From time to time, I’ve written here about the problems of law school education. It turns out that tens of thousands of Americans are reaching the same conclusion that I have about the amount of time, effort, and money that goes into legal education.
Whereas in other counties, legal education is chiefly accomplished through an undergraduate degree and an apprenticeship where valuable skills are learned, in the United States law students pay anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000 for three years of education on legal theory that is, for the most part, irrelevant to the actual practice of law.
Average educational debt coming out of public law schools is about $100,000. Average educational debt coming out of private law schools is higher. This is non-dischargeable debt – meaning that if the student files bankruptcy, the student is unlikely to ever see relief from educational debt.
While there are federal programs that subsidize the cost of loan repayment, these are almost always a bad idea because they saddle the person with repayments for 20 years before relief is given.
Finally, the financial rewards of going to law school have been exaggerated. While the “average” law grad earns something like $70,000 to $75,000, very few actual law grads earn that figure.
That’s because salaries are distributed bimodally. Graduates of the best law schools – Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, Chicago, and New York University – can earn about $150,000. Comparatively few graduates of lower ranked law schools, including UNC, Campbell, Central, Wake Forest, earn those salaries.
If they can find jobs at all – at 2011’s class had the worst employment prospects in 40 years – many students are grouped around $40,000 salary.
While $40,000 is fine as a recent high school or college graduate with little debt, $40,000 is not tenable as a salary for someone with $100,000 or more in debt who has given up 3 years of time to attend law school.
It turns out that many students are realizing the financial insanity of attending law school given the cost and the limited financial rewards.
In 2004, there were just over 106,000 applicants to law school. This year, so far, there have been just over 16,000 applicants applying to law school which, according projections, would yield only about 52,000 total applicants by the end of the year.