star fox wrote:The big question is how much attending law school increases your future earnings over, say, a 30 year period (with year 0 being the year before you enter law school). If it increases it enough to cover the principal used on tuition/fee expenses* + interest on student loans (tuition, expenses, and living) then it becomes a quality investment.
*not including principal used to pay for living expenses because those expenses are incurred regardless of going to law school or not
(Ignores effect of loan forgiveness programs which are quite generous)
(Assume totals on a NPV basis)
I don't think there is any good data on this. It seems a number of people leave law after the first ten years or so, but I don't know where I read that now. Maybe one of Paul Campos blog posts from the old days.
That also doesn't include other career options which is more than just 3 years of money. It includes building a career and a future in a field which is not just cash. There is also the time and effort that could be invested in other projects and just enjoying life.
People who are so seduced by biglaw salaries usually have little idea of the work or how unstable a career path it can be. Many 0Ls don't understand that most biglaw lawyers are making their highest salary at the beginning of their career. They don't know that law is up and out, few people are going to make partner and last at a firm.
People don't understand the bimodal salary curve or the mandatory grade curve. They still feel that law school is a path to an upper class life.
People should consider that the recession is over and there are many jobs and career paths available. Maybe if you live in the country in the middle of nowhere your only job is minimum wage, but hiring is up and there are careers other than law. It's easier to move somewhere and find work than to take 6 figures of debt.
People should consider that law is one of the most oversaturated fields in the country and shows no signs of changing. Every year more lawyers are pumped out and the ones from the previous year or two that don't have a start become less and less attractive.
People should look at the increased cost of law school relative to salary. I just saw on LST that fully loaned financed sticker at Georgetown is over $300,000. That's dramatically more than before the recession and much more than many of the posters here had to pay even 5 years ago. Loan payments on a standard 10 year plan are about $4,000. The recent biglaw raid to $180,000 came after years of stagnant salaries with skyrocketing costs.
People should understand that lots of people in law school are from wealthy backgrounds and are paying sticker but it comes from family wealth. This can skew the idea that sticker is fine because it seems so many people pay it.
Finally people need to understand that this debt is going to be repaid basically unless they become severely disabled. There is no escaping it for most of your adult life. The emotional and psychological strain of that debt can't be discounted. People shouldn't discount the impact it can have on marriage and relationships and family.
If everyone who went to law school paid a reasonable amount or was relatively certain of a career that would allow them to repay their debt and have a decent life, law would be more defensible.
* loan forgiveness programs might seem quite generous
-but note not one cent of law school debt has been forgiven yet. Note too that not everyone can get a loan forgiveness job or hold it for 10 years of consecutive monthly payments. Not everyone can live on the salary o a PSLF job.
Tl;dr : law is an oversaturated field with no way to be certain of a 30 career as an investment. There are no studies on the benefit of a law degree over 30 years. Just looking at income ignores many factors associated with owing massive debt including taking and staying with jobs you don't want, metal health and family pressures. Just looking at income also ignores the benefits of investing 3 years into another career and life.