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Is Law School Worth It?
In today's economy, many students are seriously considering going to graduate school to delay entering a depressed job market. Law school, known for its high paying job and flashy suits, 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 the increases in law school tuition and a shrinking job market, is going to law school really worth it?
By Tori Anderson
Know What to Expect!
Many law school brochures boast about 90% employment rates, $160,000 starting salaries and job security. However, with the recession still shadowing the current legal sector, many students face growing amounts of student debt, disappearing job markets and increased competition for even temporary jobs. Law school is no longer the safe haven for students to rush to 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!
President Obama has increasingly focused on lowering tuition costs and the amount of debt for college students. Although today's students face large amounts of undergraduate debt, the rise in undergraduate tuition in the past three decades (71%) is dwarfed by the rise in law school tuition (317%). According to the American Bar Association, with an average increase of nearly 10% per year, potential law students face up to $180,472 in tuition for a 3-year JD program (not including other expenses and interest on student loans). To put this number into perspective, currently you can buy a 2-bedroom 2-bathroom home in Texas for only $160,000.
Know How Much You'll Owe!
Even a second or bottom-tier law school can cost upwards of $43,000 a year. Unlike undergraduate students, law students have considerably less options for taking out subsidized loans. The American Bar Association calculated that approximately 88% of all law school students take out some form of loan to pay for school. The average law school debt (average of public and private institutions) is $83,024 and the number continues to increase.
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, many recent law school grads have requested deferrals which could extend the repayment process up to 30 years.
Know How to Look at Reported Statistics!
Many law schools' websites feature glossy photos of happy students and wonderful statistics that boast nearly 100% employment nine months after graduation with $160,000 starting salaries. However, schools report their own statistics and often the data reported does not accurately reflect recent graduates' real law prospects. A recent graduate counts as employed even if their job does not relate to the law or is even a full-time position. Additionally, statistics are self-reported by recent graduates and often unemployed or underemployed graduates decline to fill out school surveys. The Dean of Northwestern Law Schools estimated that recent graduates must earn at least $65,315 to see a positive return from their J.D. The American Bar Association states that only 60% of graduates reach this threshold.
Know the Job Market!
The Association for Legal Career Professionals notes that of reporting graduate students, only 68.4% had jobs that required having passed the bar exam and only 64% were employed in full-time jobs that required passing the bar. The number of temporary jobs for graduating law students has doubled in the past five years 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.
So Should You go to Law School?
Attending any graduate school is a huge commitment which requires both your time and loss of income from not working. 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 student debt that cannot be discharged. Even second and bottom-tier law schools can cost students in excess of $150,000.
Jobs are scarce and often law students 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 of the various financial, social and personal factors.