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Don’t Let Recent Law School Doom and Gloom Get You Down

If you haven’t heard about it yet, a recent study calculated the value of a law degree. The results? One. Million Dollars.

That’s right.

You can read an article on it at the New York Times, or check out Ann Levine’s related article from our LSAT blog a few days ago. And if you’re feeling really ambitious, check out the original paper.

So what gives? Recent reporting on law school has focused on how big of a mistake it can be. Doom and gloom have been the name of the game, and there hasn’t been much push-back. Even law schools have been reacting to sobering employment statistics by decreasing enrollments.

Was this all overkill?

Possibly. Possibly not.

I haven’t read the full paper, but there are definitely some issues with it. I don’t believe it takes tuition or student loan interest into account (especially from undergrad loans). It also misses a lot of the worst of the Great Recession with its timeframe (the class of 2009 was hit, but not that hard, by it; later classes bore the brunt of the pain). And it assumes that law students would earn the average salary of a college graduate had they went straight into the work force. I’d want some numbers to back that up.

And then there’s the big assumption – this time isn’t fundamentally different than other recessions. The storm always seems worse when you’re in it, and we’re still in it. Maybe the legal sector will rebound like it has in other rough economies.

That’s a huge assumption to bank your future on.

Honestly, though, their assumptions could be spot on, and a legal degree might, on average, be a good idea. That doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea, though, so it’s still important to take into account your earning potential without the degree, where you want to go with the JD, and how much it’s going to cost.

And if you’re really serious about law school (no, seriously, I mean really serious – just see how many times I’ve used “serious” in this sentence), now’s a good time to apply. Law school applications are down, schools are desperate for good candidates (which means scholarship$$$, with exactly that many dollar signs), and there has been a recent uptick in the number of legal hires (even if the percentage employed has gone down; see every article I’ve written about over-enrollment at certain schools). So let the statistics scare you enough to really think through the decision. But don’t let them scare you from making a good one, even if that good decision is heading to law school.