Is It Still Worth Getting a Law Degree?

Forest landscape

With all of the turbulence in the law school market, some are wondering whether it's still worth it to pursue a law degree. Ultimately, a law degree can be worth it as long as you understand the risks with your decision. I’d say the two most pressing risks are the financial risk and “career satisfaction risk.”

Financial Risk

Including tuition, cost of living and other miscellaneous expenses, it’ll run you six figures to attend law school. You can get a very rough estimate of the cost by clicking here. Regardless of the precise number, it’s a big financial commitment.

Unless someone is helping you pay for law school (friends/family and/or through scholarships), you will have debt after graduation. This is one large reason why law students seek jobs at “Big Law” firms since first-year associates can make $180,000 right out of law school. I’ve written an essay explaining how to obtain these types of jobs—you can find it here.

With that said, even if you obtain a Big Law job, it will likely take you years to pay off your law school loans. The salary is eye-popping, but it doesn’t include the effect of taxes, your city’s cost of living, and your spending habits. But once you pay back your loans, you can theoretically live very comfortably (if that’s what ultimately matters to you). Becoming a partner in any law firm is no small feat and an entirely separate question, but if you reach this stage, you can be handsomely rewarded.

If you work at a lower paying job out of law school, you’ll still have to pay off your loans. There are unique programs to pay off your loans (the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, for example), but you will carry debt for a good amount of time. This will obviously impact your current earnings.

However, for some of these young attorneys, career success is rather through social justice or making a difference in the world rather than compensation. Law school may be more “worth it” for them because they didn’t go to law school to get rich.

Career Satisfaction Risk

Along with the financial risk, law school may or may not be worth it depending on whether you enjoy your career.

I think a good starting point to minimize this risk is to understand why you’re going to law school. Really think about why you’re going. Do you want to make more money than you’re currently making? Are you going to fulfill a childhood dream? Do you want to serve the public and make a difference in the world? By knowing this ex-ante and by pursuing this ultimate goal, you’ll be in a better position to be satisfied with your decision.

But along with this, there is one critical point. That is the value of working in the legal industry before attending law school.

If you’ve worked in the legal field—whether it’s through an internship or full-time position (or both)—I’d feel more comfortable recommending law school. You’ll see the day-to-day life of practicing attorneys and will intuitively know whether it would be right for you. In fact, I’d almost argue that this should be a requirement for matriculating law students.

This is something that many people (including me) didn’t do. I’d highly advise getting this experience before stepping into class.