Gulags: the 10 worst ABA-accredited law schools

Eric Owens | Editor

Whittier Law School in Orange County, California is, officially, the worst law school in the United States. Appalachian School of Law edges out the University of Law Verne College of Law and several other richly deserving candidates for second-worst place.

Whittier, Appalachian and La Verne essentially tied for the uncoveted bottom spot, but Whittier “won” the tiebreaker, thanks to a pitiful 17.1 percent employment score. In addition Whittier’s 61 percent under-employment score is the highest among all ABA-approved schools.

Appalachian School of Law in the rural, westernmost reaches of Virginia appears very close to the bottom in all but two categories: under-employment and cost. Also, the number of students that ASL does not categorize for employment purposes (the “unknown employment” score) is notably high.

The third-place University of La Verne College of Law ranks dead last among the 194 law schools that “U.S. News” ranks by academic peer reputation.

Fifth-place Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego is the most expensive among the schools on this list. If you depend wholly on student loans and pay full sticker price, you’ll pay more at Thomas Jefferson than you would pay at the University of Michigan or Duke University (“U.S. News” Best Law Schools #10 and #11, respectively).

The Daily Caller ranking of the worst law schools simply tracks schools based on how many times they appear in the very bottom in eight categories related to admissions data, bar passage, employment data, cost, and U.S. News peer ranking. All data is purely objective, except for the peer rating. (VIEW TheDC’s LAW SCHOOL GULAG RATINGS TABLE)

California is home to four of the worst 10 law schools in the country: Whittier, La Verne, Thomas Jefferson and Golden Gate University School of Law (#4). A brutal state bar exam is a contributing factor. The Golden State’s terrible economy looms large as well. However, even in the best of times, California has been home to several bottom-feeder law schools.

Florida is the state with the second-highest number of bad law schools: Ave Maria School of Law (#8) and Barry University School of Law (#10). In addition, Thomas M. Cooley Law School (#7) maintains a branch campus in the Tampa Bay area. Three other schools in The Sunshine State (Florida A&M, Florida Coastal and St. Thomas University) fall just outside the bottom 10 in The Daily Caller’s ranking of lousiness.

Several law schools on this list received their ABA accreditation within the last decade. The ABA provisionally approved La Verne Law in 2012. Phoenix School of Law received its full accreditation in 2010. Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School (which is in no way related to the John Marshall Law School in Chicago) was fully accredited in 2009. Ave Maria and Barry were accredited in 2005 and 2006, respectively.

The handful of law schools around the nation that the American Bar Association has not (yet) deigned to approve may be even worse than the schools on this list. On the other hand, no national, powerful, quasi-official organization is holding them out as worthy of three years of your time and a ton of your money.

METHODOLOGY

A school received one tally for each appearance in or otherwise very near the bottom 10 among all ABA-accredited law schools in each of eight categories. In several categories, cutting off at 10 schools proved unreasonably arbitrary. Thus, we found an equitable cutoff and made the “bottom 10 list” for those categories slightly longer or shorter than 10. Each of the schools on this list received at least five tallies. For schools with equal numbers of tallies, the tie breaker is a school’s comparatively worse employment scores.

NOTES:

The first numbers in GPA range and LSAT range represent admitted students at a school’s 25th percentile. The second numbers represent admitted students at the 75th percentile. For GPA range, schools received a tally if their 25th percentile was 2.76 or lower. There are 13 such schools. For LSAT range, schools received a tally if their 25th percentile was 147 or lower. There are 11 such schools. The data comes from the website top-law-schools.com.

The figure in “Worst recent bar pass rate” category is compared to the state average where the school is located and generally represents first-time takers. Also, the number here represents the worst data point we could find for each school. For example, compared to the average bar pass rate in California, Golden Gate University had an average pass rate of -4.60% for 2003 to 2009, a rate of -18.00 percent in July 2010 and a rate of July 2011 -10.00%. The worst figure, -18.00 percent, was used in this ranking. The 2003-2009 data comes from the website ilrg.com. July 2010 and July 2011 bar exam percentages come from various sources. Only the 10 lowest scores were used. Some state bars don’t make the data easily accessible, and some schools are better than others about candidly representing their students’ bar results.

Data for Employment score, Under-employment score, and Unknown employment score comes from the website lawschooltransparency.com. You can find an elaborate explanation of methodology there. Obviously, though, it’s based on employment figures. Every school scoring below 32 percent in Employment score received a tally. There are 10 such schools. Similarly, every school scoring at or above 44 percent in Under-employment score received a tally. There are six of them. Several law schools with scores at or above 44 percent do not appear on this list because they do not otherwise appear near the bottom in any or many other categories. For Unknown employment score, schools with percentages higher than 5 percent received a tally. There are seven such schools. As an aside, these categories are where many law schools have fudged data in the recent past. Schools could still be doing so, thus making these presumably honest schools look relatively worse than they actually are.

Data for the “Cost of 2015 projection” category also comes from the website lawschooltransparency.com and it assumes the worst-case scenario: that students must borrow the maximum amount and pay full sticker prices for everything for three years. Every school with a cost projection above $208,000 received a tally. There are 12 such schools and this cutoff is by far the most arbitrary one. The projections take into account tuition, fees and room and board (for non-residents if a school is public). The projections assume a 3 percent annual tuition increase and 2 percent annual indirect cost increase each year. Interest calculations are based on semester disbursement periods and use a blended interest rate.

Data for the “2013 U.S. News peer reputation ranking” is essentially a conventional wisdom score and comes from the U.S. News website. Peer rankings are one aspect of the U.S. News best law schools rankings.

“In the fall of 2011, law school deans, deans of academic affairs, chairs of faculty appointments and the most recently tenured faculty members were asked to rate programs on a scale from marginal (1) to outstanding (5). Those individuals who did not know enough about a school to evaluate it fairly were asked to mark ‘don’t know.’ A school’s score is the average of all the respondents who rated it. Responses of ‘don’t know’ counted neither for nor against a school. About 63 percent of those surveyed responded.”

Note that there are several ties. Schools ranked 178 and below (out of 194) received a tally. There are 15 such schools, and six of them tie at 178. Why does U.S. News use data collected in 2011 for its 2013 rankings? Good question.

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