Why You Should Think Twice About Law School

March 12th 2015

Laura Donovan

Popular shows like Suits and How to Get Away With Murder make attorney life look endlessly exciting, but young people aren't buying Hollywood's depiction anymore. U.S. News & World Report just released its annual report on graduate school rankings, and the findings reveal a dip in law school enrollment. Rather than agonize over LSAT scores and passing the Bar, students are opting for engineering graduate degrees, which are significantly cheaper than a law school education.

Law school enrollment numbers are down for many reasons. Earlier this month, Andrew Flowers of FiveThirtyEight said that 2011 was actually one of the worst years on record to finish law school. Many people entered law school in 2008 to dodge the recession and come out with better career prospects, but with student loan debt, the reality of lower earnings in the industry, and a drop in median household incomes, prospective lawyers had a lot going against them. Yale University Economist Lisa Kahn conducted research in 2009 and found that the timing of someone's entrance into the workforce impacts their pay throughout their careers. Performing well on the LSAT is important since your law school's ranking can determine your future as an attorney, and because there's no guarantee of passing the bar, law school is a financial risk for students who might be on the fence about attending anyway.

Even though 2011 law school graduates got the short end of the stick in  many ways, matters are even worse for people who completed law school after them. The graduating class of 2013 had an unemployment rate of 11.2 percent, a jump from the class of 2012's 10.6 percent unemployment rate. The class of 2011 faced an even smaller unemployment rate at 9.2 percent.

What was once considered a well-paid job by default now leaves a lot to be desired. Lawyer salaries have continuously fallen since the recession, according to a 2012 survey conducted by the Association for Legal Career Professionals. The survey also reported that nearly a quarter of working graduates from the class of 2011 were exploring other options.

"In many ways, the class of 2011 bore the worst brunt of the impact of the recession on the entry-level legal job market, particularly in the large firm market," NALP Executive Director James Leipold told the Wall Street Journal.

Law school isn't the only institution rising tuition fees. Over the last decade, private tuition for business master's programs has gone up nearly 75 percent, and public tuition has risen more than 125 percent. For the most part, business school enrollment rates have remained the same since 2005. Engineering graduate programs have grown nearly 40 percent over the past ten years, and the industry's salary increases definitely appeal to potential graduate students. But these students still have to fork over more money than they would have in 2005 because engineering graduate programs have increased nearly 50 percent at private schools and 73 percent at public schools. The difference is the benefits outweigh the negatives for engineering graduates, and law school grads must anticipate more downsides.