Skip to comments.Does it Pay to Go to Law School ?
Posted on 07/25/2010 7:27:54 PM PDT by SeekAndFind
The Frugal Law Student was wondering earlier this year if law school is really worth the extra cost it takes to go:
Given the economic crisis that is going on, the difficulty new lawyers are having getting jobs, and the soaring cost of law school, Im doing a little analysis to see if law school is worth it for many prospective students. A lot of people go into graduate or professional school believing the debt and time spent will pay off in a more rewarding/higher paying career. While this may be happen for some, its by no means a guarantee.
The Frugal Law Student then runs through a couple of scenarios, but we thought that discussion might be improved by adding a visual touch, which we've done by creating charts that project the lifetime income-earning trajectories for a regular bachelor degree holder who enters the U.S. workforce at Age 22 versus a bachelor degree holder who goes on to law school before entering the workforce at Age 25.
We'll base the lifetime income trajectory for our bachelor-degree holder on our model of the inflation-adjusted income that the average bachelor-degree holder saw between 1997 and 2007, assuming the average 2010 starting salary of $48,351, as reported by CNBC.
We've assumed that our hypothetical law student will earn an average of $10,000 more per year than our hypothetical average bachelor-degree holding income earner. That extra income comes at a cost however, in that we assume an average annual cost of $20,000 for law school, covering three years, in which our bachelor-degree holding law student also gives up the opportunity to have a real job. Law schools typically cost an average of $20,000 for state law schools, while private school's average $30,000 per year.
Attending a "prestige" institution can cost quite a bit more than those figures.
That extra $10,000 per year though is reasonable given that Payscale.com shows the typical range of annual salary for lawyers to run between $58,944 and $119,386.
By comparison, our hypothetical bachelor-degree holder would see their salary range between $48,351 and $101,884.
But the real story is found in our cumulative comparison between the income earned by a bachelor-degree holder and the additional direct cost and opportunity cost for a law student.
Here, we find that even with the benefit of an additional $10,000 per year once they do enter the workforce, the lawyer doesn't catch up to the regular bachelor-degree holder until Age 57. And there is very little additional net benefit in the additional 10 years we show beyond that age to reach Social Security's full retirement age of 67.
We'll conclude with the bottom line offered by the American Bar Association's 2009 paper "The Value Proposition of Attending Law School", emphasis ours:
The combination of the rising cost of a legal education and the realities of the legal job market mean that going to law school may not pay off for a large number of law students. Dean David Van Zandt of Northwestern Law School estimates that to make a positive return on the investment of going to law school, given the current costs, the average law student must earn an average annual salary of at least $65,315.12 As the data above show, however, over 40% of law school graduates have starting salaries below this threshold. Thus, many students start out in a position from which it may be difficult to recoup their investment in legal education. Even students who do ultimately prosper over the course of a career face difficulties from high debt loads during the beginning of their career. High debt can limit career choices, prevent employment in the public service sector, or delay home ownership or marriage. In short, going to law school can bring more financial difficulty than many law students expect.
The lack of financial return, of course, does not mean that it is not valuable to go to law school. Many lawyers receive intrinsic benefits from a satisfying career that cannot easily be quantified. It does mean, however, that students should think twice before going to law school simply for the money. All too often, students who bank on reaping a positive financial return from law school lose out.
If I could do it all over again, I would skip law school, move to Seattle and make friends with Bill Gates.
I like to “visualize bankrupt trial lawyers”.
During a quality meditation session, I can actually picture them living in cardboard boxes under a highway overpass.
I would say yes. 3 years of Law School is good for anyone. There will soon be so many laws we will need lawyers for everything just to figure them out.
Go for it.
“If I could do it all over again, I would skip law school, move to Seattle and make friends with Bill Gates.”
Buy WMT decades ago you said?
In law more than medicine the quality of your school means a lot in influencing your eventual income.
Also it’s much better to do something you enjoy, rather than try to do something you don’t like in an effort to earn more money.
Might as well have put it all in white-out and carbon paper.
Interesting. In the state of Washington one doers not need to attend law school in order to obtain a license to practice law.
Hmm, the financial analysis looks interesting but it is meaningless. To quote Niels Bohr, “Prediction is difficult, particularly when it’s about the future.”
To make a secure income, the work needs to require one on one attention, like a dentist. Read the Black Swan. To get wealthy you need to get lucky.
Thats true. But it is very rare for someone to actually do what is required (several years of interning with a real lawyer) in order to qualify to sit for the Bar Exam.
If I could do it all again, I’d go to medical school.
My son graduated from law school a year ago and after working as a clerk for a judge for a year has just been hired by a large law firm for a 6 figure salary. Of course he has large school loans and worked very hard to graduate magna cum laude and 5th in his class, but I think worth all his work.
If I ever go for a doctorate, it will be a PhD in Economics, a DBA, or a Juris Doctor.
bookmark. For my HS freshman daughter who wants to go military law.
She knows she wants to be JAG at age 14, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life until I was 25. YIKES!
No, it’s not worth it.
But I heartily encourage liberals to waste their money becoming lawyers.
Medicine is the way to go if you can (the artificial physician shortage is skillfully maintained). It’s too easy to set up a law school and charge big tuition bucks to the suckers. This is precisely what has happened and now the legal market is saturated. They were graduating more people than they could place ten years ago, and that was with fewer schools. To make matters worse, large firms are beginning to send work to India. Look around and you’ll see American lawyers trying to get paralegal jobs (which they can’t because employers fear they will bail out at the first opportunity). If you really want easy money, work for the government. Bottom line: In most cases a JD is likely to be a professional hindrance in America.
So what will the job market for lawyers look like 4 years from now?
It’s true in VA, as well. BUT, as stated above, few are willing to do the work required, interning with a licensed attorney for several years, to qualify to sit for the bar. But, it is still done.
He has a great future. No doubt due to good parenting and a dose of hubris, which I would expect from the sone of someone who also used a dose of hubris gchoosing their own screenname. :)
It’s not the smart, it’s not the talented, and it’s not the smart talented ones who make it big, it’s the ones with big bras balls who make it big! But if you have either smart or talent, and even a touch of hubris, things will be OK. If you are dumb as a rock, and have hubris (and you’re hald black) you could even become president! (OK, so 0bama isn’t dumb as a rock, just trying to make a point).
Some of the opportunities in law will probably always be a little better for women, for some complex reasons. Some of the most satisfied lawyers I have ever known have stayed in the JAG. I am sure you be pleased and forever proud if she pursues this dream.
Hell yeah, I’d be proud as hell to have any of my daughters commissioned. I was only an enlisted puke. :)
I am already proud she’s so focused and is already working hard to obtain a military scholarship for anything she can do.
She sees engineering as easily acheivable. LOL, friggin kid, if she knew how hard I worked to get my (non military) scholarship, UGH! I’d well, you know. You’re there too, you know what I mean.
Thanks for the backup, be well, bro.
I am afraid Trod is closer to having it right.
I was standing in the runway of opportunity because I was practicing law, but I was only able to take advantage of it and know what to do because of my business and econ background. BTW , law school doesn't teach you squat about the practice of law or even what the law is in any specific area.
You learn to think like a lawyer and learn you know nothing about what the law is, unless you have just finished researching it.
They say "Semper Paratus" .
I don't know what it means, I was just an Army Warrant. It's foreign or something, like that thing jarheads say.
LOL. I was USCG enlisted. Semper paratus = always ready, kinda like the boy scout motto. Pretty weak.
Yeah, both of my twins want to fly USCG helos. We live not far from USCG academy, but it’s the hardest to get into, so she’s open to settling for Annapolis, Hudson High (army) or that place out in ugly colorado.
This one is tough. she qualified for USSA nationals in swimming in the under-10 freestyle and backstroke, she’s a varsity cheerleader as a freashman, pitcher (captain) and third base on her school team as an 8th grader, we just need to work on grades.
She’s very focused. It makes my job as a single dad that much easier.
She also knows I’ll buy her a car if she gets a full ride scholarship, but she wants a military scholarship.
She wants to fly helos (one of her great uncles was top 10 flight hours in Viet nam), but wants to be a military attorney. I wish she could do both!
My daughter will graduate HS in 2011 and she is considering law school after she gets her bachelor’s degree. But she wants to get a degree that will prepare her for a good job in case she decides against law school. Any suggestions?
People who want to go to law school ought to read abovethelaw.com for about two weeks.
Law schools are lying about the prospects of high paying jobs for their graduates. The reality is that most law school graduates are $100,000 to $150,000 in debt.
Many big law firms have cut way back on summer programs and hiring. It’s going to get much worse before it gets better.
You and your daughter should read this web site for about two weeks. It is a blog and there are some pretty crass comments, but it will give you a good idea of the costs and risks of going to law school.
I was just speaking to my brother who was speaking with a lawyer who literally had three distinct and separate lawyer jobs in a rural area. He was a judge in one county, a prosecutor in another county, and had a private practice in another county. Another friend of ours is both a forester and a lawyer, and focuses on drafting trusts for landowners when he is not doing his day job as a forestry professor. I also had an engineering professor who got his JD while I was a student, and used it to create a class in engineering law and ethics. The timing was perfect, because the class literally started about the same time as the Challenger explosion. I have a friend who is about to take the bar who has worked for the state in environmental regulatory issues and wants to pursue that in his pending legal career, and another who works for a private firm focusing on nuclear regulatory law. And I spent too much time as a marketer working with corporate lawyers on customer facing documentation.
Too many people think all lawyers are ambulance chasers, divorce lawyers, criminal defense lawyers, or prosecutors, because that is what we see constantly on TV. They have no concept of corporate law, regulatory law, tax law, administrative legal work, real-estate law, etc., even though 95% of the time, the lawyers you are likely to deal with are on administrative or real-estate issues.
Information technology. My son is going to be a freshman at Syracuse University in their School of Information Sciences next month. They have an extremely high job placement rate, in the 90% range. I have a daughter graduating college in 2011 also, who is considering law school. She wants to work for a year or so first. My husband and i are both lawyers and we took a year or two off in between college and law school and i think it’s a good idea.
Thank you. She is good in math and might consider accounting since it should be a good career if Law doesn’t work out. What do you think of accounting? I will talk to her about ROTC but she is looking at a private Christian school pretty seriously and I don’t know if they offer ROTC. Will check it out.
I hated it. I was told over and over it was important to understand. It just never added up to me.
Disagree. People whine on ATL. That's what they do. They whined in 04-06 when lawyer salaries were going up every week (because their firms weren't matching fast enough or leading the way) and now they whine about firms laying off or not paying as much.
There is a lot to be cynical about in the practice of law, but I disagree that ATL is a good representation of anything.
If you don’t like ATL, wsj.com/lawblog is reporting the same types of stories.
Are you trying to claim that widespead layoffs, deferred start dates, much smaller summer associate classes, and, rescinded offers are not happening at a time when law schools are not lying about the emloyment prospects for their students even as more and more people are starting law school?
“It just never added up to me.” Are we being cute? Hahaha!
I shoulda gone to the gym for 3 years all day instead. . .
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