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When It Comes to Law Degrees, Caveat Emptor

Law schools promise grads jobs with six figure salaries, but they've been getting creative with the numbers. Is a J.D. still worth the cost?


This week I learned what article not to share on Facebook with my friends in law school. The recent New York Times piece "Is Law School a Losing Game?" has struck a nerve, particularly for third-year students on the verge of graduation. My friends don't need me to share the article—they're living the reality.

It turns out the information on which U.S. News & World Report bases its revered law school rankings, particularly post-graduation salary and employment data, isn't exactly on the up and up. The schools have been getting very creative with the numbers—Indiana University professor William Henderson refers to it as "Enron-type accounting standards"—by conveniently failing to mention to eager applicants about to go into serious student loan debt that the chances of landing a job at Cravath, the top firm in New York City, are next to impossible.

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Which Rankings Can Actually Help You Pick a College?

The way we rank colleges is troubling: It's devoid of measures that are meaningful to students choosing a school. Anya Kamenetz ranks the rankers.

Antoine's Restaurant in New Orleans' French Quarter was founded in 1840. It is the oldest restaurant in the United States that has been continuously run by the same family.

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Everyone seems to be doing their own college rankings these days. Forbes and Washington Monthly recently joined the likes of U.S. News and World Report in offering their assessments of the best universities in the U.S. Two ratings systems, developed by Times Higher Education and Shanghai Jiaotong University, assemble lists of the top institutions in the world.

If you've ever wanted a handy way to determine which of these systems would work best for a prospective college student—the actual answer is probably "none of them"—The Chronicle of Higher Education has an excellent interactive graphic that lets you know that, among other things, Forbes factors in whether or not a school has "professionally successful alumni," a nebulous sort of measure that it gets from determining the number of people from a particular university that appear in Who's Who in America 2008.

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