We here at NerdWallet can’t use a crystal ball to tell you how much you’ll make. But we can crunch numbers and tell you which law schools produce on average the highest-earning lawyers. We obtained 2009-11 salary data provided by the top 50 law schools and ranked them in the following categories: law firms, business and industry, government, public interest, judicial clerkship and academia. Below is the resulting list of the top 10 law schools by average salary. You can also compare schools in more detail by employment, placement and salary of all graduates with our law school comparison tool.
1. Columbia University—$128,860
Columbia Law School has one of the lowest acceptance rates in the nation (13% in 2010), but it pays off in salary. Membership in this select club produces the highest salary on average. From 2009 to ’11, Columbia saw 70% of its graduates go to work in law firms, the highest-paying sector of all law placements. Columbia placed first for salary among the top 50 law colleges whose students nabbed jobs at law firms: 55% of its graduates worked in firms of 501-plus lawyers, a high-paying law-firm category.
2. University of Pennsylvania—$127,274
Located in the City of Brotherly Love, the University of Pennsylvania sent most of its 2009-11 graduates to New York, where they reaped sizable salary benefits. The University of Pennsylvania had a high percentage, 64% of graduates, who went to work in law firms. The school ranked fifth in the law-firm salary category with an average salary of $151, 609.
3. University of Chicago—$127,258
The University of Chicago has an impressive spread. It placed within the top 10 of our lists for these categories: law firms, judicial clerkship, public interest, business and industry, and government. It placed second for judicial clerkship with an average salary of $61,067.
4. University of Michigan—$127,159
The University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, won out as the school that had the highest-paid lawyers on average. The majority of its employed graduates, 52%, went to law firms and earned $149,569. Of those who went to law firms, 62% ended up going to those with 501-plus lawyers.
5. George Washington University—$126,089
As it is the oldest law school in Washington, D.C, it seems fitting that George Washington University is No. 1 in average salary for government employees, at $72,509. Perhaps this good pay is a result of power in numbers — they also sent the most graduates by percentage, 46%, to work in Washington, D.C.
6. New York University—$124,557
New York University was ranked No.1 for its tax law and international law programs by U.S. News & World Report—and their graduates get paid well to boot. New York University had the majority of its graduates (56%) go to law firms, for which it had the second-highest salary in that category: $155,729.
7. University of California, Berkeley—$119,530
Berkeley Law has one of the lowest acceptance rates among law schools. It also has produced some well-known leaders in the field, including attorneys general and chief justices. It’s not surprising then that Berkeley scored well within the top 10 for graduates who went on to work at law firms and judicial clerkships and second for salaries for government employees, at $65,375.
8. Harvard University—$119,090
Always ranked among the top schools, Harvard Law is a prestigious program. With a long history of successful graduates, Harvard lawyers are compensated accordingly. Harvard placed third in the law-firms category with a salary of $153,738 and first for business and industry with a salary of $125,771.
9. University of Southern California—$118,684
With a long history in the Southwest, the USC Gould School of Law keeps most of its graduates—73%–in sunny California, where they make a pretty good living. USC had a particularly strong showing in the government category, with a salary of $60,123, and the business and industry category, with a salary of $81,834.
10. Boston University—$110,442
Boston University sent a good percentage of its graduates to law firms, with the highest percentage going to those with 501-plus lawyers. Its highest reported salary was $175,000 from a lawyer working in a firm of 501-plus. If the high salary doesn’t attract you, here’s a fun fact—Boston University Law holds classes in of one of the tallest law school buildings. The Law Tower is 256 feet — 18 stories.