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The Best Law Schools For Getting Rich

Publication Date: 
March 08, 2011
Forbes Blog
Kurt Badenhausen

Forbes recently featured Stanford Law School as the top law school in terms of mid-career compensation of alumni. In the following article, Kurt Badenhausen covers institutional features of the university and draws on quotes by dean Larry Kramer:

Students have flocked to law schools in recent years, with nearly 52,000 enrolling during the 2009-10 academic year across 200 schools. That’s up 19% over the past decade. Compare that to the previous 10 years, when annual enrollment actually fell 2%.

Many students are drawn in by the six-figure starting salaries paid by the biggest law firms. Elite schools advertise starting salaries in the private sector for their graduates of $160,000. The reality is much different. Only a very small percentage of students ever get jobs in this pay stratosphere.


The best school if you want to get paid well is Stanford Law School, which tops our list with mid-career median pay of $236,000. Stanford beat out Duke University School of Law, which ranked No. 2 with median pay of $221,000.


The origins of Stanford Law School date back to 1893, when Leland Stanford recruited President Benjamin Harrison, who had just completed his one term in office, to teach in the Law Department in its inaugural year. Over the next century Stanford Law developed into one of the top law schools in the country, with alumni that included leaders in business, government and in the courts.

Grads include Supreme Court Justices (Sandra Day O’Connor and William Rehnquist), Washington D.C. elite (Max Baucus, Josh Bolten and Warren Christopher) and billionaires (Riley Bechtel and Penny Pritzker). The school has also produced alumni with business chops including Paypal founder and billionaire Peter Thiel as well as TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington.


Stanford’s location in the heart of Silicon Valley offers some unique advantages. It gives easy access to many top tech and venture capital firms. The location fosters an entrepreneurial spirit at the school, according to Dean Larry Kramer who says, “I don’t know if it is the people coming in or it is in the air and water.”


Stanford is not resting on its laurels, despite its success. “Standing still is moving backwards,” says Kramer. He has implemented a plan over the past five years to integrate the law school more closely into the overall university. The idea is to teach better skills than just legal analytics.


Alumni are on board with the new campaign. The school had a record fundraising campaign of $220 million to implement the changes. The money went to new faculty, facilities, clinical program and financial aid. The Law School now offers 30 joint degrees. “The University is the Law School,” says Kramer.


While Stanford’s elite reputation translates well into pay, some other top schools fall a little short. Harvard, which is one of the oldest and most prestigious law schools in the world, ranks No. 7 with mid-career median pay of $203,000. Yale Law School which topped US News & World Report’s annual ranking last year fares even worse, tied at No. 33 with pay of $159,000 in the private sector.