November 16, 2006

Grumpy McGrumperson on the Economics of Going to Law School


I got an email from a recruiter today. She was looking to fill a position similar to those I held in my old life, pre-law, and must have found a VERY stale resume.

The email reminded me that I missed out on quite a bit of income to attend law school. In fact, in terms of pay per hour, I'm probably right where I started -- I'll make more as a lawyer, but I'll also work significantly more hours.

Ignore the increased hours, focus on the increased pay, add in the loans, assume I find out that I passed the bar exam tomorrow and continue in my current career, and it will still take me 7-10 years to break even, depending on the time value of money. I don't mind because I'm excited about practicing law -- I like it.

But, I don't think many people do that math before they go to law school.

The reality is, for the average liberal studies major straight out of college, missing out on the income from a $30,000-$40,000 post-undergrad job over three years (not even including raises), plus loans (which, on average, are $80,000) is a sizeable investment. That's at least $170,000. The alternative could be 3 years of a career, with a moderate social life, conservative living, investing, and possibly, a down payment on a home. Not to mention the possible background in a field that may help you land a legal job with connections to that field. If you have a specialized skillset the amount of income you are potentially giving up is even larger.

I think there aren't enough conversations about the reality of the legal market and the actual range of the pay available to people in it as well as the difficulty of finding work. I know many people who got into law for the money, only to realize the money didn't work out to be as great as they thought and they didn't even want to be lawyers. Other people get into it for the money only to realize that they aren't going to ever make the money that they thought.

Oh, and, there's the added bonus of the bar exam and possibly not being able to practice 6 months after you graduate, it might be 12 months, it might be 18 months.

Yeah, I sound like a big fat bummer on the night before California Bar Results come out. I should be more positive. But, I can't help but think that the bar wouldn't have to be such a shitty experience, nor would the pass rates need to be so low, if the people who went to law school in the first place knew what they were getting into and why they were doing it.

If some sort of dedication to the practice of law was required, perhaps a waiver stating that those applying to law school knew the practice could be low-paying and long-houred, but that they still wanted to do it. If something like that was required, there would be much less of us trying to access that stupid server tomorrow night when the verdict comes down, I'm sure of it.

All right. Enough of that. For those of us who already ran the gauntlet, let us toast ourselves. Regardless of the results tomorrow, we finished one major step on the path. And that, my friends, even if you hated every minute of it, is an accomplishment.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of people still go for their law degrees with the outdated assumption that it's a gauranteed path to the easy life. This is no longer the case. It's tough, the debt burden is huge and job market not as plentiful as it once was. That said, if you have the gumption to stick it out, you will reap the benefits. It'll just take a little longer than you might have anticipated...