als2011 wrote: The bigger point is, that a lot of things have to go right for you to make it work. Exit options aren't as plentiful or well-paying as most people suspect and often involve significant paycuts. If you leave the Biglaw salary earlier in your career (before the year 5 mark), than the net worth and earnings disparities become even harder to make-up.
In other words, attending an elite law school requires that you take on a huge amount of financial risk for a roughly 50% chance of landing a short term job that pays you enough money to actually pay back all the debt it cost you to attend school in the first place. The scenario you describe--getting Biglaw in the first place, surviving for 5 years, paying off your debt and transitioning into a cozy in-house gig that pays 80-100k a year is an incredibly rosy scenario that works out for a relatively small proportion of lawyers and an even smaller proportion of law students.
This may be or may not be true. But you seem to be saying that 77% of people leave by the 5-year mark, and most of them don't have good exit opportunities. Associates are not fired at the 5-or-3 year mark unless they are seriously problematic. Are you telling me this 77% are voluntarily leaving a 200K+ paycheck for crappy jobs?
What may or may not be true? The attrition rates I am citing have been cited elsewhere and I've provided some articles that elaborate upon them. I can substantiate with further links and articles if you wish. It is also frequently discussed by TLS contributors and if you wish you can read other forums. Not to mention the attrition rate is built into the business model. Its an up-or out model. Either you pull the huge billable hours and make it, or you don't. If you aren't making the cut, a fresh pool of OCI candidates are eagerly waiting to take your place.
Many partners will bluntly tell you (if you ask) that you can on average expect to make it about 2-3 years at these firms. If you are unaware of this, I believe you should consider doing some further research before committing to law school. TLS has several good articles about quality of life, culture, and professional life in Biglaw. Many people do voluntarily leave and many more are let go and pushed out due to cost cutting efforts by the firm, lack of billable hours, poor performance, etc.
Exit opportunities are more difficult to evaluate because of the lack of concrete statistical data that we have pertaining to such opportunities. That said, with so many people leaving firms, competition is fierce, and the general economic climate has become that "good" exit options have become harder to come by as a result of the recent economic downturn. Don't forget you, and the majority of your fellow associates will all be looking for exit options together.
But, lets say you land a solid in-house position. It is also important to recognize that if you are on a 10 year repayment plan and you have borrowed 159k in principle than your monthly payments are 1,890 a month or so (22,680 of post-tax income). If you are on a 20 year repayment plan than your monthly payments are 1,282 a month (15,348 of post-tax income). If you exit into an 80k a year job, those are significant sums to be taken out of your post-tax income.
The big picture I am trying to convey is, that many people look at law school/a legal career solely in terms of reward and fail to consider all the risks associated with it. If you plan on attending, at least have an honest sense of what law school will really cost you and what the status of the legal economy really is.