Is Law School Worth It? What Young Attorneys Say

Title Law school on a book and a gavel, indicating is law school worth it?
Is Law School worth it? There are pros and cons, as with any profession.

[Source: U.S. News]

Recent J.D. recipients have different opinions about whether law school is worth the cost.

IF YOU ASKED A ROOM full of recent law school graduates if they’re glad they earned a J.D. degree, the answers from each individual would be highly personal.

A young lawyer’s satisfaction with his or her legal education might depend upon his or her financial return on investment and how well paychecks cover the cost of student loan debt.

It’s not uncommon for recent J.D. recipients to have more than $100,000 in law school debt. Among the 178 ranked J.D. programs in the U.S. News Best Law Schools rankings that disclosed information about the law school debt burdens of their 2017 grads who had student loans, the average amount was $108,100.

Meanwhile, the median private-sector starting salary among 2017 grads of ranked law schools was $88,046, and the median public-sector starting salary for those grads was roughly $54,500. The compensation for both was considerably less than the average amount of law school debt.
Nevertheless, the salary-to-debt ratio was much better than the norm at some law schools, such as the Howard University School of Law in the District of Columbia, where the median private-sector salary for 2017 grads was $180,000 and the average law school debt burden was less than half of that – $76,703.
So it would be understandable if law school grads with salaries that were high enough for them to comfortably pay off their student loans were more pleased about their decision to attend law school than J.D. recipients who felt overwhelmed by debt.
However, money isn’t the only thing that counts when assessing the long-term payoff of law school.

A newly minted attorney’s opinion about the value of law school may be based on nonfinancial factors, such as whether he or she believes the lessons learned in law school provide a solid foundation for a legal career.


Additionally, a J.D. recipient’s verdict on the utility of his or her degree could also be shaped by whether he or she has found success and fulfillment as a practicing attorney.

U.S. News asked some law school grads who earned their J.D. degrees within the past dozen years whether, if they could go back in time to the moment when they decided to attend law school, they would make the same choice. Some say they could not imagine doing anything different, while others expressed reservations about the wisdom of pursuing a legal education.
Attorney Dan Lage – a partner and director of legal operations with Ruane Attorneys, a Connecticut law firm – says he has no regrets about obtaining a law degree from the University of Connecticut School of Law, where he graduated in 2015.
“What drove me to law school was the accumulation of years of witnessing the unfair treatment of people who are on the wrong side of the power structure,” Lage wrote in an email. “This includes the criminally accused, those discriminated against by employers and the government, and people who are taken advantage of by those who abuse their status in our society. I was sick of it. I wanted to be someone that spoke up for those people, so I decided to go to law school, and I would do it again a million times over.”
However, Orlando-based criminal defense lawyer Ken Eulo, a managing partner with the Smith & Eulo Law Firm in Florida, says that while a law degree is useful for him, he would hesitate to encourage someone to attend law school.
“From a pure intellectual analysis, there are equally rewarding jobs out there, that require less education and pay more money,” Eulo, who earned his J.D. from the Florida State University College of Law in 2010, wrote in an email. “I only recommend law school to those that truly can’t imagine doing anything else with their lives.”

Meanwhile, many recent law school grads say that although they are glad they earned a law degree, they wish they had obtained their legal education at a lower price.

An October 2018 report from the AccessLex Institute, a nonprofit organization that conducts research on law school affordability, revealed that recent law school grads were dubious about whether the cost of law school was justified. Only 52% of college grads who obtained their bachelor’s degree in either 2007 or 2008 and who received a law-related graduate degree by 2012 believed that their legal education was worth the cost, according to that report.
“If I could do it again, I would have tried to obtain more scholarships,” stated Cynthia J. Ponce, a divorce lawyer with California top family law firm Walzer Melcher LLP, wrote in an email.
“I do consider law school an investment in myself and while I already see the personal return on the investment, it will be a few years before I see the financial return,” said divorce lawyer Cynthia J. Ponce, who earned her law degree from Southwestern Law School in 2017.
Nevertheless, some J.D. grads who acknowledge that law-related student loans are a heavy burden say that the intangible benefits of becoming a lawyer can be significant, noting that they enjoy being lawyers.
Brady McAninch, a partner with the Hipskind & McAninch personal injury law firm in Illinois who earned his law degree in 2011 from Southern Illinois University⁠—Carbondale, says he is happy to be a lawyer.
“While the debt remains an issue, which I anticipated, the work is rewarding and enjoyable,” McAninch wrote in an email. “I have to confess that being in the courtroom is something I love, the competition, serving others, it is a calling for me and something I do not think I could replace with anything else.”
Because McAninch graduated from law school during a time when the legal job market was difficult, he adds, he knows from experience that the timing of when someone receives his or her law degree can have a significant impact on their job prospects immediately after law school.
“When I graduated law school … the market was still in a rough situation,” he recalls. “Law firms that had hired 11 or 12 new associates, on an average basis, were dropping down to three or four. In fact, my first choice as a law firm typically hired 10 or 14 new associates. The year I graduated they hired four. I was the fifth choice.”
Due to a reduction in hiring at his target law firm during the year of his graduation, he adds, he wasn’t hired in the class of associates that started immediately after his graduation. But three years later, that law firm hired him.

McAninch notes that J.D. recipients who have the misfortune of receiving their law degree during a time when the legal job market is contracting should know that they may have better employment opportunities when the job market improves.

“The market rebounds,” he notes, adding that lawyers do vital work even during downturns.

“We live in a boom-bust economy, so you are going to go through lean years,” he says. “But I don’t think it’s a reason to not go after your chosen career or profession.”
University of Iowa College of Law alumnus J.J. Despain, who earned his J.D. in 2015, notes that the academic rigor of law school classes can be intimidating at times. But he says the challenge is worthwhile.
“Law school is one of the hardest things that I ever did, but I always get excited when I hear that someone is thinking about it,” says Despain, a managing attorney with Wilner & O’Reilly Immigration Attorneys, a multistate immigration law firm.
Amanda Shuman, a 2013 graduate of the University of Massachusetts—Dartmouth School of Law, who leads the family law practice at the DangerLaw, LLC firm in Massachusetts, says she enjoys the constant problem-solving that is necessary to be an effective attorney.

Shuman notes that, unlike a doctor who is challenged to diagnose a mysterious illness, a lawyer is usually presented with a specific problem that he or she needs to figure out how to fix.

“What I love about the profession is really the problem-solving,” she says. “It is the creativity … Some of the work is almost like a chess game, and some of the work requires a lot of strategy to figure out a solution, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s intellectually stimulating.”
By Ilana Kowarski
Oct. 31, 2019, at 9:49 a.m