Is Law School Worth It? How to Analyze the Return on Your Investment

 April 26, 2020
How Student Loan Hero Gets Paid

How Student Loan Hero Gets Paid

Student Loan Hero is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appear on this site (such as the order). Student Loan Hero does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.

Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero is an advertising-supported comparison service. The site features products from our partners as well as institutions which are not advertising partners. While we make an effort to include the best deals available to the general public, we make no warranty that such information represents all available products.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

is law school worth it

We’ve got your back! Student Loan Hero is a completely free website 100% focused on helping student loan borrowers get the answers they need. Read more

How do we make money? It’s actually pretty simple. If you choose to check out and become a customer of any of the loan providers featured on our site, we get compensated for sending you their way. This helps pay for our amazing staff of writers (many of which are paying back student loans of their own!).

Bottom line: We’re here for you. So please learn all you can, email us with any questions, and feel free to visit or not visit any of the loan providers on our site. Read less

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.

With that in mind, let’s look at:
Is law school worth it? 5 questions to consider
How to pay for law school
Should I go to law school? FAQs

Is law school worth it? 5 questions to consider

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?

1. How much is law school?

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.

2. How hard is law school?

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.

3. How long is law school?

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.”

4. What can you do with a law degree?

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
  • Public-interest
  • 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.

5. Is law school for me?

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.”

How to pay for law school

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

Should I go to law school? FAQs

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 2022!
LenderVariable APREligibility 
2.49% – 13.85%1Undergraduate

Visit College Ave

2.55% – 11.44%2Undergraduate

Visit Earnest

3.25% – 13.59%3Undergraduate

Visit SallieMae

0.00% – 23.00%4Undergraduate

Visit Edly

3.25% – 9.69%6Undergraduate



Visit FundingU

* 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.

CollegeAve Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through Firstrust Bank, member FDIC, First Citizens Community 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.

  1. As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Information advertised valid as of 9/15/2022. 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 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 3.47% APR to 13.03% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 2.80% APR to 11.69% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Although the rate will vary after you are approved, it will never exceed 36% (the maximum allowable for this loan). Please note, Earnest Private Student Loans are not available in Nevada. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account. It is important to note that the 0.25% Auto Pay discount is not available while loan payments are deferred.

3 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.

4 Important Disclosures for Edly.

Edly Disclosures

1. Loan Example:

  • Loans from $5,000 – $20,000
  • Example: $10,000 IBR Loan with a 7% gross income payment percentage for a Senior student making $65,000 annually throughout the life of the loan.
    • Payments deferred for the first 12 months during final year of education.
    • After which, $270 Monthly payment for 12 months.
    • Then $379 Monthly payment for 44 months.
    • Followed by one final payment of $137 for a total of $20,610 paid over the life of the loan.

About this example

The initial payment schedule is set upon receiving final terms and upon confirmation by your school of the loan amount. You may repay this loan at any time by paying an effective APR of 23%. The maximum amount you will pay is $22,500 (not including Late Fees and Returned Check Fees, if any). The maximum number of regularly scheduled payments you will make is 60. You will not pay more than 23% APR. No payment is required if your gross earned income is below $30,000 annually or if you lose your job and cannot find employment.

2. Edly Student IBR Loans are unsecured personal student loans issued by FinWise Bank, a Utah chartered commercial bank, member FDIC. All loans are subject to eligibility criteria and review of creditworthiness and history. Terms and conditions apply.

5 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  • Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates are based on the 30-day average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (“SOFR”) index, as published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As of September 1, 2022, the 30-day average SOFR index is 2.23%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the SOFR index, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable interest rate is the greater of 21.00% or the 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 are only available for the most creditworthy applicants, require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate or medical 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.


    Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.25%-10.35% (3.25% – 9.69% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.24% – 10.59% (4.24% – 9.93% APR). 

    Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.90% (3.75% – 9.68% APR). Fixed interest rates range from  5.22% – 10.14% (5.22% – 9.91% APR). 

    Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.35% (3.75% – 9.16% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 5.20% – 9.59% (5.20% – 9.39% APR).

    Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.02% (3.75% -8.98% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 5.18% – 9.26% (5.18% – 9.22% APR). 

    Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.25%-9.21% (3.25% – 9.21% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.96%-9.50% (3.96%-9.50% APR).

    Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 6.58%-11.72% (6.58% – 11.62% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.82% APR). 

    Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 5.67%-9.17% (5.67% – 8.76% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.08% APR).

6 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.