When a bright-eyed 20-something with a bachelor’s that’s still hot off the presses asks if law school is worth it, I usually respond with two questions. 1) Do you like to gamble? and 2) Do you know how compound interest works? The financial reckoning of attending law school is a financial decision that, good or bad, can linger for a lifetime. And most law students don’t think the cost was worth it. From the ABA Journal:
Almost half of all law school students have debt from their undergraduate education, more fund their legal education with loans and less than half say it was worth it, according to the AccessLex Institute’s Legal Education Data Deck.
“That debt is ballooning before you even graduate and have a chance to really address it with full-time employment,” says Tiffane Cochran, vice president of research who’s based in Washington, D.C., at the AccessLex Institute. “That’s where the affordability picture becomes really, really tricky.”
A major lure to the profession is the amount of money you could make: hundreds of Biglaw firms nationwide employing associates at starting salaries that look like they can wipe out your student loan balance within a couple of years. But, the operative word there is could. Lawyers don’t have the best reputation for being good at math, but hopefully the aspiring law students have a firm grasp of bimodal distribution:
Is there some meaningful work to be done on the left side of the graph? Of course there is. But if your main purpose in getting a law degree is to have high-dollar work, you are facing some serious competition. Biglaw might not have the pull it once did, but you’re gonna wish your paystubs looked like a Cravath associate’s once those student loans are due:
“You’re coming out with six figures of debt, but you’re not actually making six figures,” Cochran says. “When you consider the amount of money that people invest in a law degree compared to what they make, that salary might be surprising.”
The decision to practice law generally shouldn’t be something you do on a whim because you’re experiencing a lull in your life and want a new commitment to keep you busy — Las Vegas drive-thru chapels are there for that. The road is challenging and you’ll want a plan to guide you when the path gets rough. What are your goals? Is practicing law really the best way to achieve them? Which schools and what locations would best facilitate your growth? Many decisions go into calculating if law school will be worth it. For you, it very well may be. But, if you’re on the fence about it, consider this sage advice:
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at email@example.com and by tweet at @WritesForRent.