Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

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playdoughguardian
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Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by playdoughguardian »

I am enrolling in law school next year and am currently deciding where to attend. I have to decide between paying around 150k to attend a prestigious (T20) school with good employment outcomes or paying 30k at my state flagship university's law school that has decent but not great employment outcomes.

I know there are a few lawyers on the forum. How did you think about taking on debt for your law degree? If you took on a lot of debt, was it worth it? What advice would you have for a mid-20s guy weighing this decision? Opinions and perspectives from non-lawyers also welcome.
Nottingham
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Nottingham »

I'm not a lawyer but I think it applies to any profession. If you have passion for law and can afford a better school then it's easy decision.
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lthenderson
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by lthenderson »

According to this one article below, the median salary for a lawyer is $135,000 and that isn't educational background dependent. I would be inclined to go with the more prestigious and expensive school.

https://money.usnews.com/careers/best-j ... yer/salary
flyfishers83
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by flyfishers83 »

What do you want to do with your law degree?
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cowdogman
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by cowdogman »

I've been a lawyer for 35 years. I worked at two "biglaw" firms and was general counsel of a largish company for a long time.

From a purely economic point of view (not because of your love for the law or your desire to do something specific with a JD), my advice has always been that if you go to a top school and you do well (grades and law review) then yes, it is worth the time and cost. Assuming you're good in your interviews (and all that entails) you'll land a job with a top firm with a startling high salary in the city of your choosing (the NYC firm I started with now pays first year associates a $225,000 base salary (with the possibility of a yearly bonus)). After that, whether you're a success is up to you (and a little luck).

If you don't go to a top school and/or you don't do well, it's a more risky economic choice.

So, going to the Top 20 school is the obvious choice. Plus you'll probably get a better education and meet more people with whom you will work later.

I borrowed my way through law school and paid off the debt within a couple years of graduation--altho it was a lot cheaper then.

Good luck.
Big Dog
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Big Dog »

Do not take on that kinda debt. Not worth it.

Do you feel that you did as well on the LSAT as you could? If not, skip this cycle and prep hard for the Test next fall. 2-3 additional correct questions could result in big merit money at the same T20.
jaMichael
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by jaMichael »

My advice is always to go to the better school IF you are sure you want to be a lawyer after law school. In my case, I chose a top 2 school over a free ride at a top 25 school and think I made a good choice, notwithstanding about $125,000 in law school debt. First, top schools tend to have more resources, like loan repayment assistance programs for people who choose public interest law. Second, rightly or wrongly, employment opportunities are better for students at top schools. It is likely that none of my three jobs after law school -- clerking, a small public interest law firm, and law teaching -- would have occurred had I not gone to the higher-ranked school. If you are not sure you want to practice law after law school (and lots of people decide the law is not right for them, which is fine), then I would probably choose the free ride, which keeps your career options more open. It goes without saying that you don't need to go to a top 25 school to have a successful legal career, especially if you have an entrepreneurial nature, but a top school does make the path easier and $150k is a "reasonable" debt load.
LunarOpal
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by LunarOpal »

I took on a lot of debt for law school ~30 years ago, and it has definitely been worth it for me.

And this despite the fact that I started with (and still have) a government job (although my current government job pays a lot compared to most governement jobs).

I think there are a couple of things to keep in mind and to ask yourself when choosing law schools.

The first thing to keep in mind is that law school reputation isn't linear. There is a huge difference between going to a T14 school and a T20 school that isn't in the T14. It might be worth it to pay a substantial premium to go to UVA. It's not worth it to pay a similar premium to go to the Univ of GA or WashU in STL.

The first thing to figure out is where you want to practice. Unless you are going to a truly national school (by which I mean a T14), it will be easier for you to get a job in a particular location if you go to that state's flagship school, or a well known regional law school. If you want a job in Indianapolis, for example, UVA beats Indiana University, but IU beats UG or WUSTL, even though UG and WUSTL are ranked ~10 places better than IU.

Similarly, a degree from Notre Dame will be respected in Indiana and Illinois, but it's more of a curiosity than an advantage in, say, North Carolina.
Cavalier91
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Cavalier91 »

I agree with what others have posted. The legal profession is, for better or worse, still very prestige-focused, and going to a top school will almost certainly give you a big leg up.

That said, there is still a huge difference between "top" schools in terms of employment - the University of Georgia/UT/University of Minnesota are all technically top 20 schools based on the USWR rankings, but Duke/Penn are still a big step ahead of them in terms of employment opportunities. I would not take $150K out to attend UT, but I probably would at Penn.

If you haven't already looked, I would suggest reviewing the Above The Law law school rankings which are much more focused on employment outcomes.

One other factor you should consider is where you want to practice. Generally speaking, only the top 10 or so law schools have true national reach, and even then employment opportunities are generally concentrated in big cities. If you want to stay local, you may be better off going to your local flagship.
bryanm
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by bryanm »

How confident are you that you actually want to be a lawyer? How familiar and comfortable are you with BigLaw life? Legal salaries are a long tail distribution, and a degree from a good school substantially increases your shot at the higher end. It also creates connections that are massively valuable in the field. So, if you're confident you can hack it in BigLaw (or even a mid-size firm with coastal salaries), and you're confident that you'll do well at the T20 school, do that. (Obviously getting scholarships or other discounts is great, too.). If you'd rather have better work/life balance or work in an area of law that's not as lucrative (e.g., many types of immigration and family law), then the smaller school makes sense. If you're not sure you actually want to be a lawyer, figure that out before going to law school!

I went to a top 20 school and have done well over the past 15 years in Big(ish)Law. I have many friends who had a very different outcome.
rule of law guy
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by rule of law guy »

playdoughguardian wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 9:29 am I am enrolling in law school next year and am currently deciding where to attend. I have to decide between paying around 150k to attend a prestigious (T20) school with good employment outcomes or paying 30k at my state flagship university's law school that has decent but not great employment outcomes.

I know there are a few lawyers on the forum. How did you think about taking on debt for your law degree? If you took on a lot of debt, was it worth it? What advice would you have for a mid-20s guy weighing this decision? Opinions and perspectives from non-lawyers also welcome.
if you are certain you will like law school, legal analysis, and legal advocacy, go to the "best" law school you can. you will enjoy it more and do better, and then the better employment outcome will follow. you should have some idea whether you will like law school by now, so invest in yourself. if you are unsure whether you will like law school, I would go the cheaper route and minimize your financial risk...doesnt mean you wont do well at the lesser ranked school, but for me it was easier to meet the challenge posed by law school by looking around at your classmates and realizing that you were in very good company.
Never wrong, unless my wife tells me that I am.
Nottingham
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Nottingham »

When I see MIT graduates applying for my positions I interview them right away without even looking at CV.
aristotelian
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by aristotelian »

flyfishers83 wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 9:39 am What do you want to do with your law degree?
I think this is the key. If you want to do public interest work or run a private practice it may not be worth the extra debt. If you want to join a firm and make big bucks, then you can absorb the debt and it will probably pay for itself.
alfaspider
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by alfaspider »

playdoughguardian wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 9:29 am I am enrolling in law school next year and am currently deciding where to attend. I have to decide between paying around 150k to attend a prestigious (T20) school with good employment outcomes or paying 30k at my state flagship university's law school that has decent but not great employment outcomes.

I know there are a few lawyers on the forum. How did you think about taking on debt for your law degree? If you took on a lot of debt, was it worth it? What advice would you have for a mid-20s guy weighing this decision? Opinions and perspectives from non-lawyers also welcome.
Background: Lawyer, went to a T14 school, did a few years in NYC Biglaw, now in-house at a F500 company. Married to someone who went to a T6 (HYSCCN) school (and was married during the LSAT and application process). We both took out decent size loans (though not as much as some) and it has paid off well financially.

Keep in mind that "T20" is not as meaningful a category as T14 (note that U.S. News rankings have been wonky as of late with schools opting out- T14 is more of a historical category spanning decades and would exist without the rankings). A degree from WUSTL (usually in the Top 20 by U.S. News) is not a nearly-guaranteed ticket to a Biglaw job the same way a degree from UVA, Michigan, or Penn is. Remember that salaries are bi-modal. You are likely to make Biglaw market (over $200k), or 5 figures after graduation, without a lot of middle ground.

You also have to consider where you want to practice. If you have no interest in working at a big firm in a major market (NYC, D.C., Chicago, LA, S.F., Houston/Dallas) but really just want to practice family law in Iowa, it makes little sense to spend a bunch of money on a T14.

Second note on LSAT scores. Once you hit the high 160s, a point on the LSAT is only typically a single question. But even 2-3 points makes a massive difference in admissions and scholarships. If you aren't over 170 and you haven't taken it 3 times, take it again. Study your brains out. It's a learnable test. Don't feel like you MUST go to law school next year. Take a year off if you don't like your options this cycle.
Valuethinker
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Valuethinker »

alfaspider wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:07 am
playdoughguardian wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 9:29 am I am enrolling in law school next year and am currently deciding where to attend. I have to decide between paying around 150k to attend a prestigious (T20) school with good employment outcomes or paying 30k at my state flagship university's law school that has decent but not great employment outcomes.

I know there are a few lawyers on the forum. How did you think about taking on debt for your law degree? If you took on a lot of debt, was it worth it? What advice would you have for a mid-20s guy weighing this decision? Opinions and perspectives from non-lawyers also welcome.
Background: Lawyer, went to a T14 school, did a few years in NYC Biglaw, now in-house at a F500 company. Married to someone who went to a T6 (HYSCCN) school (and was married during the LSAT and application process). We both took out decent size loans (though not as much as some) and it has paid off well financially.
total outsider question:

HYSCCN Harvard Yale Stanford Chicago C? Northwestern ?

I had a friend who went to a "top 10" in his 40s, after an academic career (humanities). He struggled to get summer job offers, even so - but is now happily ensconced in a specialised field of law (with no relation to his previous academic career). So his view was definitely that "top 10" helped him to get that legal job. Oddly his LSAT was not exceptional - but he had a Phd from one of the H/S/Y/P/Chicago group, exceptional undergrad grades etc.
Second note on LSAT scores. Once you hit the high 160s, a point on the LSAT is only typically a single question. But even 2-3 points makes a massive difference in admissions and scholarships. If you aren't over 170 and you haven't taken it 3 times, take it again. Study your brains out. It's a learnable test. Don't feel like you MUST go to law school next year. Take a year off if you don't like your options this cycle.
This I think is good advice.
Tirebiter
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Tirebiter »

Nottingham wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:01 am When I see MIT graduates applying for my positions I interview them right away without even looking at CV.
That's probably a bad move if they claim to have attended MIT Law School.
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AnnetteLouisan
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by AnnetteLouisan »

Tirebiter wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:38 am
Nottingham wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:01 am When I see MIT graduates applying for my positions I interview them right away without even looking at CV.
That's probably a bad move if they claim to have attended MIT Law School.
… because there is no MIT law school. Yet. It might not be a bad idea.
Last edited by AnnetteLouisan on Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:47 am, edited 1 time in total.
brian2013
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by brian2013 »

Hi, lawyer here with 20 years of practice.

I went to my in state law school, University of South Carolina.

It depends on what you want to do. Do you want to work 80 hour weeks in a "biglaw" law firm in a big city? Do you want to run for political office or some other high-achievement career path where they will be impressed with your T-20 credentials? If so, then you could go to the more expensive school.

If you're smart enough to get into a top 20, then you're probably smart enough to do very well in the cheaper law school as well. The people I know who do really well at the cheaper law school had no problems getting high paying jobs right out of law school. Even people like me who were "middle of the pack" still have pretty good career prospects.

If I were in your shoes, personally I would go with the cheaper school, unless maybe it's Harvard, Princeton or Yale. I might splurge for the prestige of one of the top 3 or top 5, but not one of the top 20.

If you are smart, hard-working, and honest, your chances for a successful, high paying career are very good whether you go to the cheaper school or the expensive school.

In general I highly recommend law school and law as a career.
Nottingham
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Nottingham »

Tirebiter wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:38 am
Nottingham wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:01 am When I see MIT graduates applying for my positions I interview them right away without even looking at CV.
That's probably a bad move if they claim to have attended MIT Law School.
:mrgreen: It could be. But I'm more about MIT CS. The point I'm trying to make is that even aside of networking aspect top school will definitely help you get more interviews. Networking aspect is another asset. You get access to very rich people that way and if you play that card right you will have another advantage. Rich kids don't go to average schools so you lose that access if you don't go to top one.
tashnewbie
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by tashnewbie »

playdoughguardian wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 9:29 am I am enrolling in law school next year and am currently deciding where to attend. I have to decide between paying around 150k to attend a prestigious (T20) school with good employment outcomes or paying 30k at my state flagship university's law school that has decent but not great employment outcomes.
Which T20 school and which state flagship?

What do you want to do with a law degree?
Jayhawk11
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Jayhawk11 »

Background: HYS law grad married to HYS law grad. We graduated with a combined 450k in student loans.

A few considerations that I don't see as highlighted:

1) If the back half of the top-20 (Georgia or WUSTL) I wouldn't take on the debt. UT Austin, USC, perhaps (better reps for longer, better local markets). You're median at Georgia (which is likely!), you're not looking at great employment outcomes. Of course, if you're top-1% anywhere you'll be fine - but you can't know that until you plunk down the money.

2) if your state school is a feeder to a reasonable local legal market, I would strongly consider it. 30k is nothing, these days.

3) If you want to go into public service, take the higher ranked school. You can PSLF those loans away, and the better school will help you get in the door.

Do I regret going to a top law school even though I could've gone to a very good one for free? For the first five years of my career I did! But, after getting rid of the debt, it was the right choice (was able to switch to a much better job from biglaw in no small part due to the prestige of my degree, and met my wife). But, the debt really weighed on me and caused a lot of anxiety for many years, delayed my home buying and investments as well.

Good luck.
Glockenspiel
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Glockenspiel »

If you're willing to work 2,500 hours a year and work in big-law for many years, then the top-20 school may be worth it. If you're not, then I'd opt for the state school.
thatme
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by thatme »

Valuethinker wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:16 am
alfaspider wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:07 am
playdoughguardian wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 9:29 am I am enrolling in law school next year and am currently deciding where to attend. I have to decide between paying around 150k to attend a prestigious (T20) school with good employment outcomes or paying 30k at my state flagship university's law school that has decent but not great employment outcomes.

I know there are a few lawyers on the forum. How did you think about taking on debt for your law degree? If you took on a lot of debt, was it worth it? What advice would you have for a mid-20s guy weighing this decision? Opinions and perspectives from non-lawyers also welcome.
Background: Lawyer, went to a T14 school, did a few years in NYC Biglaw, now in-house at a F500 company. Married to someone who went to a T6 (HYSCCN) school (and was married during the LSAT and application process). We both took out decent size loans (though not as much as some) and it has paid off well financially.
total outsider question:

HYSCCN Harvard Yale Stanford Chicago C? Northwestern ?

I had a friend who went to a "top 10" in his 40s, after an academic career (humanities). He struggled to get summer job offers, even so - but is now happily ensconced in a specialised field of law (with no relation to his previous academic career). So his view was definitely that "top 10" helped him to get that legal job. Oddly his LSAT was not exceptional - but he had a Phd from one of the H/S/Y/P/Chicago group, exceptional undergrad grades etc.
Second note on LSAT scores. Once you hit the high 160s, a point on the LSAT is only typically a single question. But even 2-3 points makes a massive difference in admissions and scholarships. If you aren't over 170 and you haven't taken it 3 times, take it again. Study your brains out. It's a learnable test. Don't feel like you MUST go to law school next year. Take a year off if you don't like your options this cycle.
This I think is good advice.
HYSCCN = Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Chicago, Columbia, and NYU. These have been the “top 6” schools for decades.

To the OP: retake the LSAT. You’ve gotten some good advice here.
Tirebiter
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Tirebiter »

OP, I would first think carefully about where I planned to work after law school. Consider both what areas of law you might be interested in, as well as what connections you have (or want to make) to develop as future clients. If you have no idea then you are not ready to invest $150k or even $30k. You're in your 20's, you can pivot later if better opportunities come up, but at least have an initial plan to justify this expense.

As most posters have said above, the legal field is very prestige obsessed, especially for new grads. So a top 20 school is probably worth it unless the cheaper school has better connections or a better location to develop your eventual client base.
ETK517
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by ETK517 »

My background: I'm a lawyer, didn't go to a T14 and instead chose a state school with low cost of attendance and decent employment outcome. No loans, fortunately. I started school ~15 years ago, before the national reckoning on misleading employment stats, and might've made a different choice had the information provided at the time been accurate. I don't work in biglaw but at a good firm in my state where I make, as a junior partner, about what a midlevel associate in biglaw makes (with plenty of room to grow). I graduated in the top 10% of my class, which opened a lot of doors for me compared to lower-ranking students.

Hard to give good advice here as it's a very, very complicated analysis. A few things to think about: If you graduate with a lot of debt, you'll need a biglaw job to pay it off quickly. Everyone thinks they'll get those jobs, but it's hardly guaranteed, even at a T14/20. Take UT; fewer than half their graduating class go to firms with >250 lawyers, and only 15% get federal clerkships. So even in the strongest legal hiring market since ~2005, 30-40% of students at that T14 school are not going to biglaw. Biglaw firms also tend to be very sensitive to macroeconomic trends, so hiring swings are significant and as unpredictable as the markets.

Also, the biglaw model has changed a lot, even in the last 10 years or so since I've graduated. Associates are worked harder than ever and turnover/attrition is higher than ever. Fewer people than ever make partner. Of those who do, more and more are contract, not equity partners - i.e., glorified career associates who make good money, but not the $1-5mm that is supposed to be the reason for sticking it out (and less job security). And for the few who do make equity partner, there's almost no lockstep firms left, so it is a constant battle to generate business and bill hours. Depending on your career trajectory, you may not have great in-house options, and most in house gigs pay shockingly little compared to a BL salary. While people tell themselves they only need to do a few years in BL to pay off their loans and can then find a more humane job, in reality I think many 26-30yos enjoying postgrad life in very expensive, major cities are unlikely to live as frugally as necessary to do that.

When making this decision, don't assume you will love being a lawyer and want to do it forever. Many people I attended school with ended up hating the law and have since left it, mostly for lower paying careers. I think it's generally true that a law degree has little value outside of the legal industry.

So having said all that, the law remains a very credentialist profession. Since you say T20, I assume you didn't get into a T14. I tend to agree with the advice to retake the LSAT if this was your first sitting. Even if you end up going to the same school, you may get a better scholarship package. I decided in October I wanted to apply for the following year's admission cycle, took a crash course, and scored in the high 160s. I was pretty happy with that considering the situation, but in retrospect getting a few more points might have made a big difference in my prospects, while waiting a year to go to school would not.

I know there's a lot of pessimism about the legal industry; not trying to add to that. I've had plenty of career struggles but make considerably more money than I likely would in a number of other potential career paths, and on good days find it interesting and challenging.

PS: Don't hire anyone who went to Princeton Law.
chazas
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by chazas »

You've got some good advice here. If you want to go the biglaw route, especially in NY/LA/DC/CH, the higher ranked school is a no-brainer. I went to a state school that has hovered at the edge of T14 forever and got all the opportunities I wanted, but I had top grades/law review and an Ivy undergrad degree. Friends who didn't do as well or have the same background were much more limited.

But if you're happy with opportunities available locally to grads of the lower-ranked school, that's fine. They may even have a good pipeline into local biglaw branch offices. Just know that you may be limiting your ultimate choices somewhat.
alfaspider
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by alfaspider »

Valuethinker wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:16 am
alfaspider wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:07 am
playdoughguardian wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 9:29 am I am enrolling in law school next year and am currently deciding where to attend. I have to decide between paying around 150k to attend a prestigious (T20) school with good employment outcomes or paying 30k at my state flagship university's law school that has decent but not great employment outcomes.

I know there are a few lawyers on the forum. How did you think about taking on debt for your law degree? If you took on a lot of debt, was it worth it? What advice would you have for a mid-20s guy weighing this decision? Opinions and perspectives from non-lawyers also welcome.
Background: Lawyer, went to a T14 school, did a few years in NYC Biglaw, now in-house at a F500 company. Married to someone who went to a T6 (HYSCCN) school (and was married during the LSAT and application process). We both took out decent size loans (though not as much as some) and it has paid off well financially.
total outsider question:

HYSCCN Harvard Yale Stanford Chicago C? Northwestern ?

I had a friend who went to a "top 10" in his 40s, after an academic career (humanities). He struggled to get summer job offers, even so - but is now happily ensconced in a specialised field of law (with no relation to his previous academic career). So his view was definitely that "top 10" helped him to get that legal job. Oddly his LSAT was not exceptional - but he had a Phd from one of the H/S/Y/P/Chicago group, exceptional undergrad grades etc.
Second note on LSAT scores. Once you hit the high 160s, a point on the LSAT is only typically a single question. But even 2-3 points makes a massive difference in admissions and scholarships. If you aren't over 170 and you haven't taken it 3 times, take it again. Study your brains out. It's a learnable test. Don't feel like you MUST go to law school next year. Take a year off if you don't like your options this cycle.
This I think is good advice.
The second "N" is NYU. Northwestern is in the lower end of the T14.
Valuethinker
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Valuethinker »

alfaspider wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 12:09 pm
Valuethinker wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:16 am
alfaspider wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:07 am
playdoughguardian wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 9:29 am I am enrolling in law school next year and am currently deciding where to attend. I have to decide between paying around 150k to attend a prestigious (T20) school with good employment outcomes or paying 30k at my state flagship university's law school that has decent but not great employment outcomes.

I know there are a few lawyers on the forum. How did you think about taking on debt for your law degree? If you took on a lot of debt, was it worth it? What advice would you have for a mid-20s guy weighing this decision? Opinions and perspectives from non-lawyers also welcome.
Background: Lawyer, went to a T14 school, did a few years in NYC Biglaw, now in-house at a F500 company. Married to someone who went to a T6 (HYSCCN) school (and was married during the LSAT and application process). We both took out decent size loans (though not as much as some) and it has paid off well financially.
total outsider question:

HYSCCN Harvard Yale Stanford Chicago C? Northwestern ?

The second "N" is NYU. Northwestern is in the lower end of the T14.
And the second "C" ?
Valuethinker
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Valuethinker »

AnnetteLouisan wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:39 am
Tirebiter wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:38 am
Nottingham wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:01 am When I see MIT graduates applying for my positions I interview them right away without even looking at CV.
That's probably a bad move if they claim to have attended MIT Law School.
… because there is no MIT law school. Yet. It might not be a bad idea.
And it is well known that it ranks behind Princeton's famed law school ?*

(I don't think there's anyone on the planet that would argue USA needs another law school. Indeed, my US legal acquaintances seem to have a consensus that law school could be a 2 year degree and cover the necessary ground. However that would leave a lot of unemployed law professors.

What interested me was that there are so few law school profs that have ever practiced law-- an undergrad degree in Philosophy and a Phd in Economics seemed to be the preferred background. The majority of learning as to "how to lawyer" seems to be on the job. Imagine a medical school education where you never saw a patient (this was very much closer to the norm 40 years ago in medicine, however).

* Princeton does, however, have a really top class MBA programme, I hear - better than Harvard's.
Valuethinker
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Valuethinker »

ETK517 wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 12:01 pm

Hard to give good advice here as it's a very, very complicated analysis. A few things to think about: If you graduate with a lot of debt, you'll need a biglaw job to pay it off quickly. Everyone thinks they'll get those jobs, but it's hardly guaranteed, even at a T14/20. Take UT; fewer than half their graduating class go to firms with >250 lawyers, and only 15% get federal clerkships. So even in the strongest legal hiring market since ~2005, 30-40% of students at that T14 school are not going to biglaw. Biglaw firms also tend to be very sensitive to macroeconomic trends, so hiring swings are significant and as unpredictable as the markets.
And as I understand it, you only get one shot? You have a graduating year, and you find a job. You can't easily move "up" the tree in terms of firm/job after that. (Probably only as a senior associate or partner?).

Nor can you somehow defer in favour of a better hiring year.

I saw this with a sibling and MBA. The year you graduate is all important. Consistent with research on Stanford MBAs who went into investment banking, the effect on career and compensation is still visible over 25 years later.
alfaspider
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by alfaspider »

Tirebiter wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:56 am OP, I would first think carefully about where I planned to work after law school. Consider both what areas of law you might be interested in, as well as what connections you have (or want to make) to develop as future clients. If you have no idea then you are not ready to invest $150k or even $30k. You're in your 20's, you can pivot later if better opportunities come up, but at least have an initial plan to justify this expense.

As most posters have said above, the legal field is very prestige obsessed, especially for new grads. So a top 20 school is probably worth it unless the cheaper school has better connections or a better location to develop your eventual client base.
Caveat to the prestige assessed nature of the profession: large law firms and certain other prestige jobs (certain federal agencies, federal judges, elite boutiques) are prestige obsessed. Those prestige jobs happen to be the jobs that offer highly-paid employment to a new graduate, but there are plenty of happy lawyers outside those tracks. In fact, a T14 school could actually hurt you a bit at some of those non-prestige jobs because the networks that feed into them tend to be much more local. Lawyers like to hire graduates with similar backgrounds to them. If it's the local prosecutor's office in a rural county, that's probably going to be the local law school- a Harvard graduate would be treated with a great deal of skepticism for such a job.

The reason why people tend to advocate for top-tier schools is that borrowing six figures means that earning less than the prestige jobs pay could be a big financial hardship. There was a whole movement that began in the late 00s of "scamblogging" by disaffected lawyers from second and third tier schools who had borrowed six figures only to be left scrambling for jobs that paid peanuts. A lot of this was egregious misrepresentations made by those schools regarding starting salaries. Several 3rd tier schools in the New York City area reported median starting salaries of $160k (then biglaw market rate) when fewer than 10% of their graduates had any shot at all at those jobs. The statistics were massaged by targeted surveys and excluding the large portion of their classes that were employed in the public sector or unemployed. There's better transparency today, but plenty of schools still sugarcoat how hard it can be to make it in law financially if you aren't on the biglaw track to prospective students.

As a final note: don't assume that you will be in the top XX% of the school. Almost everyone thinks they are going to study hard and be at the top of the class, but it's a zero sum game. Only 10% can be in the top 10%. Plenty of formerly straight-A students suddenly become B students (or worse) in law school. However, I note that grade pressure decreases the higher you go up the rankings. Yale doesn't even give meaningful grades to its students. Schools like Harvard use non-traditional gradating systems that intentionally make it hard for employers to distinguish students on merit outside the very top. The bottom T14 does have traditional grades, but very few students ever get less than a B, and the curve is typically to a B+ or A-. By contrast, many third and fourth tier schools curve to a C and intentionally fail out a substantial fraction of their class.
alfaspider
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by alfaspider »

Valuethinker wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 12:16 pm
alfaspider wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 12:09 pm
Valuethinker wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:16 am
alfaspider wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 11:07 am
playdoughguardian wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 9:29 am I am enrolling in law school next year and am currently deciding where to attend. I have to decide between paying around 150k to attend a prestigious (T20) school with good employment outcomes or paying 30k at my state flagship university's law school that has decent but not great employment outcomes.

I know there are a few lawyers on the forum. How did you think about taking on debt for your law degree? If you took on a lot of debt, was it worth it? What advice would you have for a mid-20s guy weighing this decision? Opinions and perspectives from non-lawyers also welcome.
Background: Lawyer, went to a T14 school, did a few years in NYC Biglaw, now in-house at a F500 company. Married to someone who went to a T6 (HYSCCN) school (and was married during the LSAT and application process). We both took out decent size loans (though not as much as some) and it has paid off well financially.
total outsider question:

HYSCCN Harvard Yale Stanford Chicago C? Northwestern ?

The second "N" is NYU. Northwestern is in the lower end of the T14.
And the second "C" ?
The "Cs" are Chicago and Columbia.
alfaspider
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by alfaspider »

ETK517 wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 12:01 pm Depending on your career trajectory, you may not have great in-house options, and most in house gigs pay shockingly little compared to a BL salary. While people tell themselves they only need to do a few years in BL to pay off their loans and can then find a more humane job, in reality I think many 26-30yos enjoying postgrad life in very expensive, major cities are unlikely to live as frugally as necessary to do that.
I don't think it's true that most in-house gigs pay "shockingly little" compared to Biglaw. I have never made less in-house than I did as a Jr. Biglaw attorney. I won't make biglaw equity partner pay unless I get the nod for one of one of the very top jobs, but it's still pretty solid, and my hourly pay is likely better than any biglaw associate or perma-associate counsel. Better in-house gigs will typically award equity that causes the lower base pay to be a bit deceptive. Of course, "in-house" is as varied as "law firm." An in-house lawyer could be someone doing low-end auto accident insurance defense making $60k a year, or it could be the general counsel of a F100 company earning $5 million a year. However, it is worth noting that a transactional background (especially M&A) or certain specialties (ERISA, Tax, Employment) are much better paths to good in-house gigs than litigation. A typical company may have 20 transactional lawyers and only 2-3 litigators, so there's just a lot less demand. Since litigators don't try cases in-house, it's more management of outside counsel, which means a single lawyer can oversee quite a few cases.

I'm sure everyone is different, but I didn't personally have a problem living fairly frugally as a junior biglaw associate. You are working all the time and get dinners delivered for free after a certain hour (which works out to most nights), so there's no point in spending a lot of money on a fancy apartment and there's no time to spend on entertainment. My "big splurge" was getting my own place instead of living with a bunch of roommates. But it was still a pretty modest place.
Last edited by alfaspider on Wed Feb 07, 2024 12:56 pm, edited 2 times in total.
brian2013
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by brian2013 »

Oh one more thing:

There was a saying among law students and lawyers, something to the effect of:

The A+ students become law professors. The A/B students go to work for other lawyers. The C/B lawyers start their own firms (and get rich).

Obviously there are a lot of exceptions, but my point is: don't be misled into thinking prestige and top-tier schools and grades are necessary for a lucrative and successful law career. They are not. As a middle of the pack graduate from my state law school who started my own practice, I work less hours and make more money than many of my peers who did better in law school, including some who are judges or heads of state agencies. (I know this because I have checked their salaries on state salary database website, and because I do real estate law and see everyone's salaries on the loan apps).

If you are smart enough to get into those top schools or do really well in law school, there is a trap you can get drawn into, which is that you may actually succeed in those jobs working for other lawyers. Before you know it, you've worked 15-20 years at 60 hours a week for someone else.

There is another path - work a few years for someone else for the experience, then cut out the middleman and start your own firm.
bendix
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by bendix »

I dont know... Three points come to mind.

a) Where are the biglaws? Are they all in HCOL places? You graduate and make mid 200s in NYC or less than 100k somewhere in the Midwest... Probably the same standard of living. Confirm you want to live in NYC or SFO or DC etc. and you want to center your life around these places.

b) Will companies with a highly competitive selection process work you into the ground? Yea, quite likely. Confirm you want this lifestyle.

c) I have this theory that a fancy degree helps you to get somewhere quick, while, assuming you´re smarter than others, you´ll get where you belong eventually, maybe a few years later than otherwise. If you´re not smarter than others, maybe a fancy degree will help.
alfaspider
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by alfaspider »

brian2013 wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 12:38 pm Oh one more thing:

There was a saying among law students and lawyers, something to the effect of:

The A+ students become law professors. The A/B students go to work for other lawyers. The C/B lawyers start their own firms (and get rich).

Obviously there are a lot of exceptions, but my point is: don't be misled into thinking prestige and top-tier schools and grades are necessary for a lucrative and successful law career. They are not. As a middle of the pack graduate from my state law school who started my own practice, I work less hours and make more money than many of my peers who did better in law school, including some who are judges or heads of state agencies. (I know this because I have checked their salaries on state salary database website, and because I do real estate law and see everyone's salaries on the loan apps).

If you are smart enough to get into those top schools or do really well in law school, there is a trap you can get drawn into, which is that you may actually succeed in those jobs working for other lawyers. Before you know it, you've worked 15-20 years at 60 hours a week for someone else.

There is another path - work a few years for someone else for the experience, then cut out the middleman and start your own firm.
That saying originated 50+ years ago and is mostly obsolete. If you have a good shot at becoming a law professor, you probably went to a school that doesn't award traditional grades (there is ridiculous overrepresentation by Stanford and Yale among legal academics). There's scarcely such thing as a "C" student at T14 schools anymore.

In order to be successful starting your own firm, it would behoove you to have a decent bit of experience first unless you want to handle nothing but low-end cases for the rest of your career. You are going to be grossly incompetent when you graduate no matter what. True, a good salesperson with business savvy can start a personal injury settlement mill and make a lot of money without much knowledge. But a good salesperson can do well in any career. It's also true that biglaw is not the only way to make a lot of money in law. In fact, it's a much more soul crushing way to do it than at a successful smaller firm. But most small firm lawyers, even very experienced ones, earn a fairly modest pay. The median lawyer in the U.S. made $135k. That's not a terrible salary, but consider that every biglaw lawyer (even a first year associate) makes more than that. It's also not a great salary if you are graduating with $300k in law school debt (which many do).
shuchong
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by shuchong »

ETK517 wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 12:01 pm
Also, the biglaw model has changed a lot, even in the last 10 years or so since I've graduated. Associates are worked harder than ever and turnover/attrition is higher than ever. Fewer people than ever make partner. Of those who do, more and more are contract, not equity partners - i.e., glorified career associates who make good money, but not the $1-5mm that is supposed to be the reason for sticking it out (and less job security). And for the few who do make equity partner, there's almost no lockstep firms left, so it is a constant battle to generate business and bill hours. Depending on your career trajectory, you may not have great in-house options, and most in house gigs pay shockingly little compared to a BL salary. While people tell themselves they only need to do a few years in BL to pay off their loans and can then find a more humane job, in reality I think many 26-30yos enjoying postgrad life in very expensive, major cities are unlikely to live as frugally as necessary to do that.
This is an excellent point. I've been a biglaw associate for the past 10 years (with a rather non-traditional path at this point). I took myself out of partnership contention and went part-time and so far have managed to stick around, but I'm a rarity. And I have really excellent peers who wanted partnership and didn't get it or are still waiting going in to year 11. Chances of partnership are both low and not something you can control -- even if you're great at your job, if there's a downturn in your area of law when you're up for partner, you're going to have a rough time of it. And the salary is ridiculous, but the workload can be too. There is a lot of burnout.

If going the biglaw route, you can pay off loans quickly. However:
1) the biglaw route is not guaranteed (and as everyone has told you, T14 gives you a much better shot at it);
2) even if you start in biglaw, who knows how long you'll be able and willing to stay; and
3) it can be difficult, but even after the loans are paid off, you'd be smart to save a lot -- the psychological benefits of not needing a biglaw job are enormous.
alfaspider
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by alfaspider »

bendix wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 12:43 pm I dont know... Three points come to mind.

a) Where are the biglaws? Are they all in HCOL places? You graduate and make mid 200s in NYC or less than 100k somewhere in the Midwest... Probably the same standard of living. Confirm you want to live in NYC or SFO or DC etc. and you want to center your life around these places.
$100k would be a very high salary for a new graduate in most parts of the Midwest. You may be looking at more like $50k at a small firm or local prosecutor's office. Legal salaries are heavily bi-modal, and the lower mode is around $50k.

https://www.biglawinvestor.com/bimodal- ... ion-curve/

Nothing wrong with wanting a slower-paced life in a smaller town, but a lot of students wrongly think that there's a small step down from biglaw, when there typically isn't. The jobs paying over $100k to new graduates in smaller cities tend to be regional large firms that often have similar work expectations as the national ones in major cities.
brian2013
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by brian2013 »

alfaspider wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 12:46 pm
brian2013 wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 12:38 pm Oh one more thing:

There was a saying among law students and lawyers, something to the effect of:

The A+ students become law professors. The A/B students go to work for other lawyers. The C/B lawyers start their own firms (and get rich).

Obviously there are a lot of exceptions, but my point is: don't be misled into thinking prestige and top-tier schools and grades are necessary for a lucrative and successful law career. They are not. As a middle of the pack graduate from my state law school who started my own practice, I work less hours and make more money than many of my peers who did better in law school, including some who are judges or heads of state agencies. (I know this because I have checked their salaries on state salary database website, and because I do real estate law and see everyone's salaries on the loan apps).

If you are smart enough to get into those top schools or do really well in law school, there is a trap you can get drawn into, which is that you may actually succeed in those jobs working for other lawyers. Before you know it, you've worked 15-20 years at 60 hours a week for someone else.

There is another path - work a few years for someone else for the experience, then cut out the middleman and start your own firm.
That saying originated 50+ years ago and is mostly obsolete. If you have a good shot at becoming a law professor, you probably went to a school that doesn't award traditional grades (there is ridiculous overrepresentation by Stanford and Yale among legal academics). There's scarcely such thing as a "C" student at T14 schools anymore.

In order to be successful starting your own firm, it would behoove you to have a decent bit of experience first unless you want to handle nothing but low-end cases for the rest of your career. You are going to be grossly incompetent when you graduate no matter what. True, a good salesperson with business savvy can start a personal injury settlement mill and make a lot of money without much knowledge. But a good salesperson can do well in any career. It's also true that biglaw is not the only way to make a lot of money in law. In fact, it's a much more soul crushing way to do it than at a successful smaller firm. But most small firm lawyers, even very experienced ones, earn a fairly modest pay. The median lawyer in the U.S. made $135k. That's not a terrible salary, but consider that every biglaw lawyer (even a first year associate) makes more than that. It's also not a great salary if you are graduating with $300k in law school debt (which many do).
I did suggest working a few years for someone else to gain experience before starting your own firm.

We do agree that the "biglaw" career path can be soul crushing, in my brief experience working for biglaw attorneys.

I'm not sure what you consider a "modest" salary, but if making more than judges or heads of state agencies is modest, then I'll take it. And that's just for a humble dirt lawyer. My friends that got into personal injury, or have successful criminal or family law practices, probably easily clear half a million a year or more.

To put too fine a point on it - there is a bias amongst SOME folks who were at the top of their classes or in top tier schools, that surely they MUST be doing better than the rest of us. I'm here to tell you that many of us middle-tier folks are doing quite well. Just be wary of the keep-up-with the Joneses prestige trap.
alfaspider
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by alfaspider »

brian2013 wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 1:00 pm
alfaspider wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 12:46 pm
brian2013 wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 12:38 pm Oh one more thing:

There was a saying among law students and lawyers, something to the effect of:

The A+ students become law professors. The A/B students go to work for other lawyers. The C/B lawyers start their own firms (and get rich).

Obviously there are a lot of exceptions, but my point is: don't be misled into thinking prestige and top-tier schools and grades are necessary for a lucrative and successful law career. They are not. As a middle of the pack graduate from my state law school who started my own practice, I work less hours and make more money than many of my peers who did better in law school, including some who are judges or heads of state agencies. (I know this because I have checked their salaries on state salary database website, and because I do real estate law and see everyone's salaries on the loan apps).

If you are smart enough to get into those top schools or do really well in law school, there is a trap you can get drawn into, which is that you may actually succeed in those jobs working for other lawyers. Before you know it, you've worked 15-20 years at 60 hours a week for someone else.

There is another path - work a few years for someone else for the experience, then cut out the middleman and start your own firm.
That saying originated 50+ years ago and is mostly obsolete. If you have a good shot at becoming a law professor, you probably went to a school that doesn't award traditional grades (there is ridiculous overrepresentation by Stanford and Yale among legal academics). There's scarcely such thing as a "C" student at T14 schools anymore.

In order to be successful starting your own firm, it would behoove you to have a decent bit of experience first unless you want to handle nothing but low-end cases for the rest of your career. You are going to be grossly incompetent when you graduate no matter what. True, a good salesperson with business savvy can start a personal injury settlement mill and make a lot of money without much knowledge. But a good salesperson can do well in any career. It's also true that biglaw is not the only way to make a lot of money in law. In fact, it's a much more soul crushing way to do it than at a successful smaller firm. But most small firm lawyers, even very experienced ones, earn a fairly modest pay. The median lawyer in the U.S. made $135k. That's not a terrible salary, but consider that every biglaw lawyer (even a first year associate) makes more than that. It's also not a great salary if you are graduating with $300k in law school debt (which many do).
I did suggest working a few years for someone else to gain experience before starting your own firm.

We do agree that the "biglaw" career path can be soul crushing, in my brief experience working for biglaw attorneys.

I'm not sure what you consider a "modest" salary, but if making more than judges or heads of state agencies is modest, then I'll take it. And that's just for a humble dirt lawyer. My friends that got into personal injury, or have successful criminal or family law practices, probably easily clear half a million a year or more.

To put too fine a point on it - there is a bias amongst SOME folks who were at the top of their classes or in top tier schools, that surely they MUST be doing better than the rest of us. I'm here to tell you that many of us middle-tier folks are doing quite well. Just be wary of the keep-up-with the Joneses prestige trap.
The tough part as a fresh graduate is finding someone who is willing to train you. Most small firms don't have the time or inclination to do it. A lot of what biglaw offers is just a highly paid "residency."

I don't doubt you have friends clearing $500k a year at successful small firms, but a prospective law student should understand that experience is far from typical. The median lawyer earns $135k. I have lawyer friends who have been practicing over 20 years and do not clear six figures.

Judicial pay is actually a real issue. It used to be that the judiciary paid half of an equivalently credentialed private sector lawyer would make. Now, especially on the federal bench, that delta can be 10x. Some federal judges have actually resigned the bench for that reason.
cbs2002
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by cbs2002 »

The advice about knowing what you want to practice is the most important here.

If you want to take your shot at getting into an top-tier biglaw firm, or a career in high level government or nonprofit, AND you understand the competitiveness and workload you are in for, AND you are brutally honest with yourself about the odds of success, then T14 is a no-brainer. You just have to accept that you'll have to spend the first 5-10 years of your career working off the debt. 150K isn't a lot to pay off if you are pulling down 200K to start as long as you live frugally. You'd have no trouble renting a modest apartment solo, saving a good amount, and paying off 30K/year. But you have to get one of those jobs first!

The funny thing about government and nonprofit work is that it pays you less, but the hours and competitiveness can be as stressful as biglaw. You just hopefully have the benefit of working on topics that feed your spirit a bit more. Paying off that debt will be a longer slog on 80-90K/year.

If those things are not of interest to you, then no, I would not go into that much debt for a law degree. Go somewhere close to where you want to live, start your career and enjoy life.
markesquire
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by markesquire »

Perhaps a contrarian view: I would go to the state school.

I had a similar choice between a top-20 school that would have required well over $100k in debt, and a middle-of-the-road school that offered a full ride with a living stipend. I chose the latter and am happy I did. It allowed me to marry earlier, buy a home, invest, and pursue whatever work I enjoyed worrying about debt.

Yes, top schools open more doors but (1) you might not even want the unique options presented (for example, most people hate their time in BigLaw); and (2) there is a risk that you incur serious debt but find yourself working with us "normies" anyway, or changed life circumstances could make you unable or unwilling to work crazy hours in a tiny HCOL condo for 10 years. I've worked in multiple jobs alongside ivy league graduates and BigLaw veterans, meaning that I ultimately landed in similar positions and developed similar skills.
Random Poster
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Random Poster »

Identify the two law schools that you are considering and state what field of law you want to practice.

Without that information, I don’t think I anyone can give you specific advice.

(Obligatory personal comment: if you want to practice oil and gas law, there is only one T14 school worth considering, but there are several mid-range schools that arguably offer a similar education and experience).
Most experiences are better imagined.
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by cowdogman »

cbs2002 wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 1:30 pm The advice about knowing what you want to practice is the most important here.
I disagree. Plus the OP was (I think) asking an economic question, not a lifestyle question.

Like many (most?) lawyers I went to law school by default. I was in a Ph.D. program in the humanities and realized that wasn't going to work out for various reasons--especially economically. My only choice (other than some entry level, low pay office job) was law school. I had no idea what kind of lawyer I wanted to be--I didn't even really know what the choices were. In the second and third year I took a lot of tax, bankruptcy and commercial law courses simply because that is what interested me (especially the tax) and so I became a corporate lawyer doing commercial finance. That worked out for me.

I'd like to know how many first years know what law they want to practice and still want to practice that law on graduation. And how are you supposed to know what area of the law interests you before you go to law school and have a summer job or two?

Going to a top school (and I'm not sure how we went from T20 to T14) is going to be worth it economically, even if you don't go into biglaw or a high level of the federal government, in fact even if you don't practice law.
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Dornhoefer »

I was a lawyer for almost 30 years, retired from practice last year. Although I think it's hard to give generally applicable advice -- each person's situation is different, and times change -- I'll give you a recommendation and then explain why I went the other way and how it turned out.

I agree with others that the law is a very "prestige"-focused profession and that if you believe you'll be a lawyer for the long haul, it's worth spending the money for a private T20 school over your other option. Where you went to law school matters, especially early in your career. Graduating from a higher ranked school gives you more job options. That said, and as others have noted, your decision can really depend on what type of law job you're looking for.

I'll explain the choice I made in case it is of any use to you.

When I applied to law school, I thought I probably wanted to be a public interest lawyer eventually (for the bulk of my career after getting some on-the-job training). I chose between a T14 in-state public school (right at 14, IIRC) and several way pricier private schools and out-of-state public school that were ranked ahead of it, in the top 10, IIRC. I chose the in-state public school partly because I had already dropped out of a Ph.D. program (thought I wanted to be a professor but quickly changed my mind), was concerned I might make another mistake in selecting a profession, and wanted to incur as little debt as possible just in case. So the statements by above posters to think about whether you really want to be a lawyer and for how long resonate with me and describe part of my analysis back in the day. Turns out I liked being a lawyer more than I could have ever expected. Wrong choice of school? No, right decision for me at the time with all I knew and it worked out -- I got a Big Law job and then an emotionally rewarding government job (which Big Law prepared me for). My low debt load was liberating and allowed me to take the government gig without worry about money. Not sure this is helpful . . . . Good luck.
ETK517
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by ETK517 »

Valuethinker wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 12:25 pm
ETK517 wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 12:01 pm

Hard to give good advice here as it's a very, very complicated analysis. A few things to think about: If you graduate with a lot of debt, you'll need a biglaw job to pay it off quickly. Everyone thinks they'll get those jobs, but it's hardly guaranteed, even at a T14/20. Take UT; fewer than half their graduating class go to firms with >250 lawyers, and only 15% get federal clerkships. So even in the strongest legal hiring market since ~2005, 30-40% of students at that T14 school are not going to biglaw. Biglaw firms also tend to be very sensitive to macroeconomic trends, so hiring swings are significant and as unpredictable as the markets.
And as I understand it, you only get one shot? You have a graduating year, and you find a job. You can't easily move "up" the tree in terms of firm/job after that. (Probably only as a senior associate or partner?).

Nor can you somehow defer in favour of a better hiring year.
The former isn't necessarily true. From 2021-2023, biglaw aggressively hired practically anyone they could find in corporate transactional practices - we had a first year associate lateral to one of the top 5 firms in the country, for instance. In hot or niche practice areas, it's not that unusual to lateral up the rungs from firm to firm. It's much more common, however, to lateral down to smaller/less prestigious firms over time, because most people tend to find biglaw to be intolerable for longer than a few years.

Of course, in 2024, the same firms that went on a hiring bonanza are now laying people off.

You are right that you can't defer to a better hiring year. In fact, the whole hiring practice for biglaw is totally absurd. Law school is a three-year program. The route to biglaw begins with a summer associate gig following your second year. You are hired for that gig in late summer/early fall of your second year, i.e., based off of your first year's grades. Summer associate gigs used to serve as a test run where associates whose work was subpar or personality wasn't a fit wouldn't be offered a permanent job. But then offer rates became public, firms got scared that the best students wouldn't go to firms with low offer rates, and so firms started making permanent offers to 100% of summer associates (or close to it). Basically, unless you get arrested, sexually harass someone, or otherwise completely **** the bed, you get hired.

So what are supposed to be the best, most sophisticated firms in the country hire students based off of one year of a three-year program, a full two years before they start permanent work. One of many ways in which the legal industry is totally backwards.
ETK517
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by ETK517 »

cowdogman wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 1:58 pm
cbs2002 wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 1:30 pm The advice about knowing what you want to practice is the most important here.
I disagree. Plus the OP was (I think) asking an economic question, not a lifestyle question.

Like many (most?) lawyers I went to law school by default. I was in a Ph.D. program in the humanities and realized that wasn't going to work out for various reasons--especially economically. My only choice (other than some entry level, low pay office job) was law school. I had no idea what kind of lawyer I wanted to be--I didn't even really know what the choices were. In the second and third year I took a lot of tax, bankruptcy and commercial law courses simply because that is what interested me (especially the tax) and so I became a corporate lawyer doing commercial finance. That worked out for me.

I'd like to know how many first years know what law they want to practice and still want to practice that law on graduation. And how are you supposed to know what area of the law interests you before you go to law school and have a summer job or two?
Seconded. First, there are so many practice areas in law and it's hard to really get a sense of what exactly those lawyers do day to day and whether you'd like to do that yourself. Something like "IP" encompasses many totally different practices - patent prosecution, trademark defense, patent litigation, transactional IP work, etc. Second, most law firms (especially biglaw firms) have numerous practice areas and do not hire entry-level lawyers into those specific practice areas. Once hired, the firm may allow you to choose a broad practice area (or not) but even then you should expect to work where the firm needs/wants you. Some firms rotate you through all their core practice areas first. Third, because of the stupid hiring scheme described in my last post, you are hired for a job after your first year, when you've almost exclusively taken general, entry level courses that don't correspond to any particular practice area, so neither you nor the firm can really judge where your interests and abilities lie.
alfaspider
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by alfaspider »

ETK517 wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 2:06 pm
Valuethinker wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 12:25 pm
ETK517 wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 12:01 pm

Hard to give good advice here as it's a very, very complicated analysis. A few things to think about: If you graduate with a lot of debt, you'll need a biglaw job to pay it off quickly. Everyone thinks they'll get those jobs, but it's hardly guaranteed, even at a T14/20. Take UT; fewer than half their graduating class go to firms with >250 lawyers, and only 15% get federal clerkships. So even in the strongest legal hiring market since ~2005, 30-40% of students at that T14 school are not going to biglaw. Biglaw firms also tend to be very sensitive to macroeconomic trends, so hiring swings are significant and as unpredictable as the markets.
And as I understand it, you only get one shot? You have a graduating year, and you find a job. You can't easily move "up" the tree in terms of firm/job after that. (Probably only as a senior associate or partner?).

Nor can you somehow defer in favour of a better hiring year.
The former isn't necessarily true. From 2021-2023, biglaw aggressively hired practically anyone they could find in corporate transactional practices - we had a first year associate lateral to one of the top 5 firms in the country, for instance. In hot or niche practice areas, it's not that unusual to lateral up the rungs from firm to firm. It's much more common, however, to lateral down to smaller/less prestigious firms over time, because most people tend to find biglaw to be intolerable for longer than a few years.

Of course, in 2024, the same firms that went on a hiring bonanza are now laying people off.

You are right that you can't defer to a better hiring year. In fact, the whole hiring practice for biglaw is totally absurd. Law school is a three-year program. The route to biglaw begins with a summer associate gig following your second year. You are hired for that gig in late summer/early fall of your second year, i.e., based off of your first year's grades. Summer associate gigs used to serve as a test run where associates whose work was subpar or personality wasn't a fit wouldn't be offered a permanent job. But then offer rates became public, firms got scared that the best students wouldn't go to firms with low offer rates, and so firms started making permanent offers to 100% of summer associates (or close to it). Basically, unless you get arrested, sexually harass someone, or otherwise completely **** the bed, you get hired.

So what are supposed to be the best, most sophisticated firms in the country hire students based off of one year of a three-year program, a full two years before they start permanent work. One of many ways in which the legal industry is totally backwards.
Yes, it's simply not true that you can't move up the ranks within Biglaw. Once you are "in the game", you can move up and down the ranks of firms without too much trouble as long as your practice dovetails with that of the firm you are going to. I've seen plenty of people go from firms ranked in the 80-100 band go to top 20 firms. My spouse got offers from two different top 20 firms after being at a firm ranked in the 80-100 range as a mid and senior associate (turned them down for quality of life reasons). Once you are more senior (at the partnership level), the key determinant is the billing rates your practice sustains. If you are a partner with your own book billing $800 an hour at a lower-tier biglaw firm, you would have difficulty lateraling to a firm where equity partners typically bill $1,800 an hour simply because your practice doesn't fit. But if you happen to be at the marquee practice of a lower-tier firm that commands similar billing rates, you could potentially move over.

It used to be the case that "white shoe" type firms did not take laterals full-stop. But today, even Cravath sees lateral departures and consequently has to take laterals in. A few firms (notably Wachtell) still only take laterally rarely, but overall movement has become the norm. Gone are the days of partnership being a brass ring where you stay for life with lockstep raises with seniority.

Agreed that the hiring practices are pretty absurd. With a few exceptions, you get one chance to board the biglaw boat: late summer after your 1L year. There's very little hiring after 2L year except for people who already have offers at other firms. The only other "onramp" to biglaw is either from a federal clerkship or working your way up the ranks from smaller firms. I have seen people accidentally end up in biglaw after going to a smaller firm that was acquired by a large one who probably couldn't have gotten in at the entry level.
Last edited by alfaspider on Wed Feb 07, 2024 2:25 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Picasso
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Picasso »

My 37 yo brother went to a T10 law school and now makes $3.5M per year as a big law partner in manhattan. It was certainly worth it for him.

My understanding is that those firm jobs are really only available to those graduating from a top school. Not necessarily the top of class at those schools, but from those schools.
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by cowdogman »

ETK517 wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 2:14 pm Third, because of the stupid hiring scheme described in my last post, you are hired for a job after your first year, when you've almost exclusively taken general, entry level courses that don't correspond to any particular practice area, so neither you nor the firm can really judge where your interests and abilities lie.
Good point. I had my summer associate job offer (and acceptance) at the start of year two, and that's where I ended up working after graduation.

The only choice given to me for the summer and for the first year was "corporate or litigation".

I often describe my "choice" to do commercial law as being in a "greased chute."
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