Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Law school pros, cons and a payoff?

To law school that is. I saw a short article this morning about the value of a law degree in a divorce case. A judge held that a wife’s J.D. added $126,000 to her earning power. (I’m not sure about the wife’s age or experience or what kind of law she practices, but it seems the court valued her degree less than what she paid for it.)

I know I’ve written about this before, but I’m thinking about it again as I continue my job search/ hiatus. What value does my law degree have now, and what value will it have 20 years from now? I feel like it’ll all be worth it, but I must say the dream of a life without loans is a sweet one.

Most entry-level attorney jobs (besides big-firm jobs) don’t pay that much more than the starting salary at a non-lawyer job. The earning potential is more with a law degree, but if you’re smart enough, put your time into working your way up and don’t act like a jerk then you can have similar earning potential.

But it wouldn’t be the same. People are still going to law school in droves and I believe having a J.D. increases your earning capacity, even as society’s view of what it means to be a lawyer changes and even though the payoff can seem impossible now.

Most law graduates are still finding employment even if it is in a “non-lawyer” type positions, like working for their law school in some capacity. And while some may bash these positions, they sound pretty good to me; decent hours and salary while gaining legal experience. The J.D. may not be “required,” but let’s face it — it would be a hard feat to get these jobs without a law degree.

What do you think? Is law school still a good investment or is it a road to nowhere, tempting people who want to feel a sense of accomplishment but who are unprepared for the real world come graduation?


  1. I think most of the value of a law degree is an anachronistic view of the prestige of a firm job. Economics now, however, show that you pay for the prestige with your tuition, but on actual dollars, you gain little compared to, as you put it, non-legal jobs. I am also surprised at how many law students there continue to be, who are willing to pay now for prestige (but little recouping earning power) later.

  2. Took the family to see the circus when it was in town a few years ago. One of the performances featured a group of elephants running around the ring. Behind one of the elephants ran a woman with a shovel, whose job was both to scrape elephant poop up off the floor before it got stomped on and, when possible, to actually catch the poop in her shovel before it could hit the floor.

    I would rather be doing that.

  3. I graduated in 1990. There were huge amounts of graduates at that time.
    I had a hard time finding an position at the time. I must admit that one of the reasons I went to law school was to make a bunch of money. My goals have certainly changed as a 48 year old with 2 kids, mortgage, ets.
    But it is still not the financial windfall I envisioned. My gov’t position has not seen any raises in the last 3 years and in fact had furloughs that resulted in 5% cuts. I actually kind of wish I went to business school and gotten an MBA because I remain interested in finance.

  4. I graduated during a recession. It has taken years to get to a comfortable position where I have plenty of good, reliable and mostly appreciative clients. Most law grads don’t go to work at some large firm and even if they do they are merely employees subject market forces acting upon their firms. Just ask former assocaites of Bogle & Gates, Brobeck, Swidler, etc. The law is a job that requires some training. If the cost of training has an unreasonably low ROI then prospective law students should have the courage to reassess and move to Plan B. I met many law school applicants and students after I left school. I always caution them that being in love with the idea of being a lawyer is not the same as achieving some modicum of job satisfaction as an attorney.

    BTW-I do tranactional work and have had several MBAs in finance that have way, way better credentials than I do ask me if I knew anybody that was hiring. Gov’t law job = food on the table–not bad in this environment.