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Law School No Longer Path to Riches

Sep 16, 2011

When thinking about a career path, many people consider the well-respected profession of an attorney. The law profession has been linked to high-paying, glamorous jobs through movies and TV shows. But, is becoming a lawyer a good investment, particularly in the midst of an economic downturn? Read on to learn more.

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Where Have All the Law School Grads Gone?

According to the website Above the Law, the number of applicants to law school has decreased by 38% from 2010 to 2013. Furthermore, the number of students taking the LSAT has dropped roughly 34% between 2009 and 2013. Adam Cohen, a teacher at Yale Law School, notes in a 2013 case study for the Washington Post that job opportunities for law school graduates are scarce. This may explain, in part, why fewer students are attending law school.

Cohen cites three main pressures affecting the job market for law school grads: the Great Recession, outsourcing, and law firms intent on doing more with less. According to Cohen, 12.8% of students from the 2012 law school graduating class were still unemployed in February 2013. Furthermore, the overall debt of law school graduates averaged about $108,000 in 2012, as noted by U.S. News & World Report.

Given historically high unemployment numbers in the legal sector and skyrocketing school debt, it's safe to say there are strong reasons to avoid law school. Paul Campos, author of You Shouldn't Go to Law School (Unless), also says we've been producing too many lawyers for the number of jobs for many years. This has led to lower salaries and lower law school enrollment.

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Job Outlook and Earning Potential

According to U.S. News & World Report, the median starting salary for law school graduates in the private sector was about $76,000 in 2011. Graduates of the top law schools, like University of Pennsylvania and University of California - Berkeley, saw median starting salaries around $160,000. While earnings potential may be strong for a select few, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that the overall number of employed lawyers is expected to grow only 10% from 2010 to 2020, which is slightly slower than average compared to other career fields. Flagging job growth will be due, in part, to job competition, reports the BLS - there will be fewer job opportunities available for an increasing pool of law school grads.

There Is Still Demand for Lawyers

If you're still set on becoming a lawyer, don't be discouraged! Many people continue to say it's a smart career choice, despite somewhat grim job forecasts. For example, a 2013 study by Michael Simkovic of Seton Hall University Law School and Frank McIntyre of Rutgers Business School shows that the lifetime earnings for law school graduates are substantially greater than the price of law school. These scholars claim the lifetime average value of a law degree exceeds one million dollars.

Do Your Homework

As you look into law school, research each school's tuition costs, graduation rates, and average debt amounts. You should also research average starting salaries of a school's most recent graduating class, if possible. Speaking with a school's admissions counselor is often a good idea as well.

If you're still weighing your options, consider working as a paralegal or in another legal support career to get a better idea of what an attorney really does. You might also want to talk with friends and family about your decision; a practicing lawyer may offer worthwhile advice as well.

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