Yesterday the New York Times published an editorial by Lawrence Mitchell, Dean of Case Western Reserve University’s law school. The piece can be seen alternatively as a plea to stop the law-school bashing, or as an exegesis on just how wrong everyone has gotten their assessment of the jobs crisis for lawyers. Regardless of your take on Mitchell’s editorial, it is still an open question whether law school is a sound financial investment at this point.
Perhaps Mitchell’s most emphasized point is that law school is not intended to be preparation for a first job, but rather “a career likely to span 40 to 50 years.” This seems a bit long-sighted to me. And relying solely on statistics rather than addressing the real problems hitting law grads misses the mark:
What else will these thousands of students who have been discouraged from attending law school do? Where will they find a more fulfilling career? They’re not all going to be doctors or investment bankers, nor should they. Looking purely at the economics, in 2011, the median starting salary for practicing lawyers was $61,500; the mean salary for all practicing lawyers was $130,490, compared with $176,550 for corporate chief executives, $189,210 for internists and $79,300 for architects. This average includes many lawyers who graduated into really bad job markets.
The dean goes on to address debt—albeit briefly, and with no consideration for day-to-day consequences of that debt burden upon leaving school:
Debt, too, is a problem. The average student at a private law school graduates with $125,000 in debt. But the average lawyer’s annual salary exceeds that number. You’d consider a home mortgage at that ratio to be pretty sweet.
As much as I would like to believe Mr. Mitchell, I’m not at all clear given what I have seen and experienced that investment in law school is worth as much as he would like. I liked law school and appreciate the skills and knowledge I gained during my three years. But if someone had told me ahead of time what type of life course I was choosing, I may have reconsidered my choice, and I don’t feel it is at all responsible to hide the reality of the situation from prospective law students.
Read Law School Is Worth The Money at The New York Times.
(photo: Shutterstock: 113809330)