Is Law School a Good Investment? No, Law Prof Says, for Many 'Typical' Students

Does the cost of going to law school pay off for graduates? The answer to that question is no, for many “typical” students, according to a law professor at Vanderbilt University.

In a research paper recapped by the Tax Prof Blog, professor Herwig Schlunk calculates the cost of tuition versus the potential benefit of being paid more over a lengthy legal career.

Assuming that, even without a law degree, students could have been making $40,000 (“Also Ran”), $60,000 (“Solid Performer”) and $80,000 (“Hot Prospect”) annually, these same students—once tuition is added to the “opportunity cost” of what they could have earned during law school—graduate with a hefty hurdle that must be surmounted to turn a profit from their legal education, according to Schlunk’s abstract. The total ranges from not quite $200,000 for the Also Ran, to not quite $300,000 for the Hot Prospect.

Depending on the discount rate thought to be appropriate, that means law graduates must earn a starting salary of between $65,600 (for the Also Ran, at a 10 percent discount rate) and $198,179 (for the Hot Prospect, at a 26 percent discount rate) to get monetary value from their law degrees, according to the abstract.

As discussed in earlier posts, top BigLaw starting salaries paid to a small fraction of the nation’s graduating law students are now around $165,000. Even many major firms, however, are paying significantly less, and a number of law graduates are having difficulty finding legal work even at much lower salaries due to the economic downturn that hit the legal profession hard last year.

Hat tip: Economix (New York Times): “Law School as an Investment”

Related coverage: “Was It Worth It? With Debt of Up to $250K, Some Law Grads Are Dubious” “ABA Should Collect School Data on Law Grads’ Salaries and Debt, Prof Says” “ABA Lobbies for Student Loan Relief for Unemployed Attorneys”

Updated Nov. 16 to clarify headline and attributions.

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