6 Reasons Why Law School is “Worth It”
- If you want to be a lawyer, attending law school is the only way to go. You can run a company without an MBA (or even a high school diploma) but you can’t give legal advice without a law degree and passing the bar.
- It’s possible to get scholarships to law school, especially if you choose schools where your LSAT and GPA are at or above the 75th percentile. So, you may not actually be taking on that much debt to begin with, hence negating the debt issue (#1, above)
- Law school does teach you to think in a different way. You solve problems differently, learn to differentiate between relevant and irrelevant facts, and become smarter with respect to just about everything. (But it does ruin your enjoyment of mystery novels, in the interest of full disclosure.)
- You will meet intelligent people, engage in interesting ideas, and challenge yourself academically, socially and professionally.
- You will earn something that no one can take away from you – a professional license that allows you to open shop practicing law and have the opportunity to earn a living for yourself. I consider self-employment to be the only true job security.
- Despite negative news about the BigLaw job market in recent years, the average attorney salary is above $100,000. There aren’t too many professions where that’s the case. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a lawyer is $129,000, putting lawyers fourth behind doctors, CEOs and dentists. And remember, doctors and MBAs and dentists usually go into even more debt for their education than lawyers. There is no free ride to the top of the food chain.
Three Considerations of Sacrifice
If this sounds great, and you’re wondering where the sacrifice comes in, then here are the three key things you need to consider:
- Debt: It’s common for people to take out more than $100,000 in student loans. In some places (not California, of course) that’s a mortgage. Law school can cost $50,000 a year, and starting salaries for lawyers may not be much more than that, depending on the type of law you practice when you graduate.
- Opportunity cost: What else you could be doing, money you could be earning, and what else you might be giving up by spending 3-4 years in law school. Will you delay getting married, buying a house? Will you give up three years of a good salary, maybe even higher than you might make during your first few years as a lawyer?
- Relationships: When I started law school, the dean looked at our entering class during Orientation and said, “Look to the left, look to the right, one of you will be divorced in three years.” He was right. (And, yes, I was among them….). Law school is demanding and stressful and changes who you are as a person – for me, it was a great change and I really learned who I was and what I was capable of doing. It was a confidence builder. But that doesn’t always work well in a relationship.
For more food for thought on this topic:
Take some time to listen to my free podcasts (also downloadable from iTunes under Ann Levine) on the following topics: The Future of Legal Education: A Dean’s Perspective; Financial Aid Issues for Law Students; and Job Prospects and Law School Rankings.
Check out The Law School Decision Game: A Playbook for Prospective Lawyers for more in depth information about lawyer salaries and all the other information you need to decide whether to go to law school.
There is one thing missing from your post: lack of jobs! Attorneys are being laid off in our economy. Those fresh out of law school aren’t finding jobs that require a law degree and instead are at a job that can’t pay down the debt from the degree they aren’t using. Those that tried to start their own practice aren’t finding enough clients at a rate to pay the bills.
I would love to go to law school for many of the reasons above but now is not the right time unless you can afford it without taking out so much debt.
See people like Rebecca ruin the whole idea of law school for many people. First off, she is completely moronic and not even involved with the legal world at all. Second, jobs are hard in EVERY area of the country but as a lawyer you can open your own practice. And news flash Rebecca, if you cant get clients then your marketing skills suck! Bottom line is the law is what you make it. I could go to Thomas Cooley law and finish bottom of my class and still make a million dollars as a lawyer in a few years. You know why? because im a hustler I dont rely on my schools reputation or other people to get me a job! So, I guess it is my duty to help any wavering lost soul that staggers to this site and reads Rebecca’s response and gets scared off. Go to law school (no one can ever take that from you) If you cant pay back loans defer or forbearance will be available. And MOST IMPORTANTLY hustle!!!!!!!! life is a hustle law is no different. You cant count on a school or prestige to get you a job or make money for you. I know a guy in my old town(ghetto) that made 60,000 a year begging. now go to law school and be RICH after.
George, I love this, and I agree! “Landing a job” isn’t what it’s about for most lawyers – it’s about making your job, and if you’re not willing or prepared to do that, then this may not be the right profession for you in the long run, once you get past the “first job hiring” stage.
Good luck opening a solo shop with no LEGAL Experience or Money!!! And btw good luck paying of your loans from.
Rebecca’s concern is absolutely on point. It doesn’t blow my mind that a purported “law school admission expert” would suggest that 100K salaries are universally (or nearly so if you want to play semantics) achievable for recent law school grads. Big firms don’t really have an interest in students from lower ranked schools and those are the firms that will pay you 6 figure salaries.
As a current student who recently went through the big firm hiring practice, I would say that you need a tremendous amount of hustle, solid grades and a top 14 (Yale through Georgetown at the low end) diploma, to land one of these job…and honestly, there aren’t even enough jobs for all of us.
As for not relying on the name on your diploma, and succeeding at “hustling” or whatever George thinks he is good, I can’t say that I know anyone who actually thinks that way. Everyone always pushes, all the time, because that is really what is expected.
I find Ann’s position to be disgustingly self serving, misleading, and absurdly optimistic in the face of clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.
While I can’t agree with your T-14 or nothing (especially in light of scholarships and regional preferences/realities), I would like to bring to your attention that I work very hard to bring these realities to light, through this blog, but especially through the book I published in 2011 entitled “The Law School Decision Game,” where I interviewed 300 lawyers on this very topic.
I tend to agree with George’s perspective on this. As a business owner and not an attorney, it’s never easy but I can’t imagine not pursuing a career that I feel passionate about. The thought of working the second half my life at a job I dread is not appealing and for the younger crowd, you won’t want to be 50 looking back on what you really should have done career-wise. Money is necessary but shouldn’t be the primary reason one decides to go to law school or not. I’m 49 and considering law school. I have been a business owner for most of my career and have made a modest living. Some things in my life have changed and probably for good reason, because I know what is important–doing something you’re passionate about. There are a lot of miserable, wealthy people out there. Don’t worry about the economy, none of us know what is going to happen tomorrow, so pursue the career that most interests you and if that’s law, do it. I’m certainly going to try!
I know that law school is challenging, but you have to plan ahead, strive for your personal best and most of all have the inner Drive to get you through the tunnel and into the light. Staying up till all hours studying, and putting in considerable amounts of time and effort is a major requirement of getting into top notch law schools, which in turn help connect you to large high-paying firms. Granted, this is not for everybody, and although the term is more slang, I agree with George in that life isn’t easy and you have to “hustle” and make something of yourself.
I currently work for a very large law firm that has 16 locations throughout the United States and see both sides of this discussion. I am currently working on my Bachelor’s degree and plan to attend law school, that is if I can get over the fear of getting into debt, but I agree that you have to pay for your education and there are no free rides. I have been looking online for blogs about going to law school and I must say that is more negative than positive on the web in this regard. I as a passionate person ready to learn law will not let others experiences or opinions deter me from what just might be the best thing that I ever did for myself. I appreciate the encouragement and realism that Ann has shared.
I am so glad this post has been helpful for you, and I hope the blog as a whole helps you reach your goals.
While I agree with some of the things said above (hard work, going to the top 14 schools, “hustling”, etc…), I think it’s somewhat irresponsible to say that law school is worth it. Salary reports are usually fairly inflated and I know quite a few lawyers that make less than 40k with thousands more in student loans.
If someone definitely wants to be an attorney, then sure, go to law school, but if someone is going into law for the money, they might be better off thinking of something like investment banking or engineering. There’s no guarantee that a law degree will net the “average salary” touted above.
I am sure Ann means well, but she is part of what I would like to call “the law school scam.”
The fact is a law degree, while “prestigious”, is deemed almost next to worthless in this type of economy. Just like a BA and an MBA. I should know. I graduated from a tier 1 top 30 law school. For the first year after graduation, I made $12,000 a year. The firm then let me go because they couldn’t afford to pay me anymore. I’ve been searching for several months and no luck. I’d been searching when I was employed too. I’ve been networking, getting on boards, getting involved in the community. No luck.
Starting a firm with relatively little experience and no money is not an option. Anyone who says it can be done does not know how the legal field works and the job responsibilities of a lawyer. It is not like starting an online internet e-commerce business. It would be akin to a first year doctor going out on his own. With malpractice insurance and the potential harm to the public, it rarely happens.
And for those who wish to inquire, yes I tried starting a firm but didn’t work out (surprise!)
Law school, like many other fields in academia, is a complete and total sham. Over the past two years, frustrated law graduates who were duped by society (“education=success!”) have taken matters into their own hands and sued their schools. While several law suits have been dismissed, California (with its strong consumer protection laws) have allowed the suits to proceed.
Academia is akin to the subprime mortgage fiasco that led to this recession. Of course, while students have a very small amount of blame, the majority of blame lies with the institutions that misled the student body. For those who disagree, here’s a question: if a client goes to see a lawyer and the lawyer steals the money, is it the client’s fault for choosing that lawyer? Of course not. The lawyer is held accountable because the lawyer is in a superior position. Just like doctors, accountants, bankers and other professionals who have more knowledge than the average layperson. In addition, schools have been cooking their books for years on how their own students can find lucrative jobs, many of which do not exist. They have lied about starting salaries and their employment statistics.
The issue is not the student: the issue is our whole educational system. In other places, student debt is non-existent. Those societies do not believe in robbing from the young. In this country, we have a strange belief that big business (including big academia) is always right and should be worshipped. This includes giving guaranteed federal money to schools.
We won’t have change until the education bubble bursts and colleges are forced to dramatically lower tuition.
All fields of work are hard. Law you can work for yourself. Network and market yourself. If you hustle the world will bend to you. What can be better than working yourself. Why hustle on a job to make someone else happy an rich.