The Growing Law School Disaster, Ctd.Posted: July 18, 2013
I’ve written in the past about the growing concern many people have about the high cost of law school relative to the increasingly poor job prospects for new graduates. The topic continues to generate serious debate.
A recent study challenges the argument that law school is a risky proposition. Money quote:
Roughly the top 15 to 20 percent of law school graduates obtain a lifetime earnings premium worth more than $1.1 million as of the start of law school. Roughly the next 30 to 35 percent obtain an earnings premium between $1.1 million and $600,000. In the lower half of the distribution, roughly the first 30 to 35 percent obtain an earnings premium between $350,000 and $600,000. Roughly the bottom 15 to 20 percent obtain an earnings premium below $350,000.
These numbers are pre-tax and pre-tuition. Even toward the bottom of the distribution, even after taxes, and even after tuition, a law degree is a profitable investment. And that is before income based repayment, which can substantially reduce the risk at the bottom of the distribution.
I applaud the authors’ effort to analyze this serious problem by using hard data, rather than by reference to anecdotes. However, I am not convinced–at least not yet. My concern is that the study does not use the most current data. Major changes, perhaps tectonic changes, have occurred in the legal market since 2008. I question whether the study reflects those changes. I look forward to future studies employing post-2008 data.
UPDATE (7/23/13): Professor Brian Tamanaha offers this takedown of the recent study described above. His critique seriously undermines the study’s authors’ essential point, to wit, that a law degree is still worth pursuing, even for students who can only gain admission to lower-tier law schools.