There was a moment that I considered getting my law degree after graduating. This was a very brief moment until I realized I was ready to start my career. I had several classmates pursue their law degree and I was always curious if it was really worth it. Curious, I tasked my intern Kevin to do some research to see what he could dig up. So is the average cost of law school really worth it? Let’s find out…..
There are many routes that we can take to become successful in life, some are more capital intensive than others. One of these routes that holds a high level of prestige in the eye of most American’s is passing through a big time University and becoming a lawyer.
Maybe this role is more glorified by Hollywood through all the high rolling lawyers that are played by Hollywood actors, could it be however that making the major investment early on in your life could pay off big?
We will examine here the average cost of law school depending on what caliper of University you graduate from, and then take a quick glimpse of the compensation you could expect to receive after you have obtained your law degree.
For the purpose of this analysis, we will lump the law schools into three categories. The first category being the top twenty best law schools as rated by U.S news Education Grad School rankings. The second grouping will be the following top twenty behind the top twenty, and finally the third group will consist of the third twenty.
Essentially there are three groups of twenty directly in line with no overlap of the top sixty law graduate schools in America. Also for the purpose of this analysis, we will assume that all of the students graduated with a four year degree from a four year University at a cost of $19,000 per year which is from a U.S news story in 2010. So after the four years of your undergraduate studies, we will assume the graduate walks away with $76,000 in college debt assuming they all have to borrow every penny.
The assumption that all of the people in our study will graduate from the same four year University can obviously be violated. However to only judge a single variable at a time, it is important to make the comparison easier to compare. There are some more obvious truths which will be neglected in this analysis which include the prestige level of the undergraduate law program you went to, so we are assuming here you do not need to graduate as an undergraduate form Harvard to get into grad school at Harvard.
The Average Cost of Law School Tuition
For our first grouping of the top twenty graduate law schools in the country, the average tuition comes in at $45,569 per year. The averages are calculated taking the number one school which is Harvard, and the number twenty school which is University of Minnesota Twin Cities, and dividing them by two. The figures and school rankings were all gathered from the U.S News graduate school rankings. All of the figures will also assume the out of state tuition fee.
According to Berkley University Career Center, it takes on average three years of law school to pass the Bar so that you can become a practicing lawyer.
Therefore, the average cost of law school for a graduate of the top twenty law schools in the country comes out to be $136,707 plus their undergraduate degree of $76,000 to be a final total of $212,707.
Second, we will analyze the second group of top law schools. The average cost of tuition for this grouping is $38,308 which applied to the same three year figure would come out to $114,924. These figures were calculated in the same format as described above in the first grouping. Adding back in the $76,000 for the undergraduate degree and you have a total completion cost of $190,924 to go from high school graduate, all the way through passing the Bar.
Finally we will analyze the third grouping of top law degrees in the United States. The average cost of these schools does not vary significantly from the second grouping at $37,500. This would lead to a three year grad school cost of $112,500, with a total cost of $188,500 to become a lawyer. The following table summarizes the total cost figures from the three different rankings of schools. Also, it must be noted this is purely a tuition cost and does not include the cost of living; this would be too difficult to measure because different towns cost different amounts, and no two people live the same.
As the above chart indicates, it could take a large amount of loans to be able to complete a law degree from one of the most prestige’s law schools in the country. The question that really matters however is how much do you get paid on average after graduating from one of these law schools. According to payscale.com, a Harvard graduate which is a member of our first grouping is paid on average between $49,787 and $234,953 a year to be an Attorney or Lawyer.
Also according to payscale.com, the average Boston University Lawyer who is a member of our second group gets paid on average between $45,302 and $160,818. Finally, a lawyer from George Mason University according to payscale.com gets paid on average around $59,958 and $81,488.
The following graph represents how long it would take the lowest average paid graduate from each of the groups to pay back their loan assuming they all make a minimum payment of 10% of their salary, and also assuming that their salary does not increase through time.
On average if you made the minimum average salary for all of the groupings, and paid back 10% of your total salary every year on your tuition loan, and the loan had no interest and your salary stayed consistent, it would take group one 43 years on average to pay back their loan in full, group two 39 years on average to pay back the loan, and group three on average 38 years to pay back the loan. There are a lot of assumptions built into this analysis; however they are necessary to give a comparable figure. On average group one’s top salary could pay back the entire loan in a single year, however not all lawyers will make it to the top.
Is Law School Worth It?
The average cost of law school is very high, and you need to be in the top of your class and very competitive to even have a shot at one of the top schools. Before you decide that law school is for you, make sure that you realize the time you will need to spend, as well as the possible large financial debt you could occur along the way.
Did you pursue your law degree? Do you think it was worth it?