Should I become a lawyer? The state of America's law schools

Should I Go To Law School?

by Justin Boyle

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If you've got a bachelor's degree and a less-than-inspiring career, it's possible that you've come to the point where you've asked yourself the burning question, "Should I go to law school?"

The right answer is probably "maybe," same as it's always been, but the modern higher education market raises some new ideas to consider when scratching your chin over the possibility.

Is law school losing value?

It's a familiar story: Liberal arts graduate can't find a decent job, studies hard for the LSAT, and borrows against career equity to finance a law degree and earn admission to the bar, thereafter becoming a fulfilled and well-fed professional member of the upper middle class. There was a time when that progression was practically a sure thing. These days, though, bachelor's graduates aren't betting on law schools as heavily they once were.

What went wrong, you ask? Here are a few explanations that get tossed around:

  1. Tuition rates went crazy. Average tuition at private law schools increased by better than 76 percent between 2001 and 2012, working out to a difference of more than $17,000. Rates were hiked at public law schools, too, where average tuition nearly tripled.
  2. The job market shrank. The rise of the Internet has decentralized a large chunk of knowledge-based legal tasks, leading to a need for fewer academic wizards in the law profession. A 2012 study by the American Bar Association ( found only about 55 percent of law school graduates actually using their degree in a full-time position.
  3. We're more cautious of debt. Student loan debt was a hot topic in the news during 2012, and law school debt is nothing to sneeze at. Average debt for graduates from private law schools was $125,000 in 2011, nearly $100,000 more than the nationwide average.

These reasons and more have led to a sharp drop-off in the number of students who apply to law school, at both public and private institutions. On top of that, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (, 2012) reports that career opportunities for candidates with paralegal training are expected to increase by 18 percent between 2010 and 2020, which is a full seven percentage points better than all other legal occupations combined.

Why you might still consider law school

It's an old piece of advice but it bears repeating: Choose your career based on the work you want to do, not the amount of money you want to make. The practice of law can be an exciting, rewarding, fulfilling career for people with the right mind-set for it, and despite its slower growth rate than that for paralegal jobs -- the BLS places it at 10 percent, lagging 4 points behind the national average for all occupations (, 2012) -- opportunities for lawyers are still expected to increase throughout the decade.

For those with a passion for law and serving justice, admissions rates and law school rankings are more than just variables in a salary equation. If the thought of practicing law gets you excited, then maybe it is time to go to law school, after all.


The New York Times, "Law Schools' Applications Fall as Costs Rise and Jobs Are Cut," Education, 
Kaplan LSAT, "Is Law School Still Relevant?," The 180: Raising the Bar, Adele Shapiro, February 19, 2013 
Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Lawyers," Job Outlook, Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Department of Labor
Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Paralegals and Legal Assistants," Job Outlook, Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Department of Labor, "Should People Still Care About Law School Rankings?," Josh Camson, March 13, 2013
American Bar Association, "2012 Law Graduate Employment Data," Section of Legal Education and Admissions ot the Bar
Forbes, "More Evidence On The Student Debt Crisis: Average Grad's Loan Jumps to $27,000," Halah Touryalai, January 29, 2013

About Author

Justin Boyle is a freelance writer and journalist in Austin, Texas.