Is Law School Worth It?

In today's economy, many students are considering graduate school enrollment in order to delay entering a depressed job market. Law school, popularly known as the path to high-paying jobs, has tempted many students to bust out their old VHS tapes of Law & Order and make a glamorous video essay like Elle Woods. But with increases in law school tuition and a shrinking job market, is going to law school really worth it?

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Know What to Expect

Many law school brochures boast about strong employment rates for graduates and starting salaries as high as $160,000. However, with the recession still shadowing the current legal sector, many students face growing amounts of student debt, disappearing job opportunities and increased competition for even temporary jobs. Law school is no longer a safe haven for students when the economy turns south. Instead, look at law school as a considerable investment with consequences (both financial and personal) that can follow you for the remainder of your life.

Know How Much You'll Pay

According to the American Bar Association, in 2012 the average tuition and fees for residents attending public law schools came to $23,214 per year. The average tuition and fees for a private law school were an average of $40,634 per year. Schools increase their tuition nearly 10% per year, and those costs don't include other expenses and interest on student loans.

law school tuition

Know How Much You'll Owe

Unlike undergraduate students, law students have considerably fewer options for taking out subsidized loans. The American Bar Association calculated that approximately 87% of all law school students take out some form of loan to pay for school. The average law school debt topped $100,000 in 2012, according to The New York Times.

law school debt

Know How Long You'll Pay

The Law School Admissions Council reported that a law school graduate with $100,000 of debt would have to pay $1,187 monthly in order to complete the typical 10-year repayment schedule. However, law school grads can request deferrals, which could extend the repayment process up to 30 years.

Know How Much You'll Make

The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) reports that the median salary for law school graduates in 2012 was about $61,200. About 40% of the salaries that were reported averaged about $55,000 or less. Law school graduates who found work with government agencies earned a median of roughly $52,000 per year.

Know the Job Market

The NALP notes that among reporting law school graduates in 2010, only 68.4% had jobs that required passing the bar exam. In addition, the number of temporary jobs for graduating law students doubled between 2007 and 2010 to nearly one in five. Bar passage rates in key states with large law communities continually outpace job creation, leaving a surplus of lawyers throughout the country. Some states are worse than others, as shown in the following diagram.

job trends for lawyers by state

Should You Go to Law School?

Attending any graduate school is a huge commitment which requires both your time and money. Given the current economic situation, lack of jobs and often overwhelming amounts of student debt, law school is not for students who simply want to delay entering the job market. Students must seriously consider what it means to carry large amounts of debt that cannot be discharged. Even second and bottom-tier law schools can cost students in excess of $150,000.

Jobs are scarce, and law students often have to sacrifice their original academic goals in lieu of finding a job that pays, often in a corporate setting. In the end, attending law school is a choice every individual has to make for themselves after evaluating all relevant financial, social and personal factors.

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