In years gone by, many people attended law school because a legal education enhanced their skills. In today’s world, entry into law school is first evaluated based on ROI, return on investment. And, in some instances, the comparison is coming up short. After the Great Recession, getting a job after law school was not guaranteed. Law school graduates, in addition to being uncertain about their job market, faced extraordinary debt burden.
A 2012 survey indicates that at least 24% of law school graduates are not practicing law. Rather, they were finding their way into nonprofit and education sectors and the federal government. This compares with9% in a similar 2003 survey. One factor pushing this statistic is the need to reduce or pay some of that student debt.
And when considering whether lawyers are satisfied in their chosen career, measured against whether they would go to law school again if given the opportunity, almost 2 out of seven said “no.” This latter statistic seems to be consistent with similar statistics of earlier years. In the 1970s, in response to a survey that I commissioned with the State Bar of California, almost 1/3 of the respondents indicated they were not satisfied with the practice. But they didn’t have the huge amount of debt that today’s graduates are carrying. I suspect that what keeps people enrolling in law school is another statistic: those graduates with the highest grade point averages have median pay levels that exceed $121,500, more than those who achieve the lowest grades. This is a significant difference, and the reason for the continued attraction of law schools.