What is a default answer for anyone who does not have a job after graduation?
The answer I hear far too often is law school.
In my opinion, it is an answer that is chosen out of a natural necessity. I tend to see that many of these undergrads gravitate to a juris doctor because they simply have not spent the last four years actually thinking about what they will do come graduation.
So far this year, over 78,900 students have applied for law school, but only 60,000 will receive a seat. For those blessed enough to be accepted, the majority will be forced to take on some type of debt load. The average of these burdens after three years ranges from a staggering $120,000 to $195,000 with a 7.3% interest rate.
Just as the financial industry has shrunk considerably, so has the law industry. These structural changes in the labor market for lawyers have made coming by a job that requires a J.D. even more excruciating than ever before. Nonetheless, according to NALP, the association for legal career professionals, the median starting salary for a lawyer who graduated from law school in 2010 is $63,000.
Let me ask our finance guys, would you buy a $130,000 Aston Martin Vantage, 100% financed by the dealership, if you made $63,000 a year? You do not have to be the frugal, WSO user Illinois Programmer to say, "no, obviously not."
Six figures of debt, a heavy interest burden and poor job prospects--this is no way to begin a legal career. Some graduates will no doubt hang their own shingles and build successful practices, but many others will start practicing law without proper capital or mentorship. This is dangerous territory for the profession. Dating back to the 1950s, research on lawyers has shown a strong link between lawyer misconduct and the economic stress of too many lawyers chasing too little, unsophisticated legal work.
"The last few years were the hardest of my life. I've essentially lost my dream. ... It's like I've failed at everything. If I'd known what would happen, I would have gone another way. I would have stayed at my firm, became a paralegal. I wouldn't have taken on this debt. I don't have anything or anyone else to fall back on."
So the next time you hear someone defecting to law school, maybe you should speak up before it's too late for all of us. Lord knows, the last thing we need is another lawyer.
Mod Note: Throwback Thursday - this originally went up April 2013