Law school as an investment

November 16, 2009
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Should the decision of whether or not to go to law school be made just as one would when deciding what stocks to buy for their 401k or invest in an IRA? Professor Herwig Schlunk at Vanderbilt University Law School thinks so.

In his 12-page working paper, he sets up three scenarios of law students and whether or not it’s worth it for them to spend the money on a law degree. He’s got the Also Ran who got above average grades in a relatively nonmarketable major from a middle-of-the-pack school for his undergraduate degree. This person would get into a second or third rate law school and has little chance of landing a “big law” job. The Solid Performer got relatively good grades in a relatively marketable major from a better school and will make it into a low first- or high second-rate law school. The Solid Performer also has a better chance of landing a job at a big law firm.

Finally, Schlunk introduces us to Hot Prospect, who as the name suggests, got stellar grades in a very marketable major from a highly ranked school and will attend a first-rate law school and should land the big law job.

After going on about opportunity costs, investments, lost non-legal salaries, and throwing around other hypothetical numbers, Schlunk concludes the Also Rans shouldn’t bother to go to law school because it’s not a good investment. Solid Performers should think hard before choosing to become a lawyer and, Hot Prospects should have little qualms about investing in a J.D.

Of course, everyone’s experiences will be different, and if you are an Also Ran who happened to score grants or scholarships, then by all means go to law school.

Schlunk’s paper highlights a downside of law school: the costs and the time it takes to recoup the money you spent to get your degree. Law school has always been thought of as a fallback in case you don’t make it as a writer or you find out teaching just isn’t for you. But with the number of people in law school now, the shrinking number of jobs, and the bleak outlook on the immediate horizon, perhaps looking at going to law school as an investment will help some decide whether it’s right for them.

Of course, those who have a passion for the law would become attorneys regardless, but those on the fence may be better served by thinking of it in these terms.

You can read the paper through a link on the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog, if you don’t want to download the paper. The link provided in the paper to view it online actually goes to a securities paper, which wouldn’t be very helpful for today’s post.
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  • In other words, the legal profession is 100% about money. That, of course, is what its critics have long believed and said.
  • Trust a professor from Vanderbuilt to assume that a job in Big Law is the ultimate goal for every person entering law school. No doubt there are a number of folks who long for a position in a Big Firm. But, there will always be those who look for other things: public service, careers with family lives, helping those who can\'t pay Big Law fees, alternative legal careers, etc., etc., etc.

    Law School IS an investment. But, what you invest and how that investment pays mean something different to everyone. To suggest otherwise is the research equivalent to basing a brief on a statute without ever having checked the pocket part: looks the part but too shallow to be meaningful.

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  1. First comment on this thread is a fitting final comment on this thread, as that the MCBA never answered Duncan's fine question, and now even Eric Holder agrees that the MCBA was in material error as to the facts: "I don't get it" from Duncan December 1, 2014 5:10 PM "The Grand Jury met for 25 days and heard 70 hours of testimony according to this article and they made a decision that no crime occurred. On what basis does the MCBA conclude that their decision was "unjust"? What special knowledge or evidence does the MCBA have that the Grand Jury hearing this matter was unaware of? The system that we as lawyers are sworn to uphold made a decision that there was insufficient proof that officer committed a crime. How can any of us say we know better what was right than the jury that actually heard all of the the evidence in this case."

  2. wow is this a bunch of bs! i know the facts!

  3. MCBA .... time for a new release about your entire membership (or is it just the alter ego) being "saddened and disappointed" in the failure to lynch a police officer protecting himself in the line of duty. But this time against Eric Holder and the Federal Bureau of Investigation: "WASHINGTON — Justice Department lawyers will recommend that no civil rights charges be brought against the police officer who fatally shot an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo., after an F.B.I. investigation found no evidence to support charges, law enforcement officials said Wednesday." http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/22/us/justice-department-ferguson-civil-rights-darren-wilson.html?ref=us&_r=0

  4. Dr wail asfour lives 3 hours from the hospital,where if he gets an emergency at least he needs three hours,while even if he is on call he should be in a location where it gives him max 10 minutes to be beside the patient,they get paid double on their on call days ,where look how they handle it,so if the death of the patient occurs on weekend and these doctors still repeat same pattern such issue should be raised,they should be closer to the patient.on other hand if all the death occured on the absence of the Dr and the nurses handle it,the nurses should get trained how to function appearntly they not that good,if the Dr lives 3 hours far from the hospital on his call days he should sleep in the hospital

  5. It's a capital offense...one for you Latin scholars..

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