The idea of becoming an attorney often includes visions of a high, six-figure salary and a comfortable lifestyle, but you may have wondered, “Is law school worth it?”
The answer will of course depend on you — and whether you’re willing to contend with many challenges (including financial ones) along the way. So if you’re considering law school, you’ll want to ask yourself some questions to weigh the pros and cons.
To help you decide if law school is the right path for your future, you’ll want to ask yourself a few questions. Specifically…
1. How much is law school?
2. How hard is law school?
3. How long is law school?
4. What can you do with a law degree?
5. Is law school for me?
According to the Law School Transparency Data Dashboard (LST), the national average law school tuition for American Bar Association (ABA)-approved schools at the time of publishing is $28,186 for resident students at a public institution. Private law school tuition averages $49,312 with the most expensive law school, Columbia University, charging full-time students as much as $69,916 in tuition fees.
Seventy-five percent of law students turned to student loans to pay for the surging cost of a law school degree in 2018, based on LST data. And graduating students have an average law school debt of $115,481. In terms of the range of law school debt between public versus private law school graduates, debt amounts varied but were equally stifling:
- Public law graduates borrowed between $50,902 to $165,131
- Private law graduates borrowed between $56,903 to $212,576
These debt figures don’t include undergraduate debt, accrued loan interest, privately borrowed loans or living expenses.
Whether the cost of law school is worth it for you depends on your legal specialization and where you practice. LST revealed that 28% of reported 2018 graduate salaries were between $50,000 to $60,000 while the top 14% of the graduating class earned $190,000, annually, working in the nation’s biggest law firms. Of the graduates surveyed, 34% worked part-time or short-term jobs, and 65% were unemployed.
It’s important to remember that the cost of a law education isn’t the only challenge you’ll face along the journey. Here’s what to expect in law school.
Generally, pursuing a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree takes an additional three years after completing your undergraduate degree program. To apply for most ABA-approved law schools, prospective law students need to have a high undergraduate GPA and score competitively on the required Law School Admission Test (LSAT). You’ll also need to provide letters of recommendation, transcripts and a personal statement along with your formal application.
There are more than 200 ABA-approved law schools in the U.S., all of which have varying acceptance rates. For example, Syracuse University’s law program has a 52.1% acceptance rate while Yale University has the lowest acceptance rate at 6.9%. Once you’re accepted into a law school, the curriculum that’s required may vary, based on your program.
Examples of first-year courses include torts, contracts, legal research and writing, civil procedures, criminal and constitutional law, and electives.
“The common phrase when I was in law school was that ‘law is a jealous lover,’” said Leslie H. Tayne, a financial debt resolution attorney at Tayne Law Group, P.C. who’s been practicing for 20 years. “As a full-time law student, there was a lot of reading and work to be done after class in preparation for class the next day. There was no time for anything else.”
Law schools often use the Socratic Method in which students are assigned a case to study and must be fully prepared to be randomly selected the next day to discuss it with the professor, one-on-one, during class.
Although you may not have time for conventional socializing, there are opportunities in law school to participate in clubs, student-run law journals, professional groups and moot court, which gives students a chance to practice and compete against their peers.
Completing law school generally takes three years, if you attend school full-time. After earning your J.D. degree, however, you won’t be able to practice law quite yet.
The next step to becoming a licensed attorney in the U.S. is passing the bar exam for the state you’d like to practice in. The bar exam is generally a two-day test that includes the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), a 200-question, multiple-choice test, and a second day devoted to written essays.
According to the ABA, the bar exam pass rate in 2019 was 79.64%. Students often prepare for the exam with the help of test prep courses, but these can be costly. For example, Kaplan’s California bar exam courses range from $1,899 to $3,999.
Devoting time toward studying for the bar is crucial since taking the exam isn’t cheap either. Bar exam fees vary by state — for example, the Michigan bar exam fee for first-timers is $775 while it costs $490 in Nebraska and $1,000 in Florida.
Aside from the cost of preparing for and taking the exam, Tayne said that students sometimes forget the amount of study time needed to prepare for the bar.
“It’s as if you disappear for three months in preparation for the first day of the rest of your life,” she said. “It’s common to see students that fail to factor in the financial drain of the bar exam because studying for the exam is a full-time job in and of itself.”
In terms of what jobs can you get with a law degree, you can work in a variety of legal sectors and specializations, after you’ve passed the bar examination. Some career options include:
- Criminal law
- Corporate law
- Environmental law
- Family law
- Healthcare law
- In-house counsel
- International law
- Intellectual property law
- Securities law
- Tax law
These are just a few of the many job areas you might consider, and for some, positions may be available in government, nonprofit and private sectors. If you choose to leave the legal field, a law degree may transition well to other fields that require similar skills. One example is in real estate where interpreting complex contracts can be valuable as a real estate broker. Your law school background may also be valuable in sales positions that require strong rhetoric to close a deal or land a new client.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the demand for lawyers is expected to increase from 2018 to 2028 by 6%, which is on pace with the average growth across other occupations.
There’s no way around the reality that law school is a demanding pursuit. It will cost you thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars to complete and in the process be a focal point of your day-to-day life for at least three years.
Ask yourself if you’re truly committed to the journey ahead, if you’re passionate about the law, and if your ultimate dream job actually requires a law degree. If you find yourself still questioning if law school is right for you, consider working as a paralegal or legal assistant in a law office to see how you like the demands of the environment. Paralegals and legal assistants typically only need an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and certification in an ABA-approved paralegal studies program, depending on the employer.
Paralegals and assistants prepare facts and information about cases for lawyers to review, and are often on multiple deadlines in fast-paced environments. If you thrive under the pressure of this legal work, law school may be a good fit for you.
The ultimate advice Tayne emphasized — “Be open minded.”
She suggests that students choose a school that allows you to take on the least amount of debt possible, particularly one that gives you the most money.
“Focus on where you want to practice and the opportunities you can create,” Tayne said, emphasizing the importance of networking, staying focused, and staying passionate. “Open doors and see where it takes you. I never imagined where my career is today, and I could never have in a million years.”
If you’ve decided that the cost of law school is worth it, you’ll need to decide how to pay for law school. Your starting point when it comes to paying for law school is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA can unlock grants and scholarships that are funded by your law school, in addition to federal loans that can help you cover financial gaps toward law school costs.
The last resort when paying for law school is private law school loans since these don’t offer the same protections as federal loans, like loan forgiveness and deferment. You can also strategically lower your cost of law school by:
- Selecting a low-tuition school
- Attending a public law school instead of a private school
- Applying for law scholarships
- Keeping grades competitive to earn more merit-based grants
- Pursue income-driven repayment or Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs
Can you take the bar without going to law school?
Most states require students to complete law school to be eligible for the bar exam. However, some states, including California, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, offer alternate requirements for students who didn’t complete law school.
How does law school work?
Law school generally takes three years to complete. In law school, you’ll be enrolled in a curriculum that’s focused on the core areas of the bar examination. Classes require students to read legal cases and prepare arguments for in-class discussion.
How does law school compare to medical school?
There are many differences when it comes to law school vs. med school. Law school typically takes three years to complete, plus time spent studying for the bar exam. The curriculum requires copious amounts of reading, writing and in-class discussion. Medical school, on the other hand, is typically four years and involves time in the classroom and clinical rotations. Then, prospective doctors enter three to seven years of residency before pursuing their board certification.
Does it matter what law school you go to?
Not necessarily — although attending a prestigious law school may help you earn more money, it’s not always the case, said Tayne. “Coming out at the top of your class will almost always ensure opportunities,” she said. “Making connections and building a reputation as a skilled and trustworthy practitioner can also help elevate your career. It’s not always the school, although some schools will help you get a particular position.”
Shannon Insler contributed to this report.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2021!
|0.99% – 11.98%1||Undergraduate|
|1.13% – 11.23%*,2||Undergraduate|
|0.99% – 11.44%3||Undergraduate|
|1.50% – 11.33%4||Undergraduate|
|1.12% – 11.23%5||Undergraduate|
|1.15% – 11.01%6||Undergraduate|
|3.80% – 9.36%8||Undergraduate|
|* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.
1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a first year graduate student borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7.10% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $141.66 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $16,699.21. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.
Information advertised valid as of 8/9/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on the creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
3 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.
4 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Ascent loans are funded by Bank of Lake Mills, Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs.
Rates are effective as of 10/01/2021 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes income-based loans). Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentFunding.com/Rates.
1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions, please visit AscentFunding.com/Cashback. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student borrowers must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest APRs are available for the most creditworthy applicants and may require a cosigner.
5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.66% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.90% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.10% to 11.34% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.08% to 10.86% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.05% to 11.29% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 10.66% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.20% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (>www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.15% – 11.01% (1.15% – 10.24 APR)Fixed interest rates range from 4.18% – 11.70% (4.18% – 10.83% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 10.66% (1.89% – 10.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.64% – 11.23%% (4.64% – 10.95% APR).
Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 9.22% (1.89% – 8.50% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.38% – 10.44% (4.38% – 9.72% APR).
Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 8.02% (1.89% – 7.72% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.28% – 9.24% (4.28% – 8.94% APR).
Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.97% – 7.06% (1.97% – 7.06% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.94% – 8.58% (4.94% – 8.58% APR).
Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.44% – 9.58% (4.44% – 9.52% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.83% APR).
Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.53% – 7.03% (3.53% – 6.76% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.98% – 10.09% APR).
Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of June 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.09%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%.
Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.
Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.
Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
7 Important Disclosures for Funding U.
Funding U Disclosures
Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are made by Funding University which is a for-profit enterprise. Funding University is not affiliated with the school you are attending or any other learning institution. None of the information contained in Funding University’s website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by Funding University or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.
8 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.