Why It's a Good Time to Go to Law School


I've spent a lot of time over the past couple of years talking people out of going to law school.

My argument against going to law school has never been about law school per se. The education I received at law school was a valuable extension of the liberal arts, even if it was not adequate training for being the kind of legal professional I became (big law firm, corporate practice).

The problem was that the cost of law school was too high. The opportunity costs are tremendous, tuition at most schools is way too high, the debt burden incurred by many law students is heartbreaking. Too many people went to law school when the Great Recession hit, resulting in a saturated market for both law school admissions and attorney jobs.

But times change. Law school applications have fallen off, largely due to a diminished job market for new lawyers. Right now may actually be the best time in years to go to law school.

David Bernstein at Volokh Conspiracy puts it in market terms. Law school applications appear to have reached the point of capitulation.

If we're not as this stage with regard to demand for law school, we are damn close, with applications running about half the level of six years ago. Law school certainly isn't for everyone, and how worthwhile economically it might be for anyone in particular has to start with that individual's opportunity cost and where he gets admitted–it's a very different decision if you currently are thriving as a consultant than if you are currently advancing your barista skills at Starbucks, and very different if you get into Harvard than into a newly accredited school in a saturated legal market, and very different if you can keep your current job and get an automatic pay raise (as in some government jobs) for getting a law degree and if you will likely need to hang out a shingle but have poor social skills.

But there hasn't been a better time to apply to law school in a long time, if ever. Worried about going into debt? Go to a law school school somewhat below where your credentials would allow, and they will shower you with aid — just for example, I heard from one VC reader who got into only Cardozo and Fordham last year, and Cardozo offered a free ride. Always dreamed of going to a top 10 law school? You may never have less competition than now. Want to keep your current job and go part-time, but got rejected a few years from the only law school in town with a part-time program? This year, they will probably take you.

I don't want to get into a debate whether law school, in general, is "worth it," because once again it's a matter of both opportunity costs and opportunity. How "worth it" is it nowadays to pursue an alternative like a Ph.D. in anthropology or history, a masters' degree in journalism, an MPP, or to go back to school and get the proper credentials to become a public school teacher? Young people are struggling in all sorts of fields, but young law grads seem to have much larger megaphone than unemployed teachers, journalists, and historians. The result spells potential opportunity for prospective law students, if they look at the situation with eyes wide open to the costs and benefits..

Don't go quitting your job as an engineer for, say, foursquare to go law school. But if you are verbally articulate, rather than hyper-numerate, getting a law degree might not be a bad choice.

By John Carney; Follow him on Twitter @Carney