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Law Dean Considers Law School ROI, Says Grads Should Earn 6 Times Tuition for Good Financial Outlook

Posted Dec 15, 2011 6:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Legal academics like to think their students are studying the law because they want to advance justice, right wrongs and serve the underprivileged. But most students are motivated at least partly—and often substantially—by the lure of money, according to a law dean who decided to evaluate whether law school makes economic sense.

In a paper set to be published by the William Mitchell Law Review, University of Louisville law dean Jim Chen realizes the reality and analyzes law school in terms of return on investment. In his view, law grads need to earn three times their annual tuition for adequate financial viability and six times their annual tuition for good financial viability, the National Law Journal reports.

The NLJ explains Chen’s theory. It would mean law grads at a school charging $16,000 a year in tuition would need to make $48,000 for adequate financial viability and $96,000 for good viability. Grads attending schools with annual tuition of $48,000 would need to make $144,000 for adequate viability and $288,000 for good viability. The formula assumes no other debt besides law school loans.

"I was trying to think of a simple way to capture some of the growing discomfort over the economics of the decision to attend law school," Chen told the NLJ. "At a bare minimum, you should not borrow so much money that you can't afford a house."

The 2011-12 tuition at Chen’s school, the University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, is about $16,500 for Kentucky residents and nearly $32,000 for out-of-state students.

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