Is law school a good investment?
Given the long term financial ramifications, it is imperative that you ask yourself this question. There is no universal answer—only you can decide whether, given a number of factors, law school represents a good investment for you. Among the factors to consider are the following:
- Why do you want to go to law school? Are you certain that you want to practice law or if not, that you need a law degree to do what you want to do? Do you feel you have a good idea of what lawyers do?
- What will be the actual cost of your law degree, in terms of initial debt, monthly debt service, and the ultimate repayment amount (i.e., original principal + interest accrued over 10-25 years)? How will your debt affect other life goals, e.g., your ability to secure loans for a car or home, your ability to save for retirement, or to start a family?
- Do you have a realistic idea of how much lawyers earn (1) in the field in which you want to practice, (2) in the geographic area in which you want to live, and (3) with a degree from the law school you are likely to attend?
- What are the job placement data for the law schools you are considering attending?
The National Association of Legal Career Professionals (NALP) collects comprehensive salary data to help you answer these questions, and suggests a number of good questions to ask of law school placement offices. Speak to recent (1-5 years post-grad) alumni about their job search experiences.
In the current economic climate, these questions become even more pointed: will you be able to find a job in the field you want to work in, in the geographic area you’d like to live in, that pays enough to meet your costs? Remember too that your costs will likely change and increase over the decade after law school graduation (while you are still paying down your debt)—most people hope to buy homes and start families during that same time period.
Even in good economic conditions, one of the leading causes of dissatisfaction among practicing lawyers has long been the feeling that they are “stuck” in their jobs due to their enormous debt. Absent other professional training or WORK experience, law school does not adequately prepare you for other types of well-paying jobs. If you find that you do not like the practice of law once you have completed law school, you will still need to pay back your loans, and being a lawyer will probably be your best-paying option. (Note, however, that the availability of Income-Based Repayment programs from the federal government increase options for most law grads, and can soften the blow of underemployment or searching for a job outside of the legal profession.)
If you are like most people considering law school, this is the first major financial decision that you will make—with consequences lasting at least a decade. Do not jump into law school lightly, or on a whim, or because your parents want you to do it, or because “there’s nothing better to do.” You alone (as well as your future spouse and children) will bear the burden of your decision. Especially since taking time off before law school will not harm your chances of getting admitted, you should be very certain that law school is the right investment for you.