The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
Entering Law School
The progression seems simple: excel at your undergraduate studies, apply to several prestigious law schools, earn good grades, and pass the bar. After that, you’ll be compensated with a high-paying (and debt-relieving) job at the law firm of your choice, where you’ll ride the fast track to partner.
Unfortunately, research shows that this path may no longer be possible for the majority of the nation’s law school graduates. In fact, the journey to (and through) law school has changed dramatically over the years, and today, law school graduates face a vastly different job market than they would have ten years ago.
First, applying to law school has become more and more competitive- to the tune of 55,000 applicants to ABA accredited law schools in 2013. The average LSAT score of most law students is around 150, but the most selective schools tend to accept students with a score of 160 or better. Even then, the most selective schools only accept between 10-25% of applicants.
For the students who do get into the law school of their choice, the cost of becoming a lawyer may be prohibiting. The average tuition at a private law school in the U.S. is $41,985 per year- 2.6x more expensive than it was in 1985. For a non-resident at a public law school, tuition is around $37,000 per year, and it’s around $24,000 for a resident, costs that are 5.5x higher than they were in 1985.
These high tuition means that students need to borrow more and more money to afford tuition. In the fall of 2013, public school students borrowed $32,289 on average, and private school students borrowed around $44,000. After graduation, 85% of law school graduates face an average debt load of more than $98,000.
Of course, this would be manageable if graduates were consistently able to get lucrative jobs. However, only 8% of graduates were working for large firms employing 250 or more lawyers, and a 2012 study found that only 55% of the class of 2011 were employed as lawyers nine months after graduation. These trends support research showing that it’s becoming tougher for lawyers to find jobs. Overall employment rate, including positions not requiring a law degree, comes to about 84.5% in 2012, after falling for the sixth year in a row.
Sure, law school graduates expect the road to becoming a lawyer to be tough; if it wasn’t, everyone would do it. However, the changing state of law school costs and the increasingly difficult job market may be enough to make some aspiring lawyers think twice.
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The State of Law School
A Look At The Current State of Law School and The Job Market for Law Grads
THE FACT OF LAW
As of 2013, there were 1,268,011 licensed attorneys active in the U.S.
New York, Texas, and Florida were the states with the most lawyers, while the District of Columbia has the most lawyers per capita.
There were 39,675 enrollments of new law students in 2013, a drop from the 2012 total of 44,418.
*The stastistics refer to both J.D. and non-J.D. students enrolled in law programs.
There were 204 American Bar Association accredited law schools in the U.S.
2/3rds of ABA accredited law schools experienced a drop in enrollment between 2012 and 2013.
DEMOGRAPHICS IN LAW
Women represented 47% of first year law students, total J.D. students, and J.D. graduates during the 2012-2013 academic year.
47% Female | 53% Male
Percentages of Minorities in Law School (2008)
7.3% were African American
5.1% were Hispanic or Latino (non-Mexican)
1.7% were Mexican American
Of these three groups, only the non-Mexican/Latino group has made significant gains since 1993, rising from 3.1%. The other groups remained stagnant. Most entering law students fall into the 22-24 age bracket, with a significant number taking at least one year off between completing their undergraduate and matriculating to law school.
APPLYING TO LAW SCHOOL
The average LSAT score of law students is around 150, though the most selective schools typically enrolled students with a score of 160 or better.
In 2013, there were around 55,000 applicants to ABA accredited law schools.
TOP 10 MOST APPLIED TO LAW SCHOOLS (2013)
- GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY 7,257
- UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA 6,048
- GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY 6,005
- UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-BERKELEY 5,885
- COLLEGE OF WILLIAM AND MARY 5,849
- COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY 5,797
- NEW YORK UNIVERSITY 5,730
- UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-LOSE ANGELES 5,562
- HARVARD UNIVERSITY 5,485
- UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA 5,283
Acceptance rates are on their way up, but the most selective school, Yale University, still accepts less than 10% of all applicants, while most other highly selective schools accept somewhere between 10% and 25%. Less selective schools may accept as many as 40-50% of applicants.
Sorry, Yale is no longer accepting Law School applicants.
DID YOU KNOW?
President Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton are Yale Law School Graduates, along with 10 Supreme Court Justices.
THE COST OF BECOMING A LAWYER
- The average tuition at a private law school in the U.S. is $41,985 per year.
- A private legal education is 2.6 times as expensive as it was in 1985.
- Average tuition for a resident at a public law school is $23,879 per year.
- The cost of a public school legal education is 5.5 times higher than it was in 1985.
- According to the ABA, the average cost of living expenses and books for a law student per year during the 2012-2013 academic year was $15,084.
- The average amount of money borrowed by law students during Fall of 2013 was $32,289 for public school students, and $44,094 for private school students.
IN SCHOOL/GRADUATION STATISTICS
The average “happiness” of law students was measure by a recent survey on a self-reported scale from 1 (very unsatisfied) to 4 (very satisfied) and found that the average happiness of law students was 3.17.
Dropout rate for first year students is between 20-40%.
The overall attrition rate has been around 10% since 1993.
More than 40,000 people graduate from law school every year in the U.S., J.D. or non-J.D.
Students spend an average of three years in law school, not including the time, post-graduation, during which they prepare for the bar exam.
POST GRADUATION/JOB AND CAREER STATISTICS
85% of law school graduates face an average debt load of more than $98,000.
Only 8% were working for large firms employing 250 or more lawyers.
A 2012 study found that only 55% of the class of 2011 were employed as lawyers 9 months after graduation.
It’s increasingly hard for lawyers to find jobs. Overall employment rate, including positions not requiring a law degree, comes to about 84.5% in 2012, after falling for the sixth year in a row.
Average starting salaries in the public sector were $49,831, and $84,111 in the private sector.
*Starting salaries tended to be higher for graduates from more selective schools such as Yale or Harvard.
Overall median salary is $62,467.