ChicagoNow; March 25, 2013
By Michael Helfand
I was fortunate enough not to have to pay for all of law school, but even with that I ended up with around $20,000 in student loans which was one year’s worth of tuition. This was in 1997.
That same education now costs around $50,000 a year and of course does not include living expenses or housing. It’s not uncommon for a law student to graduate and have $150,000 in law school debt, plus a lot more from college. The average starting salary is $60,000 which isn’t chump change, but certainly not enough to pay off your debt.
So the question is, is going to law school worth the cost?
It seems to be that the answer for most people is that it’s less and less worth it every day. Law school applications are down as much as 40% at some schools and almost every school is down some amount. Part of this is the economy bouncing back, but it also has to do with the high cost and the fact that most law students either don’t finish school or stop practicing traditional law after they graduate.
Schools are getting nervous. A friend of mine who is an author and baseball agent as well as law school graduate was flown back to his school as part of a presentation on all of the wonderful things that a law degree can do. I don’t think they realized that his law license is no longer active because he doesn’t use it or need it.
The State Bar Association is putting pressure on schools to justify their costs. They have no real enforcement power, but it’s a pain for the schools to deal with none the less.
I’ve wondered why UIC doesn’t open up a law school in Chicago. They could cut the market in terms of prices and probably provide the exact same education.
Being a lawyer has for the most part worked out for me and many people that I know. But it’s really shocking how many students from my first year class are not attorneys today. Two of the brightest ones I knew graduated, passed the bar and then became stay at home moms. If you want to do that today, you better be a trust fund baby or marry rich.
Back in the day, you could go to law school because you didn’t know what you want to do next. Having a law degree was seen as something that could open other doors. That’s still true today, but the cost if you end up hating it is so high that you better be sure becoming a lawyer is right for you.