Law School Myth #1: Lawyers Make a Lot of Money

Dollar signTo put it charitably, one reason people consider joining the legal profession is to cash in — lawyers make lots of money, right? Sure, maybe they work all the time and aren’t always happy, but they’re rich! Totally worth it.

Reality check: Most lawyers don’t make all that much money, given the time and cost required to become one.

Most Young Lawyers Aren’t Making Bank

The starting salary distribution in law is odd, in that it’s bimodal. In other words, you don’t see an even distribution of starting salaries from low to high. Instead, there are two distinct humps.

What a Bimodal Salary Distribution Looks Like

The graph above is from NALP data, and displays the starting salaries of 2010 law graduates, by percentage. You’ll notice that the mean salary is $84,111. Not too shabby. Even the adjusted mean of $77,333 (which accounts for underreporting in the lower salary ranges) isn’t that bad.

You could probably live comfortably on that in a major city, even with some student loan payments.

The “Mean” Starting Salary is Meaningless

However, almost no one makes the mean salary. Instead, a small number, about 18%, make BigLaw money — that’s the peak at $160,000. Far more make around $50,000. You’ll find 48% of 2010 graduates, most of them in debt up to their ears, making between $40,000 and $65,000.

Is Law School Worth It?

Some people can live comfortably on a salary of $50,000. Those people probably don’t live in an expensive city, work a job that requires “court” clothing, and have $1000+ in student loan payments every month.

If your starting salary is in the first “hump”, you really have to start asking some hard questions about whether the payoff is worth it.

Read On:

More myths about law school, coming right up!

Wondering if law school is worth it? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

And feel free to sign up for our weekly newsletter and get lots of great stuff sent directly to you!

Image by 7rains via stock.xchng.



  1. Right now it is almost impossible for a new graduate to get a law job paying anything UNLESS you went to a top 15 school and are in the top 10-15% of your class. If you don’t meet those stats, then the chances of getting any job at all is slim. Almost all law jobs now want significant experience, and that doesn’t mean a summer associate job or document review. Even having a technical degree won’t get you in the door for an IP job unless that degree is in one of the engineering disciplines or physics. Otherwise, not even a PhD and a lot of work experience will help.

    If you really feel you are destined to be an attorney, do whatever it takes to get into one of the top 15 schools and then see where you are after the first year. If you’re not in the top 25%, drop out. You’re only there to make the top 25% look good and you have no hope of pulling your ranking up to where you’ll be able to get a job that will allow you to pay off your law degree without serious deprivation.

    Maybe in a few years things will change and you can try again at that time with some money in the bank to help you pay for your law degree. Law schools and professors are being kept very well by keeping students in the dark about their actual job statistics. Don’t let yourself become a casualty of their greed like one of my friends. She realized that there was no way she could live and decent life while paying off her student loan, so she killed herself because that meant her loan was forgiven.

    • Bojangles says:

      average law school class= 300 people
      10% of 300= 30 (number of people who are in the top 10%)
      30 x 15= 450 (number of people in top 25% times the top 15 school)

      What you are saying is that realistically only about a 450 people will get decent employment. There are about 50,000 law firms in the US, some of which employ over 500 people. There are over 1000 lawyers that retire every year and they need to be replaced. Basically, just in replacements alone our figure needs to double. What you are saying makes no sense at all. Thank you and have a good day ya tard.

      • The OP might be exaggerating somewhat (at the very top schools, most of the people who want BigLaw jobs still have a shot, which would add several hundred people to your calculations), but the reality is that law schools are producing way too many graduates for the number of jobs available.

        Here’s just one article on the problem: Do the Math, Nearly 50% of All Law Grades Will Not Get Jobs.

        To pretend otherwise is silly, frankly. It’s a problem and something people should seriously consider before paying a lot of money to go to law school.

      • No. Learn how to organize, Bojangles.

        Average Law School Class= 300 people. I’ll give you that (granted, you are undershooting a good deal).

        10% of 300= 30 — Check. Good work. Your math skills are top notch.
        30*15=450 — Again. Good work! But. WAIT. Hold on. “number of people in top 25% times the top 15 school” Oh, I see what you did there, Mr. Sneaky Pants.

        Actual Mathematics:
        25% of 300= 75
        75*15= 1,050.

        Oh! Look! “Our figure” has been doubled (and then some!)! I am sure that “tard” had a good day after noticing your rather amusing error in organization.

      • Think of it this way – if you’re in one of the top several schools, you can land an elite job, unless you’re at the bottom of the class (then again, it’s probably real easy to be in the bottom 25% of an elite school)).

        Go to the next dozen or so schools, and maybe you have to be in the top 25%.
        For the next 175 schools, it’s pretty much no way.

  2. NALP statistics are a joke….look at the amount of students that self report. Adding in that “correction” for underreporting – no way that comes even close.

    • You think the actual numbers are lower? Probably right. The graph above strikes me as an optimistic “best case” scenario.

      • And as was pointed out, non-reports are not included in the salary figures. Not only will morale affect this, but I believe that the best jobs are going to be obtained through firms recruiting on campus, going through the placement office of the law school. That office should have all of those salaries, so the top end of the salary scale will have 100% reporting. That can skew the living crap out of the overall figures.

  3. Those with 150k starting salaries are really making 75k/yr … they just work the equivalent of two jobs at a large law firm, and have to pay higher taxes on the larger income in the single calendar year. They tend to burn out after a year or two, with few remaining in those jobs long term.

    …and this is assuming the stats are real. Even what they’re showing looks high to me.

    • That’s a very good point on the tax issue. I recall being shocked when I did my taxes the first year as an associate and realized how much was suddenly not deductible, because of my high salary. Not being able to deduct student loan interest was really annoying!

      I like your viewpoint that it’s two jobs with a single paycheck…so true!

  4. taxes attorney general office says:

    There’s also the matter of how much your time is worth to you. s financial status improves, the IRS can remove the file from CNC status and return to active collection status. A tax attorney or Certified Tax Resolution Specialist makes deals with them all day every day including negotiating Offer In Compromise tax settlements and IRS payment plan.

  5. The latest addition to this discussion is a controversial academic paper that estimates the mean pre-tax lifetime value of a law degree as approximately $1,000,000. For those interested in the details, the research can be accessed for free at


  1. [...] school, the traditional route for people who hate math and couldn’t pass organic chemistry, is more a route to debt slavery than the good life, WSJ hogwash [...]

Speak Your Mind