The Hefty Price Tag of a Law Degree
Recently, a friend of mine announced she would be quitting her job to go to law school. She is a single mom and already holds a bachelor's degree, but she felt that a law degree would lead to a better paying position and more financial freedom. I have toyed with the idea of a law degree myself because I love the challenge of solving legal questions. Cases are like puzzles, searching for those missing pieces that make the ‘big picture’ come into focus. And, as my mother always reminded me, I love to argue. However, after doing some research, I think the true cost of a law degree might just outweigh the benefits, at least for me.
Cost – If you plan to attend a top tier law school, expect the price tag to be about $150,000. This does not include the cost of your bachelor’s degree, room and board, or other essentials; it’s strictly the tuition for three years. Even an average law school can run you about $40,000 a year. Sure, may be able to soften the blow a bit by attending a public institution or a lesser known school, but your chances of employment after graduation could be affected by the school you choose, as well.
Competition – Those attending the top law schools (Harvard, Yale and Stanford) typically have the best shot at landing jobs at the top law firms in the country, so competition to get into these schools (and others like them) is intense. You should have a grade point average of at least 3.8 (if not higher) and an LSAT score over 170. Even with impressive scores, you odds of getting could be low. Stanford has over 4,000 applicants vying for 170 spots (about 9% acceptance rate).
Employment – Don’t rely soley on the information found in ranking sites, as there has been much discussion about the inflated employment statistics given by law schools and several lawsuits have been filed, as well. A recent article in the New York Times discussed how schools claim an employment rate of up to 93 percent nine months after graduation, but what those statistics don’t reveal is that many of those people aren’t even working in a law field or holding a permanent position. If you were a waitress at a restaurant, the school would consider you employed for the purposes of the survey. If you expect to bring in a high starting salary (approx. $160,000), you realistically need to be in the top 25 percent of your class at one of the top 25 law schools in the country. The remainder of graduating law students can expect to earn between $30,000 and $80,000, depending upon their schools and the firms they work for. Some law school grads may not even get jobs within the law field.
The bottom line is that law school can be very expensive. If you graduate with over $150,000 in student debt, you would need a starting salary of $65,000 or more to even make a dent in your loans. The competition for jobs is just a fierce as that of getting accepted into law school, and is only expected to get worse as enrollment numbers continue to rise. For older students (30+), the prospects are not favorable. If you are considering a law degree, do your research and try to minimize your loan debt by searching for scholarships and grants that may lessen your financial burden upon graduation. Be sure you have a clear picture of the true cost of your law degree and have a back-up plan to help pay that debt should you not be able to find suitable employment after graduating. In the end, only you can decide if a law degree is worth the cost for you.