It is well-known that law school requires a major commitment both in terms of time and money. If you go full-time, you will be giving up three years of your life to study law and do little else besides eating and sleeping. In fact, most law schools do not allow full-time students to work more than 20 hours a week.
As far as the financial commitment goes, the average private law school tuition in 2019 was $49,312, while the average public law school tuition was $28,186. If you are one of those exceptional students who has excellent grades and a high LSAT score, you might be fortunate enough to get most or all of your tuition paid through scholarships. But for most, the high tuition combined with the limited ability to earn an outside income means you will probably run up well over six figures in student loan debt.
In recent years, the high cost of going to law school has prompted many aspiring attorneys to question whether or not it is worth it. After a steady climb that began in the early 1970s, law school enrollment peaked in 2010 at 147,525 students. But since then, JD enrollment has steadily declined. In 2019, there were 112,878 students enrolled in law school, down 23.5% from the 2010 peak.
Is Law School Still Worth the Price of Admission?
Clearly, many students who were considering a legal career have concluded that the answer to this question is “no”. Much of this sentiment was brought on by what has become known as the “Great Recession”, which began in 2008. Many students who graduated from law school between the years of 2009 and 2017 have had a very hard time finding work, unless they graduated from an elite institution like Harvard or Yale.
Only 44% of those in this group who were surveyed said that they had a “good job” waiting for them after they graduated, and 26% said that it took them more than a year to find one. These are definitely not good numbers for a postgraduate program that requires three years of your life and can leave you six figures in debt.
A recent study by the Texas Public Policy Foundation seeks to quantify the perils of attending law school. The report applies the debt-to-earnings test known as the Gainful Employment Equivalent (GEE) to 168 law schools and reaches this very harsh conclusion:
Among the riskiest of the largest academic fields is law. Seventy-three percent of law schools fail these debt-to earnings tests, and 68% of law school graduates attended a program that fails. Students should think twice about enrolling in one of these failing programs, and policymakers should stop providing taxpayer subsidies for them.
We should point out that this was an analysis of students who actually finished their JD program. But because of the difficulty of the program and the time commitment involved, a significant percentage of students who start law school never even make it to the finish line. This is also something that should be factored in when determining whether or not law school is worth it.
Does Law School have Any Upside at All?
If you have read this far, you are probably thinking that going to law school is a bad idea for you and perhaps for most others as well. But like every legal argument you hear in a courtroom, the first side to argue their case always seems right – until you hear the opposing viewpoint.
Is law school worth it? Well, one thing we can say with certainty is that law school is clearly not for everyone, and not even for many of those who can get accepted. Furthermore, if you are looking at pursuing a legal career just for the money, prestige, or maybe because people in your family think it is a good idea, you should probably reconsider.
If you do not have a passion for the law and the drive and determination to establish a successful career no matter what obstacles get in the way, then this might not be the field for you. If, on the other hand, you do have that passion and drive along with the desire to serve legal consumers, then you should not necessarily let the cost of going to law school scare you away.
There are plenty of upsides to pursuing a legal career. Here are some of the reasons that this career path could be a great choice for you:
Emerging Fields of Law
We live in an increasingly complex society, and every area of society has a legal aspect to it. What this means for law students is more specialty opportunities than ever before. In addition to standard practice areas like personal injury, family law, criminal defense, and estate planning, there are numerous emerging fields that law school graduates can go into. Here are just a few of them:
- Elder Law
- Healthcare Law
- Technology and Cyber Law
- Intellectual Property (IP) Law
- Data Protection and Privacy Law
- Environmental Law
- Media and Entertainment Law
Opportunity to Make a Real Difference
Being a lawyer gives you the chance to change the lives of countless individuals for the better. When you represent a client, you give voice and advocacy to someone who needs your help and may have a difficult time standing up for their own legal rights. In addition, lawyers are often part of litigation that changes society in positive ways. Many of our local, state, and federal officeholders began their careers as attorneys and are now in positions where they can shape help shape better public policy.
Being a lawyer is challenging work. But it is also extremely fulfilling and rewarding when you are able to make the kind of impact attorneys can make. And along the way, you will have the opportunity to grow in numerous ways and make a true and lasting difference.
The declining law school enrollment in recent years means fewer new attorneys coming out of law school. At the same time, many Baby Boomer attorneys are entering retirement at a time when we have more legal specialties than ever before. So, for those who decide to go forward with law school, there is a greater potential for a lucrative and fulfilling career.
There may have been a glut of new lawyers during the Great Recession years, but this is not likely to be the case in the future. If you go to law school now, you may be bucking the advice of organizations like the Texas Public Policy Foundation; but sometimes, taking a contrarian approach (e.g., zigging when everyone else is zagging) provides some of the greatest rewards.
When it comes to law school itself, it is important to note that there are ways to significantly mitigate the costs of this field of study. As we touched on to earlier, a higher LSAT score means the chance at getting scholarships. And you can often obtain a better score by taking an LSAT prep course and/or investing several hours into a self-study program.
It is also wise to consider attending a public law school instead of a private one in order to save money on tuition. On average, it will cost you 40% to 50% less to attend a public law school. And keep in mind that many of the higher ranked law schools are public institutions, so you do not necessarily have to sacrifice a quality education to save money.
Better Ways to Market your Practice
Whether you end up starting your own practice or working for another firm after law school, one of the most important strategies to get yourself established is building your personal brand. If you do this effectively, you can establish authority in your area of practice, increase your earning potential, and open up more career opportunities.
The good news is that building a personal brand and standing out from your competition is easier than ever in today’s digital age. It still requires an effective strategy and consistent work, but the internet levels the playing field and gives every attorney the opportunity to establish themselves more quickly. By using the right personal branding approach, you will be well on your way to realizing your dream of becoming a successful attorney.
What Are Your Thoughts?
If you are a law student or you are thinking about going to law school, what are your greatest concerns? After everything you have learned so far, do you think a legal career will be worth it for you?
If you are an attorney, what would you say about your experience with law school? Was it worth it? Are you happy with the field you have chosen?
Please leave us your feedback. We would love to know your perspective and opinion on this controversial topic.