According to a study conducted by a Vanderbilt Law School professor, Herwig Schlunk, that incredibly expensive law degree you earned was just not worth it. Professor Schlunk’s original 2009 study was entitled “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be … Lawyers”. The updated report is entitled “Mamas 2011: Is A Law Degree A Good Investment Today?” He used salary data to calculate the economic value of a law degree, and he concluded that it does not make economic sense for most students to bother going to law school and earning that fancy law degree.
Professor Schlunk notes that “Law school is a very risky (and expensive) investment; it should not be undertaken lightly.”
According to the updated study, the environment is even less encouraging today for young lawyers than it was three years ago. Both employment rates and median salaries are falling. Graduates of a top-tier law school stand only a 25% chance of landing a job at a big law firm. Graduates of a second-tier law school have only an 8% chance of landing such a job. A graduate of a third-tier private law school stands a measly 5% chance of landing a lucrative job.
When one takes into account the tuition law students pay and the wages the students would have earned had they entered the workforce instead of going to law school, the opportunity cost of attending law school ranged from approximately $210,000 to $252,500, depending on which tier law school the student attended.
The third-tier law student would need to get a job earning almost $60,000 to make attending law school worthwhile. This is $20,000 more than he would have had to earn had he not gone to law school at all. For the second-tier law student, he would have to earn $70,700 in his first job out of law school. The top-tier law student would have to earn $86,000 to make going to law school worthwhile. Meanwhile, the average salary for the first jobs landed by third-tier law students is $56,500; for second-tier law students it is $62,500; and for top-tier law students it is $80,800.
Hence, even the top law school graduate will not earn enough to make going to law school a good investment. Only one-third of students from third-tier law schools are likely to earn enough to justify going to law school; one-fifth of students from second-tier law schools will likely earn a sufficient amount and only one-third of students from top-tier law schools will earn enough to justify the expense of law school.
The figures are not promising. However, one must bear in mind that the value of a law degree varies greatly depending on individual circumstances. For example, many students receive a full or partial scholarship, and the undergraduate school a student attended also is a determining factor in their future employment after law school.
Time to make alternative career plans?