Money

Is Law School Debt Worth It?


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  • Before you decide to go to law school, consider if the cost is worth it
  • Will the kind of law you plan to practice pay a high enough salary to allow you to pay off your loans in a reasonable amount of time?
  • Be honest about your personality, interest level, and ability to be disciplined in this stressful career

The price of law school can run well over $100,000.

Chances are you also spent thousands of dollars on your undergraduate degree, and you’ll have to take out more loans to get your JD. Before you make the decision to put yourself in a life-changing amount of debt, it’s important to ask yourself: Is it really worth it?

According to a recent poll, only about 23% of law school students thought the cost of graduate school was worth the education they received. So if you are considering taking out those loans, here are some pros and cons you should analyze before you commit to having to pay back such a large amount of money.

Pros:

Of course, the price of law school could absolutely be worth it. Depending on what school you go to, you could be afforded a thorough education as well as excellent job opportunities. Just because a school is expensive, though, doesn’t mean you’ll receive a salary on the higher end of the spectrum. The tuition you pay is related to the companies your school is connected to as well as the available alumni network. Certain law schools have connections to specific law firms, so you may have a more direct route to the job you want.

The starting salary for a lawyer can be as high as $180,000, but don’t get yourself too excited about making that much—how much new lawyers earn is highly dependent on the type of law they choose to practice and the size/type of firm they choose. You’ll also need to focus on keeping your debt a priority when it comes time to pay the bills. You will want to pay it off as soon as possible, which often means holding off on buying your first home or a nice car.

What you learn in law school can be invaluable; you will not just memorize a bunch of rules, but you’ll hone your critical thinking abilities. This does not only help you in legal jobs but can translate to many other areas as well. For example, many politicians attended law school. Attending law school can also be a time and space to find out more about what you want to do with your life. You’ll connect with professors and take interesting classes that might lead you toward more answers about your future. So even if you ultimately change your mind about being a lawyer, that doesn’t mean every cent you spent was a waste.

What are your personal pros and cons when it comes to law school and the debt that comes with it?

Cons:

It’s no secret that law school is very stressful. It will take hard work and most of your time. The time commitment and high stress will likely affect every aspect of your life and limit some of the things you’ll be able to do. This generally means less time for friends, family, significant others, and hobbies. And remember: Once you become a lawyer, the stress will not exactly stop. Deadlines, billable hour requirements, demanding clients, and exacting bosses are a normal part of many lawyers’ work lives. If a fast-paced, high-stakes work life is not one you think you can manage, then taking out those loans probably doesn’t make sense.

The cut-throat, intense nature of law school is not easy for many people. You’ll need to keep up with coursework, keep your future in mind, and maintain connections with your professors in order to have access to the best jobs. Graduating may not be an impossible task, but being at the top of your class is what you’ll really need if you want one of those high-six-figure jobs that’ll ensure you’ll be able to pay off the huge loans.

If you end up becoming a lawyer but not loving the job, you could potentially end up thousands of dollars in debt for low professional satisfaction and less-than-stellar pay. Remember: The six-figure salary is not guaranteed, depending on where you work and the type of law you practice. You could end up one of those unfortunate souls who basically works to make loan payments and ends up with very little left over, all while not loving what they do for a living. Another thing to consider is the nature of the work: Deals and cases often take months to close, so you may not get the satisfaction of seeing the outcome of your work for quite a while. You will often need to maintain the motivation to work without always being shown appreciation for what you’re doing or seeing your efforts come to fruition in a reasonable amount of time.

If you have weighed these pros and cons and are still not fully sure if the price of law school is worth it, consider these ideas to help you decide:

  • Talk to lawyers. Ask them about their jobs. What are their day-to-day tasks, what do they enjoy about the job, what do they hate? Learning about someone else’s path to their legal career may help you make decisions about yours.
  • Make sure you have the passion. Do law classes and legal arguments excite you; do you have the temperament to do the intense work? Are you disciplined enough? Be honest with yourself about your ability to not only get through law school, but to be satisfied with living a lawyer’s life.
  • To get a better idea of what being a lawyer is really like, find a way to get as close to the lawyer experience as possible. Intern at a law office, work as support staff at a law office, or audit some law classes before you commit.

If you decide to stick to the legal path and feel the price of school is worth it, then make sure to keep up your motivation and your grades, and get excited for a potentially high paying job that could allow you to live the life you’ve been dreaming of.