false?
« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2006, 09:39:16 AM »
My only thoughts on this topic are that while it's important to take the numbers with a grain/barrel of salt, they are still an important consideration. That being said, they are only important in describing what Orky has already stated: Not necessarily a static number of dollars, but rather the factors surrounding the reported employment of the school. 

Re: Starting salaries... wrong, or just false?
« Reply #5 on: March 30, 2006, 09:43:31 AM »
Excellent thread, especially the point about cost-of living...

Check out this cost-of living calculator...

http://inflationdata.com/inflation/Cost_of_Living/Cost_of_Living_Calculator.asp

I will be attending Wayne State law school in Detroit where the (reported) starting salary for first year grads was $66,000 last year...

Now, when someone going to a top school who plans on practicing in New York making $125,000 their first year hears that figure, they want to puke...

However, $125,000 in New York actually converts to $62,000 and some change in Detroit, according to this calculator...

So really, both figures are actually very similar....

mae8

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Re: Starting salaries... wrong, or just false?
« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2006, 09:47:07 AM »
on the usnews online edition you can get some more info about his, especially what percentage of grads respond to the optional salary part of the surveys. i was alays confused why colorado and denver essentially the same salary numbers given the differing qualities of the school, but here it was. 74% of CU grads reported salary while only 30% of DU ppl did. I bought the online edition so ill post some of this stuff about specific schools if ppl want. Oh, and course look at col, 60,000 in one market can easily be equal to 125,000 in nyc.

loki13

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More mucking with statistics
« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2006, 10:27:04 AM »
mae8 raises another good point... % of grads reporting.

And when do they report?

And are they being truthful?

And where do they live... COLA adjustments are often for the region of the school, which is helpful, but some schools are placing many of their grads outside of their region.

And what % of grads are working in public v. private? If a high percentage of the students go to work for non-profits or the government (also clerkships) this will certainly skew the overall number (you shoulld always check public v. private).

Another poster wrote that Franklin P's 25-75th percentile starting salaries were 50k-125k*. Think about that for a second. If you honestly believe, even taking into account their IP program and proximity to Boston, that the top 25% of their graduating class is earning 125k+, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you. And the spread is 75k... which is insane. And the 75th percentile matches up, with, say, Cornell, which is a known feeder to NYC BigLaw.

All of this brings up two points:
1. I believe the numbers are close to useless without COLA, and only marginally better with COLA, and the lower you go in the rankings, the more skeptical you should be of the numbers.

2. Anyone basing their judgement on which law school to go to based on these numbers may want to reconsider their reasons for going to law school. Law school is not just a place to go for people who are bright, but find science too difficult, and still want to make a lot of money. If your only motivation for going to law school is to make money, maybe you should think about the decision more closely. There are many ways to make money- make sure this is what you want before you commit the next three years and beaucoup bucks to learn it, and then several years of your life practicing it, before you find out if this is really for you.

*I don't have the data handy and I don't feel like researching it, so if it's wrong, please ignore this point.

orky13

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Re: Starting salaries... wrong, or just false?
« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2006, 10:30:55 AM »
also keep in mind the COL adjustments sort of assume you will be living in the state/region where you went to school. Keep in mind a Harvard grad might go home to Nebraska or something.

yiplong

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Re: Starting salaries... wrong, or just false?
« Reply #9 on: March 30, 2006, 10:36:20 AM »
When we need to adjust salary for cost of living, we must also be careful not to overdo it.  While it is true that an $800/month apartment in Toledo, Ohio will cost $1600 in Manhattan, we must also realize that living in Toledo is probably less fun than living in NYC.  There are reasons why housing in Manhattan is more expensive than Ohio, this is a market economy and people don't just pay tons of cash for nothing.  Housing in NYC is expensive because it offers some unbeatable advantages, and people perceive these advantages as worth the extra cost.