“Why you shouldn’t go to law school.” Law and Letters. November 15th, 2007: “3. The Sucker. This is the club for those who don’t go to a top ten law school. You get the boring work and the moral difficulty of the corporate serf, with the terrible salary of the do-gooder, because you’re working in some small firm doing family law, or criminal law, or wills and trusts, or real estate.”
Cameron Stracher in the Wall Street Journal: “The legal profession is really two professions: the elite lawyers and everyone else. Most of the former start out at big law firms. Many of the latter never find gainful legal employment. Instead, they work at jobs that might be characterized as “quasi-legal”: paralegals, clerks, administrators, doing work for which they probably never needed a J.D.
Although hard data about the nature of these jobs are difficult to come by (and rely on self-reporting, which is inherently unreliable), the mean salary for graduates of top 10 law schools is $135,000 while it is $60,000 for “tier three” schools. It’s certainly possible that tier-three graduates tend to gravitate toward lower-paying public-interest and government jobs, but this lower salary may also reflect the nonlegal nature of many of these jobs and the fact that these graduates are settling for anything that will pay the bills.
At $38,000 a year for law school, plus living expenses, law-school graduates certainly have a lot of debt ($60,000 on average, upon graduation). For this price, college students and their parents should be thinking harder about their choices. When I went to law school, nearly everyone tried to convince me that doing so would “keep my options open.” All this really means is: “You can still be a lawyer.
It’s time those of us inside the profession did a better job of telling others outside the profession that most of us don’t earn $160,000 a year, that we can’t afford expensive suits, flashy cars, sexy apartments. We don’t lunch with rock stars or produce movies.”