Law school — still a dodgy investment, analysis suggests

, The National Law Journal


Vanderbilt law professor Herwig Schlunk was among the first academics to use hard salary data to calculate the economic value of a law degree. Having updated his findings, his conclusion remains unchanged: For most students, going to law school doesn't make economic sense.

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What's being said

  • Don't Quote Me

    Prospective law students and the "market" generally would benefit from more analysis along these lines. However, Professor Schlunk's analysis appears to be so limited and so oversimplified that it is of very limited utility. Drawing return-on-investment conclusions for career decisions with long-term consequences based solely on first job out of law school salary strikes me as flawed on its face. While working with manageable parameters makes sense and communicating with plain English is helpful, one would need to consider more than the first year salary to approach a meaningful financial analysis. (This comment is based soley on the article, which may or may not accurately capture the substance of his work.)

  • Recent Grad

    As a recent grad from Rutgers School of Law with no real prospects of employment, (grades in the 50th percentile or do and over 40) I am more than happy with my choice of going to Law School. I planned on working for myself, and now have an opportunity to do so in a career that I find much more interesting than my previous job.

    Talking opportunity costs ... How much is a mind numbing soul sucking job really worth?

  • Not Warren Buffet

    Poor investment on my part. Still paying off the loans (to be fair: I did go to school at an older age than most), still pounding out the billable hours and have not had the time for an real out of town vacation in years. Actually looking to switch careers at 40.

  • Lawyer44

    I am San Diego Criminal Defense and DUI lawyer and I attended a low tier law school at Thomas Jefferson and I am happy with my decision to go to law school.

  • Lulaine

    For so long law school has been the premier idea for the middle class to become rich and the poor to become middle class. That idea seems to have totally torpedoed with the rising tuition at law schools across the country, and the one minded focus on rankings and less on where the law school student ends up. Sclunk was on the ball when he first released his report, now everyone knows it even some of the graduates who have resulted to suing their alma maters.

  • Runshyt

    This analysis is too simplistic. For example, "Hot prospects" come from TTT schools; otherwise, what do we call a relatively young top-10 student from Suffolk who chose to go there only because he wanted to keep his day job as a Boston CPA while going to law school at night? There are more of those scenarios than one might think.

    Geographical concerns should also be factored in. Some cities, like Seattle, are much more insulated from regional competition, meaning the most desired biglaw candidates in that market come from a pool of about 20 schools: T14 plus a few other top schools like Vandy, the University of Washington, and the top-5% from Seattle University and Gonzaga Law.

    Is law school a bad investment for the "Hot Prospects" from UW, SU and Gonzaga simply because graduates from those schools compete with those from T14 schools? The out-of-state competition for biglaw jobs in the Seattle market is virtually non-existent outside of the T14, and the graduates from Washington state's three law schools tend to be well sought-after in the Seattle Market.

    The Dallas, Houston and Atlanta markets work similarly, although a few non-T14 schools (Tulane, U-North Carolina and U-Florida) provide some out-of-state competition in those markets.

    All of those markets are somewhat unique, because the local, perceivably non-elite schools control their own markets better than do schools in other markets.

    Other than that, the article correctly asserts that individual circumstances make a difference. Underrepresented minorities ("URM's"), i.e. Black, Hispanic and Native American graduates can still expect to be highly coveted and the recruiters are still wiilling to dig deeper into the the candidate pool (although not top-55% deep) to find URM's with potential.

    Moreover, URM's with stellar credentials, regardless of the schools from which they graduate, can still practically write their own tickets, because of the dearth of qualified minorities in biglaw and in-house positions.

  • not available

    In answer to your question, having worked in the legal field for 30 years, I will say that from my experience the lion's share of attorneys wish that they had pursued other careers. However, it is best to do the research yourself. Consult attorneys in their 20th years in practice and ask whether they are satisfied with their career choice and their lives in general. What you will find, I suspect, is that many whom are partners in larger firms have some measure of satisfaction while many, if not most, in private practice and in small firms do not share in this satisfaction.

    From my perspective, the greatest sense of futility for attorneys arises from not having anything tangible to look at in retrospect other than a dusty stack of papers. Most cases are settled, with outcomes that are not optimal for your client. Even in the best case of a "clear win," one wonders in hindsight whether the outcome actually contributed to the overall good of man. Conversely, Architects and engineers for instance, do have a tangible product to look back on with pride. Of course, you can and shoud supplement your legal career with public interest work or hobbies such as carpentry or gardening that will provide that missing sense of tangible accomplishment.

    But there are many for whom the law is in our blood and who could not fathom doing anything else. So, ultimately, it is up to each person to ponder his or her life's course. What is important in any field is that your avocation match your vocation for that is where true satisfaction lies.

  • Becky

    Is law school only an economic equation? Life is long, and economics is only part of the equation. My questions are more along the lines of--Do lawyers like what they do? Do lawyers learn skills that help them succeed in business, politics, policy and other areas? Do lawyers learn skills that they can use to help society or help others? Not necessarily questions that would lead some to attend law school, but I think focusing on economic equations does a disservice to our profession. I'm not sure if the goal is to dissuade good people from becoming lawyers, to encourage law schools to reduce class sizes and shut down (thereby making lawyers more valuable), or to argue for reduced tuition.

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