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:

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  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.

        • They aren’t retiring anymore. They are creating short term staff to handle projects at $30 an hour while they charge clients an arm and a leg. Keeping all the profits to their own bank accounts while they play golf all day. That’s the reality. They are cabanas & instead of fostering the next generation, they are eating us alive. That is the truth here in NYC, top law school, honors distinguished, or not.

      • 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.

      • 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.

        – takeaway –

        according to aba lawyer demographics only 1% of total law firms hire 100+ lawyers.

        84% of firms are 1-5 attorneys – lots of these firms are solo practitioners or often no more than 3

        no evidence that the 1000 retiring lawyers need to be replaced – in fact current paradigm shift supports the opposite

        flawed argument – smoke and mirrors

    • Janis Ernest says:

      Thank you for the information. I change my major to chemical engineering.

    • I WOULD HAVE TO DISAGREE WITH THIS, I WENT TO PEPPERDINE (NOT A TOP 15 SCHOOL), DID EXCEPTIONALLY WELL IN SCHOOL, ACTUALLY WAS #2 IN THE CLASS AND I HAVE A BIG LAW FIRM JOB MAKING ABOUT $180,000 A YEAR

    • Breanna says:

      Elwyn, do you come here to kill the dreams of college students like me or are you just bored?

    • Dr. Chanecia Collins says:

      I am a a criminal lawyer for 3 years right now, coming from a middle class family, I make $54,000.00 per high profile case. In other low profile cases I make around $20,000-$35,000 depends.

      • And what schooling did you have to get there? Was it one of the top schools or no? How hard was it to find a job and how long were you in school? Just some simple questions i hope to have answered if you have the time!!

        • Bob Hope says:

          Law School is 4 years. Register with LSAC (Law School Admissions Council) so you can take the LSAT (Law School Aptitude Test) then depending on your score pick 2 law schools you want to attend. I believe Cornell in New York is one of the top 15 law schools, but I’m not sure about Rutgers being one of the top 15 law schools. Remember you need a bachelors degree, 2 letters of recommendation, your college/university transcripts, and a personal impact statement( the last one is super important you are trying to sell yourself). Remember the law school teachers will yell at you for the first two years, too weed out the weak. The first day they will yell at you for not reading the text book. Some of the teachers are extortionists by saying if you want to pass this class you must buy my book that I wrote. That could be your first case after you graduate and pass the bar.

  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 http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2250585.

  6. Just like any other job, you need to be good or better than the other to make a lot of money. Lawyer make money but a lot it defends on how good they are as a lawyer.

  7. I laugh (to myself) when I chat with my Ivy League friends that studied medicine and law. Some are making 120K before taxes. I started a window cleaning business and employ 2 Mexicans. We clean big homes in LA. After I pay the two guys I’m taking home 1300 a day, about 313,000 a year, mostly cash.
    For the intelligence of these Ivy Leagues they have no ability to think outside the box. Sure I get dirty and work in 100F heat some days but I have no debt and tell the IRS to go F themselves every year. ?

    • Love it. I’ve long maintained there are much easier ways to make money than being a lawyer!

    • I am just a stay-at-home mom so my salary is 0 BUT my husband (who didn’t even go to college) makes 150K a year at a utility company. Sure he works overtime some days (about once a week) to earn that and has been at the company for about 8 years already, but he is young (33) and his salary will continue to increase yearly. So, my point is you can make good money doing different jobs. I think college grads feel that they have to go to law school because it is attainable (let’s face it’s not that hard to get in) and they are guaranteed a stable job and high salary. As with anything, that may be true for some, but not for others. Personally, I am grateful my husband makes enough money that I can stay home with my kids (which I honestly do love) and that he only has to work the 8 hours and can come home most days of the week.

      • Wow, that’s very interesting! I would not have expected a relatively young employee at a utility to make such a substantial salary. Just goes to show you, it’s worth doing research on various careers before signing up for a very expensive education with uncertain prospects! Thanks for sharing.

      • Alejandro Gonzales says:

        Law school isn’t easy to get in to. FYI. You

        • My law school was very easy to get into and it’s a money-making business, I swear! I’m a state probation/parole officer and one of my classmates is a convicted felon currently in probation. They’ll take anybody…

      • Bob Hope says:

        Law school is not easy to get into. What did you base that factoid on???

      • Bob Hope says:

        Based on what you said about how easy it is to get into law school I don’t believe a word that you typed.

    • Very interesting! I always thought to myself how great life would be if I was a lawyer, but after reading this I find out how lucky I am. I went to college many years ago and stopped going after my first kid was born and needed to make enough money to support my household. I got lucky and found a way to make a decent income with very little hours. Started as a manager at a restaurant my salary was a small 60,000 a year when I was 22 years old, I did work a lot with a decent amount of stress. About 60 hours a week… I soon realized bartenders made quite a bit more with a lot less hours, sure they had no benefits but if they saved and were smart with money things could be figured out. Now I am 30 years old I been bar- tending for about 7 years, started out small with not so many regulars, but still would work full time 4 days and 10 hour shifts walk out with about 200 dollars a day. Now many years later I have a set schedule I work Thursday through Sunday 5 pm-3 am walk out with 350 to 400 dollars a night pulling in around 70-75 thousand a year working 4 days a week with absolutely no stress and spend lots of time with my kids. Not so bad if you want to work as little as possible and bring home a decent income. Sure I’m not wealthy and for sure not a career choice, but for now it does the job.

  8. Ice cold water $1
    Legal advice $0.5

    On a hot summer day this could be you!!!

  9. This is what a lot of students who wants to get into law need to hear about. Right now the average salary for lawyers is $136,260 (from bls.gov) which makes it even scarier because there will be more and more students getting into law just because of the salary.

    But what they don’t know is the top 20% of lawyers are the one bumping up the average salary. Fresh grads from law school might not even make HALF of that.

  10. Wow! Its nice to know that. You encourages me to become one. Thank you 🙂

  11. MChammer says:

    I am a 14 year old girl who has big dreams. I want to create my own law firm. But let me tell you what I thought this would be a helpful site to visit and you guys are making me second think everything I want to be so…. Thanks for everything

    • OMG I’m 13 have the same dream and this site did the same thing for me, if anyone knows how to get into a law job please help!

      • Hey guys I’m 13 too. This website got me really doubting if I actually wanna be a lawyer or not and I ain’t too sure anymore honestly. We should add speak in a groupchat lol x

      • Bob Hope says:

        Maddi, check out my previous post it explains everything you need to know to attend and get into law school.

  12. As a lawyer, I am not sure whether to find this article laughable or to be upset that it is actually misguiding young women. I am a mother of several young children and my law career as a sole practitioner of family law has affordable me a six figure income while having the flexibility to take my children to school most days and to take time when I need to do so to assist them when they are sick, have a school play, a doctor’s appointment etc.

    I have an excellent income. I am 38 years old living in a $3 million house. Where are the people who wrote made these comments finding their “statistics”? It is entirely misleading. Please do not discourage young women from having ambition and possibly being able to find a career that gives them a balanced life at the same time. I hope that everyone is able to find a career that interests them and allows them to live a good life. No young woman should be discouraged from the time and work that it takes to obtain a law degree. This should not be a field for men only.

    • Thank you so much!I really want to practice law, I’m only 16 now and I’ve been researching and looking into everything and came across this article, and started reading and i got really discouraged. I was planning on attending a school in Seattle and I know it’s not in the top 15. I hope to land a decent job in a law firm or somewhere else. That’s so amazing what you’ve accomplished and I hope to be like you when I’m older

    • I am 12 and want to be a lawyer

      • Mackenzie says:

        You can do it guys! Becoming a lawyer takes hours and hours of work and the earlier you start, the better (Starting studying at 12/13 may seem excessive but it can seriously help.
        Go girl laywers!

      • Bob Hope says:

        FYI Gabbi and Kelli when I say this I’m not kidding. I hope you accomplish your goals of becoming a lawyer. In my previous post it details what you need to know to get into and attend law school. YOU NEED TO KNOW THIS IT TAKES 80 HOURS OF STUDYING A WEEK.

    • Im currently in college and i want to become a lawyer myself. Do you think you could give me some advice on the steps i have to take? It would be really helpful! Maybe i could exchange emails?

      • Bob Hope says:

        Yahaira in my previous post on June 11, 2017 outlines everything you need to know to attend law school. Remember I kid you not it literally takes 80 hours a week of study, and for the LSAT the score you want to shot for is at least 167.

    • I’m 14 and this article really made me not want to become a lawyer but after reading your comment I’m up for it. No job is easy boo, and hard work pays off. I’m just gonna keep working hard because no mountain is smooth if you wanna get to the top. And some mountains are really rocky. So I’m just gonna work hard no matter! And tbh all these people complaining I don’t think they really pushed themselves and also the people that drop out.. I would never give up bc one day you’ll look back and be glad you never gave up. And I hope that’ll be me!

      • Bob Hope says:

        Eva you are very optimistic. I hope your hard as nails. I wish you the best of luck.

      • Tbh don’t let this misguide you. You can do what ever you put your mind to. You just have to stay consistent . I wish at 13 I was aiming to become a lawyer. Nah instead I was a criminal in and out of jail. But if you put your mind to it you can be come a lawyer . It won’t be easy at all but if you have to stick to it

    • Bob Hope says:

      Oh, c’mon Clare what about Matlock and Perry Mason?

    • Thank very much for that advise, my daughter is attending Stetson university in Deland Florida she just started going sociology science for 4 yrs and she loves n after her first four yrs she’s going to Tampa Florida to go for law and she loves it . I’m glad there are ladies like you out there feeling independent n making time for your love ones. That you for making feel that my beautiful daughter has a chance to life. She’s very intelligent GPA 4.89

  13. Lawyers are overpaid, period. They produce nothing, only fix problems created by other lawyers (Not criminal obviously). We own a construction firm, work hard, and love what we produce. It will be there, safe and useable for decades. The most skilled person on the crew charges $50/ hr. Now a client with a lot of money for attorneys is taking everything we have, and wants more. The attorney we hired charges $275/hr, and wastes time and shuffles papers. Turns out they are friends with the opposing council. We will lose everything, and the attorneys make out no matter which way it goes. Ceasar was right…first, kill all the lawyers.

  14. Anonymous says:

    You can get a JD and work in oil and gas as a landman and earn a pretty decent living at a 40 hour per week job. I don’t have a JD and I earn the same as the national average for attorneys, but JDs are preferred.

Trackbacks

  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 […]

  2. […] Law School Myth #1: Lawyers Make a Lot of Money – To 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. … Some people can live comfortably on a salary of $50,000. […]

  3. […] is that case?  According to some data from the National Association of Legal Professionals and another recent article, the median salary of a new lawyer was $84,111 to $77,333.  On a cursory level, this is a not a […]

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