A recent study on the long-term outcomes of a law degree by Gallup and the AccessLex Institute found that the perceived value of a law degree is high across all bachelor’s degree and advanced degree holders, with nine out of 10 viewing a J.D. as either “very valuable” or “valuable.”
Of course, whether it’s worth it to go to law school really depends on the individual. If you’re thinking about becoming a medical malpractice or birth injury lawyer to a family attorney dealing with issues surrounding marriage and children, or another specialty, here’s how you can determine if it’s something you should do.
Do you really want to be a lawyer?
When evaluating whether law school is worth it financially you need to ask yourself if you really want to be a lawyer. Is it a job you think you’d enjoy, or are you just looking to make the most money you can? If you really aren’t sure, talk to a few lawyers and get a good understanding of what they do. If you don’t know any, ask family, friends and/or co-workers for names of lawyers they know. Going to law school is hard work so it’s important that practicing the law is something that you’re passionate about, or at minimum, you like.
What’s the school’s reputation?
The law school you choose can make a significant difference in whether it will be worth it. There are only a relatively small percentage of law schools at the top, which provide outstanding prospects for employment, perhaps 10 percent of some 200 law schools. It’s important to find out if the school is considered first-tier or a lower-tier as graduates of lower-tier schools are more likely to be underemployed.
How do you stack up against your peers?
Not only is the school you go to important, but so are your grades. How do you compare against your peers? If you barely skate by, you’re unlikely to land a lucrative job after graduation. Those who stay above the bottom 25th percentile when it comes to GPA have the best odds of landing a job that will pay enough to live on and repay student loans. That means some honest reflection, being very realistic with yourself as to how well you’re going to stack up.
What are the prospects for the specialty you want to pursue?
It’s easier to land a job in certain legal fields over others. You need to go beyond asking whether or not law school is for you by taking into account which field to study. Is it currently trending toward future employment? Some of the specialties most in demand currently include corporate law, intellectual property and cybersecurity. If your dream is to be a public defender, the average starting salary is $47,500 and even after 15 years of experience it’s just $76,000 so it may not make sense to take on six figures of debt. On the other hand, the mean average wage for attorneys in securities and commodities is just over $200,000, which can make shelling out that much cash for law school worth it.