Sunday, March 30, 2014

Forbes says previous list of law schools graduating students who make the highest salaries contained many flaws

In this follow up to an earlier story in Forbes, the author notes that she significantly understated the salaries of graduates from several elite law schools by relying on data supplied by a website called Payscale rather than the figures reported by the law schools themselves.  She acknowledges that the original list of 25 law schools who graduate students making the highest salaries contains several flaws.  However, even the revised list doesn't jibe with common sense.  For instance, the starting salary of Fordham law grads working in the private sector is listed at $160k.  The average salary at U. Houston Law Center is $110k and Santa Clara is listed at $100k. 

The author correctly notes that the salary data supplied by law schools is only a snapshot of what students are making 9 months after graduation while the figures supplied by Payscale average the salaries over the initial five years of practice.  She seems perplexed by the fact that in many cases the starting salaries of law grads are nearly twice as high as the figures reported by Payscale.  But the legal profession is unique in that the vast majority of lawyers who make those stratospheric starting salaries working in BigLaw will leave those firms within the first few years for jobs in small firms where few will see that kind of money again.  Thus, the original figures supplied by Payscale may be closer to the truth.  An excerpt:

Law Schools Whose Grads Make The Highest Starting Salaries

Since I published a story earlier this month about the law schools whose graduates earn the highest salaries, I’ve learned that the data I used was flawed and most of the numbers I published were inaccurate. Example: I listed the median starting salary at New York University, No. 22 in my slide show, as $76,300. In fact, the median compensation for a recent NYU grad is $160,000. I also wrote that new graduates of UCLA School of Law earn a median income of $84,200. The correct number is $135,000. In addition, I’ve discovered I made several glaring omissions, like University of Pennsylvania School of Law, where the median starting salary is $160,000, which should obviously be in the top tier. It didn’t make my list at all. We ran a story in 2013 that also had inaccurate information.


How did we get the numbers so wrong? We relied on Payscale, a Seattle-based website that provides information about compensation at companies, law firms, state and local government, and nonprofits. Payscale’s paying clients are firms, including law firms, who use the data to help set compensation levels. It gathers information from users who come to the site looking for salary numbers. Some data is available free of charge but to gain access to detailed reports, users must enter information on their own employers and compensation. Payscale has a trove of 40 million salary reports. It’s a rich data set, which is why Forbes has used it for other lists.


. . . .


But Payscale’s data has obvious flaws, which I’ll describe below. Also law schools collect their own data, which is much more extensive than Payscale’s and, I’m now convinced, more reliable. Some schools, like NYU, Columbia, Harvard and Northwestern, hear back from upwards of 90% of their graduating class, which makes their salary numbers very reliable. However other schools, like University of San Diego and University of San Francisco, hear back from only 35% or fewer.


In putting together my new list, I’ve had extensive conversations with Kyle McEntee, the executive director of five-year-old Law School Transparency (LST), a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that manages a website chock full of useful numbers for aspiring law students, including extensive salary information and response rates from law schools. 

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Continue reading here.


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