By Brooke Faulkner • January 31, 2017•Law School, Other Law School Issues
In recent years, the worthiness of law school has come under much scrutiny. Influential figureheads left and right were crying everything from “it’s not worth it unless you get into a top school and graduate in the top 20%” to “it’s an outright scam!” The question now is whether or not any of this scrutiny is warranted.
In the summer of 2016, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein even went so far as to say that “the most you get out of law school is debt.” However, he said in the very same interview that “Of course, you get a lot out of law school — you learn a lot...”
The article detailing said interview does make some valid points, among them, the facts that about half of all law school graduates in 2014 had a median starting salary of $40,000 to $65,000 a year, and that there are fewer jobs available to lawyers due to increased efficiency created by technological advancements in business systems.
The article also mentions that the top law school graduates who manage to land a spot at a major firm are making better money than ever before, with median starting salaries at $180,000 a year. It also says that the majority of JDs earn more money than they would if they hadn’t attended law school, quoting a study on the economic value of a law degree, which concluded that “the net present value of a law degree typically exceeds its cost by hundreds of thousands of dollars,” and that “the median and even 25th percentile annual earnings premiums justify enrollment.”
In the simplest terms: law school is worth the money.
A Washington Post article by Dylan Matthews says to straight up ignore the haters: law school is totally worth the investment. Matthews cites some of the more frightening statistics that skeptics have been slinging around, like the high unemployment rate of recent graduates, but also retorts these dire statistics with the previously mentioned study on the economic value of a law degree.
Matthews runs through a much more in-depth analysis of this study, conducted by Rutgers Finance and Economics Professor Frank McIntyre and Harvard Law Professor Michael Simkovic. It features graphs made by the authors that portray statistics from The U.S. Census Bureau and The U.S. Department of Education (to name a few) that altogether show the absolute worthiness of a law degree. The hard numbers go to show, time and time again, that those with a law degree earn more money over their lifetimes: even those with jobs that don’t require passing the bar, even those working in the public service sector, and even those who are in the bottom 25th percentile of earners.
New York Times contributor Steven Davidoff Solomon agrees: law school is a solid investment. Solomon puts the naysayers to rest with an honest approach. He agrees that there are numbers discrepancies: top earners are earning more, while bottom earners are earning less. He admits that law school is not the path to a shiny new millionaire lifestyle for most JDs, and that it might be harder to find jobs practicing law than it was 20 years ago, but still reiterates that the investment almost always pays off.
Also, remember that Goldman Sachs CEO who said that debt is all you get out of law school? Let’s not forget that his law degree managed to land him a position that made him a billionaire.
When it comes down to it, the most important thing is that you take a solid look at what you want your investment to yield, and what your opportunities might be given your program and where you’re willing to live/move to to obtain a job. It’s different for everyone. What one woman considers a worthy investment, another might think twice about.
Keep in mind that you have facts, and you have options.
First off, there are several ways to pay for law school that don’t require racking up student loans. Applying for scholarships and grants is definitely worth your time, and work study opportunities abound. Even if you have to pay for everything (or pay everything back) out of pocket, remember that there are several facts to guide you: if you go back to McIntyre and Simkovic’s study, you’ll see that law students rarely default on their loans (they are seven times less likely to default than traditional students.)
Let’s not forget all the other Ms. JD members who tout the value of earning a law degree. We’ve all learned so many valuable lessons throughout our law school careers: from basic advice on how to survive your first year or two, to the fact that law school teaches you so much more than just how to be a good lawyer.
Lastly, keep in mind that you’re not alone on this journey. Once you do graduate, the Ms. JD community will always be here to support you, from your first steps into the career field to wherever that takes you in the years (and decades) to come. We’ll always be an open and uplifting community, here to guide you with advice on how to be successful, in whatever way you define success for yourself.