The decision to enter law school is based on different factors for each person; for one potential student, law school may be the only way to break out of a rudimentary nine-to-five job or a way to finally stop living from paycheck to paycheck; for another student, it may be the “obvious” next step due to success in undergraduate education; for many others, entering law school is a combination of the two – a way to stay in school until the job market improves, since there is little hope in finding a high-paying job without graduate education in the current economic state. But whatever a student’s reason for entering law school, most students graduate on a level playing field as they find themselves buried alive under a mountain of student loans often in excess of one hundred thousand dollars. The possibility of such a potentially grim graduation situation should be considered by all incoming students when they each respectively ask themselves: Is law school an economically sensible option for me? The answer, like the answer to most economic questions, requires a cost-benefit analysis. Unfortunately, many of the costs and benefits associated with law school vary widely depending on what school is student may attend. For the purposes of this analysis, the “average” numerical values will be used.
The average tuition cost for one year of law school is around $32,000 (www.accessgroup.org/paying-for-school). Multiply this number times three, since law school is most often a three-year venture, and the total tuition cost to attend law school is roughly $96,000. Potential students should keep in mind that this is just for tuition and does not include other costs such as rent, transportation, and other living expenses. On average, the yearly off-campus living expenses total nearly $19,000 per year, bringing the living expenses to $57,000 over three years. In total, tuition and living expenses can add up to over $150,000 over three years. Finally, there is the opportunity cost. Not only can three years of law school cost $150,000 out of pocket, but also keep in mind that most full-time law students cannot work during the school year. In 2008, the median income for an individual with a Bachelor’s degree was $49,000 annually (http://transitions.s410.sureserver.com/). Over three years of law school, that’s $147,000 of lost potential income.
As gloomy as the situation looks from a financial perspective, law school does reap some rewards. The first benefit of law school is the education. Even if a graduate does not go into a law-related field, people with a graduate degree are likely to earn around $12,000 more per year than someone with just a Bachelor’s degree (www.careerbuilder.com). However, even $12,000 extra per year will only put a small dent in $150,000 worth of student loans. The most economically sensible choice for a young graduate is to enter the law field, where beginning salaries range from $45,000 to $166,000, with the average being around $79,000 (www.payscale.com). At $79,000 per year, paying off $100,000+ in student loans is very doable.
If the only way of making law school economically feasible is to enter the law field after graduation, the final step in the analysis is to ask what the chances are of getting a law-related job. This varies greatly from school to school, as the statistics are often closely correlated with the geographical location (city versus rural, housing prices, population, etc.). Most law schools have post-graduation statistics that a new applicant should study diligently. Is there a pattern of high job placement? If so, then law school may be a good choice. On the other hand, if there is a pattern of low job placement, low bar passing rates, or high rates of students taking non-legal jobs, that should be a hint that a particular law school may not be the best financial choice for potential students.
This piece was composed by Roy McClure, a freelance writer based in the greater metro region of Little Rock; for those with bankruptcy issues or concerns be sure to visit http://www.consumerbankruptcyattorney.com.