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Specialized Degree: Law

What to Know Before You Apply to Law School

January 2022

Almost everyone has heard the saying that there are more students in law school than lawyers. Yet according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the legal profession is projected to have the most job openings through 2029 of any occupation that requires an advanced degree.

The decision to go to law school isn’t an easy one. It’s a time, academic and financial commitment, but many will say also a wise investment in one’s future. However, there are many factors when determining which law school is right for you. The type of law you want to practice, for example, may determine what type of salary you can eventually expect, which should then be taken into consideration when you factor in law school costs and expenses.

Do your homework

One of the most valuable skills you’ll need as an attorney is the ability to research. Luckily you can get a great head start on that skill as you search for a law school. There are hundreds of law schools in this country, and a law school for every type of student. The type of law you want to practice will also play into the salary you’ll earn. This is where your research skills come in. Learning what kind of salary you can expect for the law specialty you plan on pursuing, as well as what the rate of employment post-graduation is at the law schools you are interested in will be very helpful information as you begin this journey. Then compare that with their tuition, and that will help you determine whether that particular school is a good match for you from a financial and professional perspective.

Speaking to recent graduates and practicing attorneys about their law school experiences will give you answers as varied as the types of law specialties. If you’re considering law school while still an undergrad, consider consulting with a pre-law advisor to explore your options. And there are also a number of law school graduates who don’t actually practice law. It really comes down to your personal and professional goals. You can learn from other’s experiences, but ultimately it comes down to what you want to do with your degree.

Costs vs. salary

If it’s been your dream to practice law at a big firm making a big salary, then a well-reputed school of the Ivy League type may be on your radar. Law is one of those careers where school prestige matters when looking for jobs postgraduation. While those schools may carry a lofty price tag, averaging $51,268 per year for a private institution, their graduates in the private sector have median starting salaries of $165,000. However, if you have more idealistic dreams of working as a public defender, the average salary is about $56,000. In that case, you’ll want to attend a school that has a more reasonable tuition, like an in-state public university with an average yearly tuition between $29,074–$42,143 depending on your in- or out-of-state status.

The right legal path for you

Determining something’s worth depends on what you as an individual value. Purpose, salary, longevity, security and making a difference are all qualities that you may consider as important or not when determining what type of law career you want.

If affecting change in the world is something that is important to you, then working in the public, political or nonprofit sector may be for you. While the salaries may not be as generous, fulfilling a passion may hold more value to you than the number on your paycheck.

Working for large, private law firms offers pros and cons as well. High paychecks come with high demands from both clients and partners. Since most firms work on billable hours, their attorneys tend to work many hours, usually far exceeding the typical 40-hour work week. But it can also afford people who choose this path a very comfortable lifestyle in their time off.

Bottom line: There isn’t one answer to the questions "Is law school worth it?" and "Which one is right for me?" It depends on many personal and professional factors, including your professional aspirations, school costs, importance of reputation, career counseling availability, faculty support both academically and mentally, geographical location and time allowance. Searching for the program that matches your goals is a great time to start practicing those invaluable research skills you’re going to be utilizing once you start your legal education.

Related Resources

Why Become a Public Defender

Some people who go into the practice of law do so to affect change.

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