Which Highly Ranked Law Schools Operate Most Efficiently?

Robert J. Morse

Many law schools are facing tight budgets and in some cases, declining enrollments. As a result, it's important for many law schools to spend their limited resources efficiently in order to produce the highest possible educational quality.

U.S. News has developed a new, exclusive list showing which law schools are able to produce the highest educational quality, as determined by their place in our Best Law Schools rankings, but spend relatively less money to achieve that quality. The Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville finished at the top of the efficiency ratings and the law school at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey--Camden came in second. George Mason Law School was in third place.

U.S. News measures financial resources in part by taking into account how much a law school spends per student on instruction, including faculty and staff salaries, library, supporting services and other expenditures, such as financial aid. The financial resources ranking factor is a direct measure of the size of each law school's yearly budget expenditures per student compared with other law schools, and it has an 11.25 percent weight in the Best Law Schools rankings methodology.

The new list is based on the concept of operating efficiency, defined as a law school's total budget expenditures per student divided by its overall score - which U.S. News uses to determine its overall numerical rank - in the 2014 Best Law Schools rankings. This calculation reveals how much each law school is spending for each point in its overall score and thus, its position in the rankings.

The less a law school spends relative to other schools as correlated to its overall U.S. News rank, the more efficient it is in producing a quality education compared with other schools.

How should these results be interpreted? Law schools that are featured on this list are doing a good job in managing their financial resources relative to other schools that may have higher tuitions, larger endowments or greater state funding. Many of these schools are likely to be more affordable in terms of tuition for both in-state and out-of-students relative to other law schools, since almost all of them are public universities.

Only schools that were numerically ranked in the top 100 in the Best Law Schools 2014 rankings were included in this analysis. The table below shows the 25 law schools that scored the highest on the operating efficiency measure, sorted by those that spent less per student to achieve a relatively high rank.

Law school (name) (state) U.S. News 2014 Best Law Schools rank Total fiscal year 2012 spending per student Spending per student for each point in the U.S. News overall score
University of Louisville (Brandeis) (KY) 68 $28,151 $654.67
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey--Camden 91 $26,858 $688.67
George Mason University (VA) 41 $38,684 $703.35
University of Wisconsin--Madison 33 $42,415 $731.29
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey--Newark 86 $30,236 $755.90
College of William and Mary (Marshall-Wythe) (VA) 33 $44,104 $760.41
University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill 31 $45,232 $766.64
University of Tennessee--Knoxville 61 $34,792 $773.16
University of Nebraska--Lincoln 61 $35,228 $782.84
University of Kentucky 58 $36,407 $791.46
Georgia State University 54 $38,099 $793.73
University of Houston 48 $39,761 $795.22
University of Hawaii--Manoa (Richardson) 80 $33,025 $805.49
University of Alabama 21 $53,469 $810.14
George Washington University (DC) 21 $53,495 $810.53
University of Arkansas--Fayetteville 68 $35,041 $814.91
University of Missouri 76 $34,437 $819.93
University of Virginia 7 $69,704 $820.05
Louisiana State University--Baton Rouge (Hebert) 76 $34,909 $831.17
University of Utah (Quinney) 41 $46,512 $845.67
University of Florida (Levin) 46 $45,654 $861.40
Georgetown University (DC) 14 $64,734 $863.12
Wake Forest University (NC) 36 $49,318 $865.23
Emory University (GA) 23 $57,323 $881.89
Ohio State University (Moritz) 36 $50,269 $881.91

Note: A law school's overall rank is partly based on a two-year average of expenditures per student for fiscal year 2011 and 2012. The expenditures per student figures reflect only the most recent 2012 fiscal year and include instruction spending that has been adjusted for regional cost of living differences. Data on total spending per student are correct as of May 30, 2013.