Many friends and acquaintances during this Holiday Season have asked me what I thought about their child’s plan to go to law school. They are shocked at the cost of tuition and am asking themselves if a job will be there for them after school. With the passage of tort reform and the vilification of trial lawyers, it is a difficult question to ask. The answer depends on why you want to become a lawyer: Is it to good or do well? If it is to do good–protect vulnerable members of the community, seek justice, check government abuses of power–then go get a legal education. If it is to make money, then go to medical or business school.
In the past 20 years, the share of Gross Domestic Product related to legal services has deteriorated significantly despite the propaganda from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and insurance industry. In the late 1980s with all those corporate mergers and takeovers, the legal services sector represented slightly more than 2% of GDP. As of 2009, that figure had declined to 1.37%. The demand for legal services has been declining. The practice of law as an economic entity appears to be a dying industry in decline.
The rate at which American law schools are producing lawyers outstrips the demand for new lawyers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the economy will produce an average of approximately 24,400 new jobs for lawyers per year over the next decade. ABA-accredited law schools are producing 45,000 new graduates per year, while non-accredited schools produce several thousand more.
Since 1985, tuition at private law schools has increased by 2.5 times in real terms, while resident tuition at public law schools has increased more than fivefold, again in real terms. Law schools continue to raise tuition at far faster than the rate of inflation while demand diminishes. The total cost (tuition and related expenses, plus opportunity cost) of attending law school will be approaching $300,000 for many students and will be at least $200,000 for the vast majority. For these graduates, law school will have turned out to have been a bad investment.
Why do you want to go to law school? Think before you decide.