Law School Must Be Stressful Right About Now

It must be so stressful to go to law school right now. Why? Well, an average law school, over three years, can cost upwards of $150,000. Easily. You could spend a good deal more even. That’s a lot of money for just about anyone. People who can afford that type of bill aren’t interested in going to law school — they’re all set.

In 2011, the average undergraduate student loan debt crept over $25,000. But you had to get the post-graduate degree because the bachelor’s in the new high school diploma. The market is flooded with people who hold BA’s in political science. Or philosophy. Or psychology. Or basically any other major that begins with a ‘p’.

The market is getting flooded with bachelor’s degrees, in general. So, law school it is.

Many law schoolers are straight out of undergrad. They have little or no work experience. In fact, 65% of Yale’s class of 2014 have less than 2 years of work experience. One fifth of that class is direct from undergrad. Thus, often times, these types of candidates have no savings. Additionally, these students may already have tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans from undergrad.

When you are 22 years old, not many people are 100% positive about their career path. However, as I said, many people enroll in law school around this age.

According to the American Bar Association, the average tuition for a non-public law school was over $36,000 last year. Over the span of a three year program, that comes a sum greater than $108,000 for a school that is middle of the pack when it comes to cost.

On top of those law school bills, the debt accumulated during those undergraduate days gets deferred. Great. After those three worry free years in law school, you have racked up an additional $100,000 in loans. Not so great. That puts you a cool $125,000 in the hole as you search for a job.

“I have a law degree.  I’m going to make bank.”

Maybe. Maybe not.

If you go to a top tier law school, you have a 80%+ chance of being employed, based on the latest statistics from US News & World Report. If you go to a top, top school make that 95%+.

But if you go to a smaller, less recognized law school, your employment opportunities seem to drastically decrease. I will use an extreme example, because that’s more fun. Based on that latest US News report, a number of universities have seen their law school’s employment figures dip under 70%. This means 30% or more of the students are unemployed at graduation.

According to these rankings there are 12 schools that fall under the 70% threshold. This includes Roger Williams which comes in at just under 70%, and goes all the way down to Appalachian Law School at under 50%, with the 10 additional school falling somewhere in between.

Most of the 12 schools on that dubious list are more of the “bargain” type programs. However, not the aforementioned Roger Williams. The schools tuition is $37,350 per year. That would be $112,050 over three years. This is nearly right on the national average. As costs rise, the questions regarding the value of the degree you receive become more pronounced.

“Yeah, but you don’t understand. I now have a JD.”

OK. Last year’s graduates from Roger Williams that went into the public sector made a scorching average of $45,000 per year out of the program.

“Yeah, pff, but I’m going corporate.”

OK. Those that “sold out” and went to the private sector upped their average salary by $14,000 to $59,000. These salaries could be as little as one half to one third of the debt accumulated to attain one of these jobs. Is the JD worth it?

The market it getting flooded with JDs. And this saturation will continue to most types of master’s degrees soon enough. The scenario when you are $125,000 in the hole and you are making less than that friend from high school with the associates degree from that school on Community doesn’t seem appealing.

However, there are obviously those law school graduates who paint a far different picture for themselves. The latest figures for Yale’s law graduates, in the private sector, tip the scales of justice at an average of $160,000. Yale, for comparison, has a full-time tuition cost of $50,750 per year.

All that being said, even Roger Williams claims 75% of its Law students come from outside the state of Rhode Island. According to their website, there are 30 states represented in the class of 2012. Even for a school like Roger Williams, there is currently no shortage of people who are willing to invest more than three years and more than a hundred thousand dollars for this educational experience.

I wonder how long this can last.

Rory McGrath Contributing Editor of OWS. Attended the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Graduated with a BA in Economics. Current MBA candidate at Northeastern University, living in Boston.

View all posts by Rory McGrath

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