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Is Law School Worth It? Readers Respond

The numbers look grim for law school students. Almost one-third of graduates aren’t even working as lawyers. Meanwhile, legal salaries are shrinking and tuition continues to rise. Nearly half of 2010 grads made between $40,000 and $65,000. The average debt owed by law students is now about $91,100, up 14% from 2008.

We asked readers if they thought law school was worth the high cost and received dozens of responses on Twitter and Facebook, many of them from law school graduates.

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    • regarding comment stating at least law school prepares you for a specific profession, well, yes and no, law school doesn’t really teach practicum. I took only one course in law school on law practice and it was an elective that I chose to do. Law school is kind of less than medical school, where you actually at least work on cadavers, you can graduate law school, then you have to prepare for the law school exam (that’s separate course and separate and additional expense) then you need to get that first job to ACTUALLY GAIN PRACTICE EXPERIENCE. Law school teaches arbitrary rule and even schools themselves state that they basically teach “how to think like a lawyer”. It’s critical to get a job to gain experience otherwise you’re just out there learning on your own, learning by mistakes (and here the mistakes can be costly to the public). Other thing is to get an unpaid internship or volunteer but frankly even here there is a limited supply and although you can easily volunteer at a domestic violence clinic (pay your own parking) that kind of experience doesn’t necessary translate into high paying kind of work, or even medium paying kind of work.

    • Contrary to common belief, there are not too many lawyers. Rather, there are too many lawyers serving individuals/businesses that have money. There are not enough lawyers serving individuals/businesses of modest means.

    • I started law school 40 years ago this week. In my legal career, I observed the effects of the explosion in law school graduates. For the longest time, it has been a bullish industry. It has not been unlike the housing boom/bust, just slower to reach the deflation point.

      Over most of my career, the price of law graduates kept rising, especially at big firms (even though newly minted lawyers have no better idea today of where to place their hands in an attempt to find their back-sides than novices ever had), causing more and more bright people to choose to enter the law school pipeline.

      The courts did their part too, introducing more and more uncertainty into the law, thereby inviting more people to seek their “day in court”. Television advertisements promised lottery-like riches, originally for people who had been “injured in an accident”, now replaced by ads seeking people lucky enough to have had (or had a relative with) an exotic disease (who had even heard of mesothelioma ten years ago?).

      “Spreadsheet” thinking made it look as though the demand for lawyers would grow forever at compound rates. But spreadsheets don’t know from diminishing returns. Not too long ago, working lawyers came to realize that the principal (not principled) beneficiaries were the ever-growing courts themselves. Take a look at any Palace of Law (quaintly still named “courthouses”) built in the last fifteen or so years. Nothing’s too good for our boys over there. Either that or $300 Million just doesn’t go as far as you’d think it would.

      Now, like over-built residential real estate, we have too many lawyers for the amount of money clients are willing to fork over to buy a little of their time. Yes, those Washington, D.C. lawyers who used to work for some agency or other, or who, while on some legislative staff drafted the rules which determine which businesses live and which ones die, continue to scarf larger and larger fees for the their time [Pop Quiz: Where are seven of the ten wealthiest counties in the United States?]. But you’re talking about a few thousand of those courtiers. For the hundreds of thousands of lawyers who are not so blessed, who live and work some place other than at the goody factory, the jig is up.

      Only an idiot would have built a house in the last five years. There are just too many good ones already built, begging for someone to pay a mortgage, any mortgage, to own them. It’s the same for lawyers. We will reach equilibrium again some day. The cost of becoming a lawyer (including deferred income) will again be less than the expected return, IQ adjusted. My advice is: Unless you are pretty sure you are going to graduate in the top 5% from Harvard, Yale, or Stanford, find something else to do for now. Wait until a bunch of the existing under-employed lawyers have moved on to other fields or retired (or died). Don’t be that guy building the spec house in 2008 just because you can’t think of any other way to make a living.

    • Being a lawyer is great if you want to do one of two things, help people OR make money. It’s tough to do both, and the debt will often force the decision. Also, government positions, in which you CAN do both (i.e., prosecutors, public defenders, trustees, etc.) are incredibly competitive to obtain so this career path is hard to count on for all but the highest achievers.

    • The “is x degree worth it” questions are just “morning talk show” banter level garbage and not the kind of discussion to which the WSJ should pander.

      The appropriate questions is “if you love the law, how can you make getting a law degree work for you?” If you don’t love the law and are in law school or have not planned for the expense of your chosen school, we should not waste a minute on the comments. These kinds of mid-studies lack of career insight/preparation issues are issues of maturity and are not specific to a legal career.

      My wife graduated from a very good school a few weeks ago. She invested heavily in her program and had a fantastic experience with the students, the faculty and employers. The difference she saw was that she had the skills that come with job experience and the clarity of why she was there.

      She managed to excel in both her studies and her extracurricular activities despite extreme external life event pressures. She was methodical, focused and engaged. This is her second US-based graduate degree – English is her second language.

      We are now mentoring several other students on how to make it work for them.

      By the way, we made it through without any debt because we planned for the expense; she pursued and won University, summer and P.T. professional law-related positions; and we purposefully chose a top school with very low tuition.

      Bottom line advice, which most people will ignore to their detriment, plan and invest in your passions (within rational behavior) and everything else will work out.

      Giovanni Galtiago

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