College Guide has written before about the trouble with law schools in this economic climate: students assume huge debt to go to law school and then can’t get jobs that pay enough to service the debt once they get out.

But what if there was a way to make responsible decisions about where to go to law school. What if a college student could tell, objectively, which law schools are worth it.

U.S. News won’t be much help here, because its rankings aren’t based on debt, but preLaw magazine has just issued what may be a rather more useful list of the top law schools in America. preLaw’s top schools list isn’t a ranking of some ambiguous prestige factors. The list is based only on objective characteristics. According to the magazine:

Law schools are honored if they meet four criteria: 1) their bar pass rate is higher than the state average; 2) their average indebtedness is below $100,000; 3) their employment rate nine months after graduation is 85 percent or higher; and 4) tuition is less than $35,000 a year for in-state residents.

The top schools are listed alphabetically but in preLaw’s rankings there is no Harvard, no Yale, no Stanford, and no Columbia. In fact, the only schools that appear in both preLaw’s top 60 schools and U.S. News & World Report’s top 25 are the law schools of the University of Texas and University of Minnesota.

In the fall preLaw will publish an issue that actually ranks the top 20 schools and assigns letter grades to the other 40.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer