Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Portrait Of A Recent Law School Grad - Part 3

This is the third and final part of our series about Lawyer X - a 2009 graduate of a Tier 1 law school who is smart, hardworking law school graduate that is trying to make his way in the worst recruiting market in decades.  The first part of the series appears here. The second part of the series appears here.

1)  Do you have loan debt?  About how much - or why not?

Luckily GOOD LAW SCHOOL is extremely cheap.  Tuition is currently a tad under 10K per YEAR, I had a part scholarship, and I have worked part time since second semester 1L year.  I also live as frugally as possible.  I have only incurred 2K of debt and have been very fortunate in that respect.  That is probably the saving grace of having gone to GOOD LAW SCHOOL instead of a T-14 school.  The downside is that my job prospects were greatly diminished.  However, there are many of my classmates who are married with kids, who have not worked part time, did not receive lucrative summer jobs after 2L year, and have closer to some 75K in debt.  I would say somewhere between 50-75K is fairly average for GOOD LAW SCHOOL students after the three years.

2)  Now that you have gone through law school, would you do it again?  What would be
your advice for someone considering law school?

That is a very difficult question.  Because my debt level is so low, I might.  However, knowing what I know now, I might have actually gone to a T-14.  Of course, if I would have gone there I might have graduate with 150K of debt and no job which would have been a nightmare.

I likely would have gone to medical school, or at least PA school or pharmacy school.  My sister is a pharmacist and I have a friend who is a PA and they both mentioned that getting a 6 figure job is a virtual guarantee even for those that do poorly in school.  A doctor friend of mine said the same of doctors.  Far more expensive, but you hedge your bets on receiving a great salary.

As for advice, I would just make sure that every potential law student understands how expensive law school can potentially be.  We are talking upwards of 150K for MANY law students after three years.  I would make sure that they understand that starting salaries are by and large going to be from 40-60K with 60K being at the high end.  60K is not too bad for a starting salary, BUT if you have 150K in debt to service, then that starting salary isn't so great.  I would also let them know that it is quite difficult to actually practice the type of law you might be interested in pursuing.  It is not easy to secure a job in certain fields within the legal profession and you may get stuck doing something that you really do not enjoy all that much.  Finally, I would emphasize that it is all about hedging your bets.  If you can get into a T-14 school then you have a very good chance of getting a very good job.  Is it a guarantee?  Probably not, outside of Harvard, Yale, and Stanford.  However, your chances are pretty good, especially if you expand your search to several cities that do not normally get T-14 recruits.  If someone were to come to me and tell me they were heading to a law school ranked anywhere outside the top 20, paying 60K/yr to do so, I would strongly recommend them to think twice.  As has been said by many different people, there are simply too many law schools to begin with, they are way too expensive, there are too many lawyers, and not enough jobs.  If you decide to trudge forward, only do so with your eyes wide open and being ok with the worst-case scenario.

Comment:  Note the law student's very blunt assessment:
"If someone were to come to me and tell me they were heading to a law school ranked anywhere outside the top 20, paying 60K/yr to do so, I would strongly recommend them to think twice."

3)  Finally, can you think of anything else that might make your situation more real and immediate to prospective law students so that they will pause and consider the financial rammifications instead of just going to law school because "everybody says I argue very well?"

Definitely.  To the prospective law student.  Imagine I am a salesman and I proposition the following: "I have a great deal for you today.  I am willing to give you a piece of paper that will give you the chance to start earning 40K a year, three years from now, at 50 hours a week.  I only ask you to give me $1,000.00 per month for the next 30 years.  Also, you do not get to decide what type of work you will be doing and if you are ever in trouble financially you cannot discharge the debt you owe me in a bankruptcy proceeding.  Furthermore, for the next three years you will be learning material that will likely have nothing to do with what you will be working on in the future.  Also, during those three years you will likely not be able to work.  Finally, I cannot even guarantee you a job at the end of the next three years and it is entirely possible that your job security will be less than that of your neighborhood bus driver.  How 'bout it?"

Prospective law student, this is essentially what law school is able to offer you these days.  Yes, there is a possibility that you can beat the odds and get a great job paying 6 figures, but it is far more likely that you will simply get the deal being sold by the abovementioned salesman.  You will likely be stuck with a job that will demand a 50 hour work-week, with a starting salary that pays you more or less what you could receive with even the most worthless of liberal arts degrees after three years of experience.

Lastly, some food for though.  Remember that 1K/mo payment you would owe for the next 30 years?  Well, instead of making payments toward a debt, imagine that you were instead investing 1K a month, in an investment vehicle with a 7% ROI for the next 30 years, compounded yearly. Guess how much you would have after 30 years?  A bit over 1.2 million dollars.  Still interested in taking up the above salesman on his offer?

Comment:  Wow.  That is very insightful.  Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us and we wish you the best of luck in a tough market.


  1. This is a wonderful post! Thank you very much for the advice.

  2. I'm a third year student facing the same uphill battle. I wish I had read something like this BEFORE I started law school. Of course, there's a pretty good chance that I would have been that cocky person who said he'd beat the odds... but at least I wouldn't be able to say that I hadn't been warned. The answer to the last question offers a particularly good way of looking at the proposition of law school... and the rest of the posts are spot-on as well.

  3. 8:19 - I'm sorry to hear that it's not working out for you. Unfortunately, that's going to become even more common with the massive enrollment increase in the face of the recession and loss of jobs. This site (and several others) are here to try and inform prospective law students about the real deal. Please pass it on to anyone who is considering law school. Best of luck.

  4. Hello. I am a mid-career professional in medicine, but as a mother of four kids, I am very interested in the career prospects of up-and-coming young people. Many of them are really being sold a bill of goods, being encouraged to take out massive debt for degrees that do not enhance their earning power in the way they might have hoped-expected. I respect you for helping inform folks about this, even though you personally have had success in Law. If a similar phenomenon were to develop in medical education and Medicine, I hope I'd help to caution young folks like you are doing.

  5. 12:57 - Thanks for your comment! Help spread the word!

  6. It's admirable the student was able to graduate with only $2k in debt!