Ever since the Great Recession sucked the air out of the legal industry, an extremely vocal group of writers—myself included—has been trying to warn pretty much any 20-something with an Internet connection to think twice about going to law school. The job market for recent grads has been murder. And there’s an abiding sense that the business model that sustained many big corporate firms, the ones that offer those plum $160,000-a-year jobs of lore, is in danger of becoming obsolete, if it hasn’t already.
So it was with both great skepticism and a bit of personal trepidation that I cracked open “The Economic Value of a Law Degree,” a new draft paper by Seton Hall Law Professor Michael Simkovic and Rutgers economist Frank McIntyre. The two researchers argue that over the course of a career, your average J.D.-holder will make almost $1 million more than a similar worker with just a bachelor’s degree (or about $700,000 after taxes). Even law grads on the low end of the salary scale seem to fare better than their merely college-educated peers. Crucially, the paper finds no evidence that the earnings premium has declined since the economy crashed.
“[O]ur results suggest that attending law school is generally a better financial decision than terminating one’s education with a bachelor’s degree,” they write. Or to put it more bluntly, the law school haters are wrong.
So, are we? Is paying $60,000 a year to learn torts, tax, and civil procedure really a great deal after all? I don’t think there’s a neat yes or no answer to that question. But I do think law school critics need to take Simkovic and McIntyre’s conclusions seriously.
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