Should I go to UNC Law school?

I’m a graduate of the University of North Carolina Law School at Chapel Hill. As I have written elsewhere, few are applying to law school and that’s a good thing.

I’ve also written about my experiences in attending law school, graduating, and establishing a law practice. I was profiled by MSNBC in 2011.

Required Reading Before Going to Law School

Paul Campos’ Don’t Go To Law School (Unless) should be required reading for anyone going to school.

I’d also recommend Brian Tamanaha’s Failing Law Schools.

Don’t Go to UNC at Sticker

UNC charges in-state students about $27,000 for tuition, books, travel, health insurance, and miscellaneous. It’ll cost you an estimated $15,000 to live for nine months in Chapel Hill. Non-North Carolina students will pay closer to $40,000.

Multiplied by three years, without any adjustment for tuition increases, and the instate student will pay close to $80,000 while the out of state student pays $120,000 not including any living expenses.

Since most students, having paid for expensive undergraduate degrees, debt finance the cost of law school, students can come out of UNC with between $100,00 and $150,000 in debt. Adding in the financing of that debt, and the numbers climb.

This is an outrageous amount of money, but is worth while if students coming out of UNC can secure jobs of $100,000 or more to pay that debt. While there are government programs such as Income-Based Repayment, such programs are not feasible for most students.

UNC is not worth that kind of cost, and its employment numbers do not justify that kind of expenditure.

Only go to UNC at sticker if you are independently wealthy, by which I mean you have money to burn.

UNC’s Employment Numbers are Not Good

In 2011, fewer than 25 people who attended UNC reported a salary of $117,500 or more out of a total class of 247. That’s pathetic. That means that less than 10 percent of the entire graduating class made enough money to finance six-figure school debt.

Note also that the employment numbers for 2010 and 2009 are substantially better.

It would not be pathetic if UNC charged reasonable tuition. But, having charged $75,000 for North Carolinians to attend the school (without factoring in living expenses), UNC does not produce the kind of employment results that justify the cost.

UNC Law Professors are Overpaid

If UNC professors were paid commensurate with the employment opportunities they generate for their students, then there would be no issue. But in light of these dismal numbers, students should consider whether they want to help finance the salaries of even assistant law professors who earn somewhere between $100,000 and full professors or deans who earn high $100s and more.

So if UNC tells you when you apply that there is no scholarship money available to give you a tuition break, maybe you want to ask them whether they’ve looked at professors’ salaries.

Only Go to UNC if You Get a Good Price… And Want to be a Lawyer

The image that lawyers have comes from television and the movies, where high-minded lawyers do interesting work, make impassioned pleas for the downtrodden, and argue before the Supreme Court.

The reality is that the vast majority of UNC grads – or any law school grads – do no such thing. Rather than think you’re a special snowflake, think more critically about why you want to go to law school.

Law school is boring tedious. But practicing the law is not, for the most part, a joyous party. It is hard, difficult work, and usually never exciting. It is, in fact, a job.

Lawyers have high rates of drop-out (leaving the profession), alcoholism, and drug abuse. That is not an indication that the profession is fun. It is an indication of the exact opposite.

The only reason you should go to law school is to be a practicing lawyer.

The JD is not Versatile

Law school admissions officers will tell you that the JD is versatile, so even if you’re not sure you want to be a lawyer, don’t worry, you should spend $100,000 and up for the privilege of learning how to think like a lawyer.

First, virtually nothing you learn in law school is actually applicable to the daily practice of law, and very few law school professors or admissions officers have practiced for more than a couple of years before escaping to academia.

Don’t believe it.

Second, as most recent grads who are struggling to find employment will tell you, having a JD is actually almost uniformly a warning sign to people in other sectors of the economy.

Lawyers are regarded as litigious, as know-it-alls, as people who can’t take direction because they went to law school and are full of themselves, and as people who will quit a non-legal or semi-legal job in order to become a lawyer if the market improves.

The sad thing is that the legal market is not expected to improve. While the economy is getting better in general, the legal market is getting weaker because many law firms and corporations are finding more efficient ways of outsourcing legal work or giving what was once legal work to non-lawyers who are paid a lot less.

So Should You Go to UNC Law School

In short, you should only go to law school if UNC is offering you a substantial – more than 2/3rds discount – on the tuition, and if you have money to pay for the rest. In other words, if you plan to take out any amount of loans, you need to realize that they are not dischargeable. You must pay them back. And it is unlikely that you will get a job out of UNC that will justify paying them back.

That said, UNC is a good enough law school so that if you can pay for it out of pocket, then you should go. But only if you really want to be a lawyer.

How can UNC fix its problem?

UNC Law School employment stats show that just 26 graduates of the 2011 class (total # grads 247) got jobs in private law firms of 250 or more. These are the firms that pay ~$140,000 that can service the debt accrued getting a degree at UNC which is likely to be at least $100,000 in non-dischargeable educational debt. JUST 21 – twenty-one – earned more than $110,000, after having dropped $75,000 (in-state) in tuition, plus $60,000 (living expenses) for a conservative total of $135,000 over three years. Meanwhile, UNC Law School pays its average full professor $175,000 to teach an average course load of 2 to 3 courses semester during a nine month academic year. Incidentially, UNC’s 16 female profs (of all types) earned an average salary $14,000 less than male counterparts.

UNC’s personnel budget is bloated. Cut salaries, particularly at the top – professors, associate professors, and even some assistant professors. Trim the number of faculty positions. This would reduce the budget.

UNC can hire more adjuncts and clinical professors, who cost much less. These clinical professors often have more real-world experience, in any case, and are better at explaining actually how to be a lawyer.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.