Is law school worth the cost?

Tomorrow’s show takes on the potentially controversial question: “What’s the value of a law degree?” Given my own experience of attending law school, this is a bittersweet question. I certainly value the education and vast amount of knowledge I gained; it comes in handy on The Daily Circuit.

However, the recent years have not been kind to the legal profession nor to recent graduates. For a profession once traditionally thought of as an economic security blanket, current circumstances may leave many prospective applicants wondering if they should bother to apply at all. Lawyer friends of mine who did graduate in 2008 faced many more ups and downs than they likely anticipated–and perhaps more than those of earlier graduating classes.

Tomorrow’s show is addressing a serious question from a variety of perspectives. I hope that we can have a respectful conversation on what one should consider in applying to schools and what schools could do to better prepare students for the realities of the profession. As my dad, an attorney, says, “Your clients don’t care where you went to school and your GPA. They just want to know you can help them.”

I look forward to hearing your advice, stories and questions. As we can probably concur, lawyers like to give advice.

Meggan Ellingboe, assistant producer

  • What’s the value of a law degree? According to my lenders, it’s upward of $100,000. To me? Not to be cheesy and quote Mastercard, but it’s priceless.

    Here’s what I mean.

    I graduated from William Mitchell College of Law in 2009. I found the actual “law school experience” to be humbling, degrading, and at time, downright hellish.

    Since graduation, I’ve dabbled in some pro bono legal work, completed all of my three-year requisite CLEs, contemplated opening a law firm with a law school colleague, and find myself one thesis away from a Master’s in Bioethics from the University of Minnesota.

    Currently, I work as a part-time barista at a local coffee shop and teach Philosophy and Sexuality at Metro State. I also maintain a blog and aspire to write a memoir. All on top of trying to gear up to research and pen my thesis. I am over-worked and under-paid. I suspect I may be the world’s most over-qualified Joe slinger. Receiving my student loan statements in the mail each month is worse than root-canal surgery, and I’ve had 8 root canals.

    But I wouldn’t take back my law school education or have a “do over” for anything. Law school encouraged me to think on my feet. Law school forced me to completely deconstruct my thinking and learn to quickly make arguments based on evidence and public policy. I joke that law school also destroyed my ability to write creatively; in reality, law school taught me to write concisely, technically, and persuasively. Law school, in short, provided me with the tools I need to be successful in any career (aside from perhaps medicine or dentistry).

  • Mark

    A recent issue of Bench & Bar said that the unemployment rate for lawyers in Minnesota is around 27%.

    In another article in the Star Tribune about a group of lateral attorneys switching from one large firm to another, it was pointed out that there is currently 0% growth – flat growth – in the Twin Cities legal market.

    Applications to Minnesota law schools are down this year.

    These are the real facts around the Twin Cities legal scene with around 700-800 students taking the bar exam every year. The math does not add up.

  • Eric C.

    A law degree is only worth what you’re willing to put into it. When I decided to get a law degree, I knew I didn’t want to be saddled with debt. A good scholarship was my only option, so I went back to get an undergrad degree, focusing on a high GPA, and spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing for the LSAT entrance exam. I did well enough on both to get a very good scholarship. Once in law school, I focused relentlessly on grades. With good grades and low debt, getting a job that is intellectually and financially satisfying was not that difficult.

    These sound like obvious choices, but I was amazed how caviler so many of my law-school colleagues were about taking on debt, and how quick they were to cut studying short in exchange for some “life balance.” If you’re smart enough to get into law school, you’re probably smart enough to do well in law school. If you don’t do well enough to get the job you want, it might be your own fault.

  • Pat

    Would your authorities please comment on the value of combined degrees…MBA/JD


  • Thomas Klosowski

    One driving force behind the glut of law students is the fact that these very students just spent the last four years getting an irrelevant liberal arts undergraduate degree.

    As for serving underrepresented areas, the personal injury lawyers take the valuable injury cases. Does anybody think that you can make a living writing simple wills for a small town?

    The baby boomer lawyers are practicing to 70 and beyond-so there is a multi-generational jam-up of lawyers that won’t get fixed until the baby boomers quit or die off.

  • Emily

    Since loan repayment structures have changed to allow for a flat 15% (soon to be 10%) of a grad’s monthly income going to loan payments, the overwhelming burden of law school loans has been somewhat mitigated. Without this, my looming graduation date in 29 days with no solid job prospect would be far more scary.

    On another note, undergraduate university career advisors should be more candid with 22 year old law school applicants on the actual costs of a J.D. It seems that many of the younger members of my class enrolled simply because they didn’t know what career field to enter but are ambitious and smart — so it was the “successful” default career. Those students seem to be the ones who are the most lost with what to do with the degree and how to pay the bills.

  • Steph

    Higher Ed is big business! The compensation for Deans, tenured faculty, and upper level administrators at professional schools are extremely high. Deans at even third tier law schools will easily pull in 250K – 450k a year, full-time tenured faculty salaries are into the six figures, and even administrative deans are easily in the 6 club. Couple this with the ease at which numbers for rankings can be dressed up and you have all the ingredients for a well baked snake oil souffle

    US News does not confirm any numbers and has given schools a template for gaming their numbers by publishing the weight of each category – unemployment at graduation is 4% of the overall calculation. A school can legitimately focus on two or three categories to move up the rankings without really improving the education or job prospects. Even a fledgling school can crank the numbers and quickly move up the rankings ladder.

    Undergraduate students applying to a program should look at the history of a school and the size of the school’s alumni base. These two areas are extremely important for long term carrier opportunities inside and outside the profession associated with a degree. As part of a transparency campaign both public and private schools should publish Deans’ salaries (at the very least), and the school’s total alumni base including the percentage of graduates licensed and working in the profession. Both these would give an applicant a sense whether a school has stood the test of time or is a play the numbers program.

  • Yeah_No


    People need to do their homework before deciding to go to law school. Many people go into law school thinking they will be the one who makes it out of school with a well-paying job unlike their classmates.”

    When do federal lenders do their homework as to whether we as taxpayers should be subsidizing law programs with unlimited amounts of nondischargeable debt for every student when the economy doesn’t need more law degrees.