A Million Reasons to Go to Law School

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Over the past several years, the value of attending law school has come under great scrutiny and high criticism. Just two weeks ago, for example, The Wall Street Journal reported that law school enrollments keep plummeting. For 2013, law school applications are down 36% compared to 2010 and enrollment is down nationally by almost 10%. With the exception of the elite law schools, declines in enrollment are ever increasing.

The reality is that due to the economic recession, law firms are reducing their staffs and law schools are reducing their faculty. In some cases, law schools have adjusted their admissions criteria and provided increased financial aid. But the downward trends continue.

The picture for recent law school grads would appear to be similarly bleak. According to the American Bar Association, only 56.2% of those who graduated from law school in 2012 were able to find full time legal jobs within the subsequent nine months. According to the National Association for Law Placement, starting salaries for those able to find a legal position were down 20% from 2009 to 2012.

But a recent study paints a very different picture. Co-authored by Michael Simkovic, an associate law professor at Seton Hall University School of Law, and Frank McIntyre, an assistant professor of finance and economics at Rutgers University Business School, the report is entitled, “The Economic Value of a Law Degree.”  The report does not refute the trends delineated above. It affirms the data that job opportunities and earning potential have decreased for virtually everyone due to the recession.

The authors of the report however did attempt to analyze the relative effect of the recession on those with a law school degree and those with only a bachelor’s degree. While their analysis did not look at specific law schools and specific undergraduate programs or tuition expenses, their conclusion is significant. According to this study, on average, a law school graduate will earn $1 million more during his or her lifetime than someone who only holds a bachelor’s degree. Those at the lower end of their data comparisons earned $350,000 more and those at the upper ends earned well over $1 million.

It should be noted that the study does not compare law school to other graduate degrees. “We’re not saying that everyone should go to law school,” Simkovic said. “We’re really looking at the choice between going to law school and stopping at a bachelor’s degree.”

And for me … that’s the most important point. Once again we see the value of education … the value of more education. Other studies which I have shared in this blog find clear evidence that there is a correlation between years of education and earning potential. This study supports the notion that this is true even for very specific graduate degrees.

As the media reports on the challenges in student financial aid programs and the high cost of education, there needs to be some balance with the value of higher education. Yes, college is expensive. Yes, students may face increased interest rates on student loans. But a college degree, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, is a good investment. And apparently, there are a million reasons to go to law school!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)


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Guest Friday, 01 August 2014