Fairly Evaluating the Investment of a Law School Degree

Consumer analysis is one important lens through which to consider legal education reform. Thoughtful consumer analysis generally asks two foundational questions:  1) “What is the value to your professional and personal life of a law school degree?” and 2) Do you have meaningful and accurate information upon which to make that judgment?” Just this week, law professor, Michael Simkovic, and labor economist, Frank McIntyre, together released a draft of their study which estimates the “mean pre-tax lifetime value of a law degree as approximately $1,000,000.” See Economic Value of a Law Degree Study (thank you to Albany Law Professors Christian Sundquist and Donna Young for alerting me to this study).

The study has already generated a number of positive responses in the news http://www.businessinsider.com/how-much-value-does-a-law-degree-have-2013-7 (“STUDY: A Law Degree is Actually an Amazingly Good Investment”); http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/whats_the_value_of_a_law_degree_1m_in_a_lifetime_report_says/ (“What’s the Value of a Law Degree?  $1 Million”); http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/07/17/report-shows-law-school-still-good-investment; (“The Upside of Law School”)

Professor Steven M.  Davidoff’s review in the NYT notes that some of those who have most repeatedly attacked law schools were angered by the study:

Averages, though, are only part of the story, as they can be biased upward by a small number of high earners while many others make nothing. Mr. Mystal’s (of Above the Law) critique strongly focused on this point.

But the authors also found that median additional lifetime earnings for those with a law degree were $610,000. That means half of law school graduates made more and half less than this amount over their lifetime. So even at the 25th percentile, lifetime additional earnings were $350,000.

Thus, the earnings for 75 percent of law school graduates easily exceeded the amount of tuition paid, even with tuition at about $50,000 a year. The authors also found that the median law degree holder earned 60 percent more than the median college graduate.

I think this scholarly analysis certainly provides better context for  evaluating  the financial value of law school and am  grateful to for this important contribution to the discourse.   It does not answer – nor does it pretend or aspire to do so – questions about what Tomorrow’s lawyers will need to be equipped for Tomorrow’s jobs.   That issue remains ripe for analysis on the pages of this BLOG.

4 Responses

  1. Thank you for posting this extremely important empirical study! For those who are curious, the study does take account of potential differences between current and future earnings, and also accounts for arguments that there has been a “structural shift” in the economic market. There is an excellent article in the Washington Post today on the study: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/07/18/ignore-the-haters-law-school-is-totally-worth-the-cash/

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