namename wrote: As a blanket response to others, my concerns are: that "big law" is not a meaningfully specific category, and outcomes data for the legal field do not go much beyond medians, range markers, and anecdote.
I'm not clear on what you want. You have data governing means, medians, approximate ranges, and percentile graphs. The only thing you do have is a listing of salaries for anyone who goes into any type of legal job. But that doesn't exist anyone. You have as much data as any other field.
If someone asks a lawyer, "What do you do?" and the lawyer responds, "Oh, I work in big law," the immediate next question would be, "Right, but what do you do?" Again, this likely stems from my feeling that wanting a career "in the law" is too broad for personal comfort, and so high-level data are not sufficient to address my questions.
That doesn't make the characterization meaningless or abstract. Your particular practice area is pretty irrelevant to a) How much money you make, and b) What schools firms will hire you from. When people want to focus on what matters--What I am paying for what outcome?--they don't focus on practice area for that reason.
The cost estimates are back of the envelope, but include opportunity costs (NPV of foregone salary+opportunity cost of lost investment above consumption) and debt+interest. If you make 50k a year, the opportunity cost for three years is around 90k after basic living costs. Above that level, the investment costs rise. At 100k a year in salary, you are looking at large levels of foregone compound investment wealth. For instance, say that instead of going to law school, you work for those three years and save $150,000. After ten years at 10% CAGR, you've accumulated $389,000. After 20 years, you've accumulated $1,000,000+.
So, if you leave a good job to go to law school, you can very easily find yourself negative $750,000 (tuition+interest, foregone wages+investment wealth).
Nobody is assuming 10% CAGR--that's generally accepted to be a wildly optimistic projection as far as averages go. We tend to assume 4-7% is a more realistic projection. You've also come up with a huge investment-adjusted opportunity cost figure that would go well into your potential legal career, which we presume to be more lucrative than the alternative.
Presume living costs are the same whether you choose to go to law school or not. Your opportunity cost of going to law school is modeled, in a period of X years, as the take-home pay minus the total COL invested at rate R over three years, minus the differential in take-home pay invested at rate R over (X-3) years. If you make $50k a year, you certainly don't have $30k after living costs, so I'm assuming that's an after-tax figure and you have an annual salary of $70k-ish. That's pretty high for someone with a Bachelor's. Even at such a high level, your opportunity cost at graduation is $350k. Input whatever you want for the variables, but a graduate who gets Biglaw, even heavily indebted, winds up with a higher net worth 20 to 25 years down the line. At no point in time will the net worth differential ever come close to $750k.
By the way, most people on the board would tell you that someone who could be investing $30k/year (meaning they make a minimum of $70-75k a year with a Bachelor's) shouldn't be going to law school unless they were nearly assured of a good outcome (HYS only). And your premise becomes absurd at six figures--why the hell would anyone making six figures go to law school? No one's advice is geared towards that. Most everyone presumes the alternative is to make $30-60k per year.