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September 28, 2010


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You make good points, however as someone who has considered trying to attend law school, the current reality is that the job market is abysmal. Lawyers from mediocre schools have NO jobs. Seriously. Over half the graduates at many programs have NO employment prospects when they leave school. Of course, more highly regarded schools do better, but even in top top tier schools, they are still feeling the pain. Law school is not a good investment right now. In fact, according to statistics I have come across, the average lawyerly income is much closer to $50k than $160k. In several years, who knows. Perhaps along with everything the legal job market will rebound, but for now if you're considering law school, buyer beware. I refer interested readers to (not mine but is an unvarnished look at this situation).

One thing that isn't looked at generally in any analysis of college earnings is whether you actually enjoy what you are doing or not. Is it worth it to get a law degree and make a mid six figure income if you hate what you do and are miserable for your entire working life and only look forward to retirement?

I truly believe that people need to spend more time deciding what they want to do in life rather than focusing on what it takes to make a large salary. If you find something you are passionate about, the money will come.

A Princeton Study found that in general more money does not bring more happiness -

"The belief that high income is associated with good mood is widespread but mostly illusory," the researchers wrote. "People with above-average income are relatively satisfied with their lives but are barely happier than others in moment-to-moment experience, tend to be more tense, and do not spend more time in particularly enjoyable activities."

I too believe that a college education is important but not necessarily because of the specific skills you learn. There are certain general learning tools that you gain through college. Also, many times the degree is the invitation that gets you in the door to demonstrate your skills.

Figure out what it is that you truly enjoy doing. Find a good state college that will help you reach that goal. Make every attempt to get that education without incurring any debt. Work to make the most of that education and let the money come as it will.

Most law school graduates, even in NYC, don't go to work for a major NYC firm. I think you'll find that the median starting salary for lawyers in general is not nearly that high.

The starting salaries mentioned in Law School recruitment materials don't mention that law grad starting salarys have a bimodal distribution with a wide range of 'dead' space between the superstars who get offered 160k-range salaries and the most common salaries around 50k.

If you're banking on being a superstar, I recommend you go Ivy League, be at the top of your Ivy League class, and also be both good-looking and charming. If you don't make the cut at $160k, there's a very good chance you'll be making less than $75k.

College degrees either give you the tools to "get in the door" or a piece of paper saying that you are minimally trained in that field.

Unfortunely it does not guarentee a job.

Unfortunely people who have a degree will get paid more than people who don't. A friend who works for a major utility has a degree and he is getting paid more that the same person who does not have a degree.

Lots of complexity in this equation and all things are not equal.

One thing that I do not think is ever considered by the studies that look at the financial benefits of college vs. no college is the unemployment rate for those with a college education is always much lower than for those with a high-school education.

And I second the person who mentioned the bimodal distribution of income for lawyers. Outside of the top firms, incomes are much lower.

I agree that $48k sounds like too high for an average starting salary for college grads. My bet is that the people with lower incomes tend not to respond to whatever surveys are done, biasing the data.

The $48k starting salary sounds about right to me. Teachers here start at $35k and engineers get $60-$70k. Remember that the expensive cities and states will drag up the averages.

THe numbers cited for lawyers are way off for starting incomes. Median wages for all lawyers was around $110k in 2008. Starting wages were in the $40-$100k range depending on the nature of the job.

The $48,000 number doesn't surprise me actually.

I read that Yahoo article and wrote a post about it. I found it fascinating too that recruiters preferred the schools you listed because of cost cutting. That never occurred to me regarding a big school being beneficial.

I know someone that sent one child to Dartmouth and the other to University of Michigan. I asked him if Dartmouth was worth the cost and he said 'I will let you know when she gets a job'. Kinda scary.

I'm much more interested in knowing with the MEDIAN starting salary for college grads is, because as well (should) know, averages are terrible predictors, because of their susceptibility to outliers.

Also, I agree that using NYC as a benchmark for determining the average of ANYTHING is a terrible idea. Outside of that and very few other major cities, lawyers are NOT landing starting salaries of anywhere near $145k.

As with many other responses, the numbers for law school graduates are at the high end of the spectrum, the likes of which probably only about 3% of U.S. law school grads even come close to seeing.

Law school is probably the most expensive lottery ticket you can find. Low odds of success with insanely high costs. I would NOT do it again. Big, big mistake financially...professionally.

I agree with Michele, why in the world would you base an income study around NYC?

"According to the College Board, it takes 14 years before a college grad's income minus their debt beats out the earning power of a high school diploma."

This to me is very inaccurate, I could go off and tell my story and how terrible this statistic is but I think most people realize this too. Its a no brainer.


Your conclusion is largely correct (sounds like you earned the knowledge the hard way) but your supporting beliefs a little off. This article shows the distribution of salaries for the class of 2008 & 2009:

26% of the class of 2009 reports a salary of $160k . The next most common salary is $50k, and 10% of the class makes that. A huge chunk of the class of 2009 is between $30k and $65k, and there are relatively few graduates who make between $100k and $150k.

High salaries for recent law school grads aren't as rare as you think, but there's a huge empty salary range between the low-salary group and the high-salary group.

Unlike medical schools, there are hundreds, and I mean hundreds, of very, very mediocre to pathetic law schools. There is no way to compare all lawyers. The bottom line, if you go to a top tier or second tier law school and are in the top 30% of your class, your salary is going to be well into the six figures. If you go to Abraham Lincoln School of Law and French Fries, or if you finish in the bottom third, or if your undergrad degree is worthless and your law school is mediocre, not so much.

One thing that everybody forgets with regards to the whole state school vs Ivy League comparison is that most students at the Ivies don't pay the "sticker price". Harvard and the like have huge endowments which they use to lavish on students in the way of very generous financial aid. And just to be clear, financial aid isn't just for the kid from the slums. Most students that one would consider to be middle class get some or all of their tuition paid for in the way of scholarships. If you can go to a Harvard or a Yale for the same price as a state school, why wouldn't you?

I think some people look at the sticker price and decide right then and there to not have their children even think of applying. They need to realize that college tuition is like the MSRP on a car.

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