Law Schools

US News Warns of Tough Times for Law Grads; Expert Says 'It’s Just Like the Lottery'

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U.S. News & World Report has a “reality check” for would-be students studying its new law school rankings: First-year associates at small firms are expected to make between $49,750 and $73,000 a year.

And not everyone will be able to find a job, U.S. News warns. “Jobs are no longer a sure thing, and loans are harder to pay back,” the magazine says. “Although the job market is improving, experts caution that law school hopefuls need to carefully weigh the costs and benefits of a law degree and, whether aiming for BigLaw or Legal Aid, estimate their personal return on investment.”

According to a separate “Tips and Stats” article, first-year associates at large law firms can expect to make $106,500 to $131,250, down 5.1 percent from last year. At midsize firms, associates can make between $71,500 and $100,750, and at small firms they make make $49,750 to $73,000.

Despite worsening job prospects, tuition is rising, U.S. News says, citing ABA statistics. Average tuition at private law schools was $34,298 in 2008, an increase of 6 percent, and $16,836 at state schools, an increase of 9 percent. At Yale Law School, No. 1 on the U.S. News list, tuition is $48,340 a year. The lowest tuition for a top 10 law school is at the University of California at Berkeley, which is in seventh place and charges in-state residents $35,907.

David Stern, CEO of Equal Justice Works, told the magazine that students hear of law graduates making $160,000—the going salary for associates at big law firms before the recession hit—and wrongly assume they will be making that kind of money.

“In their mind’s eye, [law students are] thinking of hitting the lottery and getting one of these $160,000-a-year jobs, and it is a fiction,” Stern said. “By and large, it’s just like the lottery. You’re spending a huge amount of money in the hopes of hitting the jackpot, and there’s relatively small chances, and the chances have gotten a lot smaller.”

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