Is Law School Worth It? Exploring the Pros and Cons

26/09/202318 minute read
Is Law School Worth It? Exploring the Pros and Cons

Stumbled upon an episode of Suits and wondering if law school is for you? Well, it’s great that TV can inspire a new generation of law students. But, now it’s time to delve a bit deeper, dig up some valid research, and make a well informed decision — that’s what a smart lawyer in a suit would do, right?

But first, spoiler alert! This is going to include both the pros and the cons of charting a path into and through law school, and some much needed perspective for informed decision making!

Whether you are a high school or undergraduate student, or a professional considering a mid-career switch, read ahead for insights that will help you take your next steps with greater confidence!


Law is well regarded as a prestigious and alluring profession across the globe. Movies and television series like Suits further accentuate the glamourous aspects of lawyering — embellished with scenes of luxurious lifestyles and high-stakes courtroom drama that are commonly associated with a career in law.

It is important to note, though, that the promise of wealth and excitement many associate with a career in law is, while attainable, a common misconception as a general principle. With this in mind, we can  turn to the central question: Is law school worth the investment of time, money, and effort?

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The Advantages of Law School

Skill Development

Law school is well known, even notorious, for its academic rigor and intensity. The upside is that during the course of study, there are numerous skills that one acquires, such as critical thinking, argumentation, research, writing, and public speaking.

The reason for this is rather simple — these skills constitute the core competencies that an aspiring lawyer should possess.

The best pre-law majors will give you a head start in skills like these, and aspiring lawyers should seek out rigorous academic pathways in high school.

Once you’re in law school, you’ll hone these skills to a much higher degree, through voluminous amounts of reading, writing, research, and argumentation. If you attend a top law school, you should get exceptional results in terms of your readiness to excel in your career down the road.

Career Opportunities

Not all lawyers represent individual clients in court rooms, arguing in front of judges or juries, just as not all lawyers work as partners in elite law firms, like the firm featured in Suits, for example.

Many lawyers work as advocates in nonprofit and governmental organizations, some work as public defenders or public prosecutors, others work as independent consultants, many work in corporate offices primarily as legal advisors rather than as courtroom attorneys, and some specialize in legal research or public affairs.

  • Lawyers are typically employed in law firms or lead their own private practice. This role most often involves advising clients about legal issues and options related to business matters or personal affairs.
  • Attorneys also advise clients like lawyers do, but are much more likely to go beyond the initial consultation and represent clients in actual courtroom proceedings.
  • Counsels are lawyers who are employees of a business, corporation, or similar organization. They work entirely on behalf of their employer and provide legal advising and insights.
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You can also parse your law career prospects in terms of the kind of law you want to practice — here are some examples:

  • General practice law
  • Family law
  • Immigration law
  • Criminal law
  • Injury law
  • Contract law
  • Intellectual property law
  • Employment law
  • Civil rights law

While going to law school is often associated with becoming a practicing lawyer, there are other alternative or less conventional roles that are also open to law graduates.

For instance, beyond the plethora of different areas of law and legal practice law students can pursue, law school graduates sometimes choose to take on roles in consulting, investment banking, public policy, or even entrepreneurship.

The other good news is that job demand for this profession is forecast to remain relatively strong.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment demand for lawyers is expected to grow 8% on average over the next decade (2022 to 2032), much faster than the average forecast of 3% for other professions.

Earning Potential

While the riches and luxury flaunted by the lawyers in shows like Suits probably create some inflated expectations, it’s true that law is generally a well-remunerated career path.

As a profession, lawyering is among the highest-paying careers outside of physicians, and while law school is rigorous and can also be expensive, the law profession pays out a median annual wage of $135,740, as per data retrieved in 2023 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some Common Career Paths for Law Students
OccupationEntry-Level Education2022 Median Pay (US$)
LawyersDoctoral or Professional Degree$135,740
Arbitrators, Mediators, and ConciliatorsBachelor's Degree$64,030
Judges and Hearing OfficersDoctoral or Professional Degree$128,610
Paralegals and Legal AssistantsAssociate's Degree$59,200

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Networking

Last but certainly not least, going to law school allows you to rub shoulders with bright legal minds — your professors, alumni, and fellow peers. These extensive networks, if leveraged, can help open doors that reward you with a smoother transition into the world of work after you finish law school.

That one quiet friend you meet and connect with at a social event in college?... That friend could well be the one who puts in a word for you, helping you get your foot in the door at a prestigious law firm many years later.

Networking can also be a shortcut to finding opportunities before they’re advertised (if they’re advertised at all).

“It is also an important part of the legal profession and something that all attorneys, whether they like it or not, must do as part of their careers. In addition to looking for job leads, networking is many things: talking to friends of friends, joining a club or organization because you have an interest in something and meeting other people with the same interest, and asking for advice.”

- Stanford Law School — "Getting the Job"

The value of networking opportunities, especially at the more prestigious law schools, is easy to overlook or underestimate when you’re thinking about the cost of attending law school.

Attending a great law school is the same as an open invitation to get connected with top professionals in your field, and you can pursue many different networking avenues.

7 Ways to Network in Law School

  • Law school faculty and faculty advisors
  • Student organizations and groups, such as a student-run law journal, at your law school that help you connect with peers
  • Volunteer activities, such as volunteering, working, or interning at a low-cost legal clinic in the community
  • Law school alumni networks, events, and resources
  • Job fairs sponsored or coordinated by your law school or law school partners
  • Law school career office and career counselors
  • Professional associations, starting with National, state, and local chapters of the American Bar Association, the National Lawyers Guild, the National Association of Women Lawyers, and hosts of others based on job roles and based on types of law practiced…

Because your time as a law student provides such fertile ground for networking, it’s hard to measure just how valuable the benefits of your student networking will be over the long term.

In short, networking often turns out to pay out big time as a return on investment after you finish your law school journey — making networking a not-to-be-overlooked and not-to-be-undervalued advantage.

If you attend one of the world’s leading law schools alongside other highly motivated students, you’ll probably have even greater odds of finding access to top jobs and firms.

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The Disadvantages of Law School

Cost

On the flip side, one has to consider the costs of going to law school.

According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of law school in the US is $220,335.

Breaking this down, the average total cost of tuition alone for law school is $146,484 ($48,828 per year). As for living expenses, the average total cost amounts to $73,851 ($24,617 per year).

Much will depend on your professional earnings and how you do the math, but it could take you a good number of years to pay down your law school student loans.

Opportunity Cost

Beyond explicit monetary cost, one should also be wise to consider the opportunity cost of attending law school  — defined as the next best alternative forgone.

For instance, the time spent in law school could be time spent working in a job, with the potential earnings forgone across the years in college.

And, given that your opportunity cost is the same, in terms of years in law school, whether you go to any law school or to a great law school, it’s worth considering how much difference going to a top school or attending an Ivy League school can add value to that time spent.

Job Stress and Mental Health Impacts

As for job satisfaction, the 2022 American Bar Association survey of the legal profession found some troubling data when it comes to how lawyers fare on the job, and how many consider leaving the profession altogether:

  • 24% of women and 17% of men considered leaving the legal profession due to mental health problems, burnout or stress
  • 67% of women and 49% half of men reported moderate or severe stress
  • 23% of women and 15% of men reported moderate or severe anxiety
  • 20% of women and 15% of men reported moderate or severe depression

A career in the law may involve not only higher-than-average levels of stress. Working as a lawyer can also be highly adversarial and require long hours, demanding billable targets, and punishing deadlines.

Many lawyers end up leaving practice for “greener pastures” or to work in roles with better work-life balance, as lawyering can take an intense mental and emotional toll on someone.

With burnout being a common enough occurrence in the legal world, and the phenomena of quiet quitting in the larger world of work, it is important that an aspiring law student is prepared and aware of the realities of legal work. As such, one should consider whether he or she has the inclination for the stresses that law school and a legal career inevitably comes with.

Licensing & Restrictions on Practice

In many countries, your stint in law school won’t get you over the finish line. You’ll also need to pass a licensing exam to practice law. If you struggle to pass the exam, that can mean more delays before you’re fully qualified for the best jobs.

In the US, almost every state requires a bar exam. And, most states have their own licensing requirements, which means that most lawyers are restricted to practicing law within a single state. To practice law in a new state or multiple states typically means jumping through additional licensing hoops.

A few interesting facts about the word bar:

  • The word “bar” refers to the wooden rail in a courtroom that separates the judges platform from the rest of the court.
  • A state bar is typically a state licensing board.
  • The Bar Association is an international professional association for lawyers that also helps set licensing and other professional standards of practice. In the US, there are also state and local chapters of the Bar Association.
  • In the US, the “bar exam” refers to specific licensing exams required in each state after law school to become a licensed attorney.
  • Some experts in the law field believe that California’s bar exam is the hardest compared to most other states in the US.
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Factors to Consider

Passion

Given the stresses of the legal profession and law school, finding genuine interest, and fostering a passion in the law is of paramount importance.

Too many students enter law school without the right level of motivation and commitment — whether it’s their parents projecting their desires or expectations upon them, prestige, or the high wages they are after. While these motivations may sometimes have merit, they will likely be insufficient in helping you get through the late nights at the law library or at the office.

Instead of only focusing on superficial motivations like money, prestige, or status, examine more intrinsic motives and more purposeful reasons for pursuing law school… A stronger sense of purpose is likely to fuel greater personal commitment, perseverance, and career satisfaction over both the short and long term.

For example, according to the National Law Review, many lawyers find satisfaction knowing they can use their law qualifications to serve underprivileged communities or make other positive contributions to society. Intellectual challenges and the rigors of working in the legal profession were also cited as reasons you might find a career in law satisfying and purposeful.

Financial Readiness

Given the hefty upfront costs of attending law school, it’s important to seek out avenues of financial aid. The good news is that most people will find ways to finance their upfront education costs with either grants, loans, scholarships, or often with some combination of these.

That said, taking on debt can be consequential for your future, and it is therefore important to consider your financial situation before signing on to any significant loan commitments.

Long-term Career Goals

It is also imperative for prospective law students/lawyers to envision how a law degree aligns with their long-term career aspirations and their long-term financial goals.

You may need to pay a lot for your education during your three or four years in law school. But you also need to consider the years, decades, or more that you anticipate working in the law field and your anticipated personal satisfaction, potential accomplishments, and personal earnings in order to fully appreciate the value of your law school education.

Alternative Paths

One can also consider alternative ways to get involved in the legal field without going to law school. Likewise you can also consider alternative career paths, even after you graduate from law school…

If you’re interested in the legal field, but don’t want to go to law school and be a lawyer, you can consider taking a strong pre-law major as an undergraduate and then pursue additional training as needed to qualify as a legal assistant, paralegal, legal researcher, or journalist.

If you’re passionate about law and law school studies, but think working as a lawyer isn’t the right career for you, first ask yourself if there might be some branches of law or kinds of legal practice that would be more agreeable.

If you do rule out working as a lawyer, then with some additional qualifications you might leverage your law degree to qualify for jobs in business, finance, real estate, nonprofit leadership or management, postsecondary education, politics, or lobbying.

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Final Thoughts

As with any major decision we make in our lives, considering and weighing the pros and cons based on personal circumstances and aspirations is of paramount importance.

Spend some time introspecting to find your ‘why’ — in this case with regard to the pursuit of law school.

While law school comes with its stresses and challenges, lawyers have exceptional opportunities to find intellectually stimulating and well-remunerated employment.

For the purpose-driven individual a law degree provides a powerful tool for social good and social change as well. And, even if you move into an alternate career path, you’ll leave law school with a plethora of valuable and transferable skills.

So, what’s your next step now? We encourage you to seek advice from current law students, practicing lawyers, and career counselors who may have nuggets of wisdom they can share with you to help better inform your decision-making process.

If you want some personalized feedback or guidance for getting into a top law school, or have other questions about your journey to pre-law programs, click here to get help planning your law school journey.

What Makes Crimson Different

Making a career or academic decision that will involve so many commitments and future consequences can be daunting. But you don’t have to plan your journey alone. 

We're dedicated to assisting you in the decisions and actions that will make your dream of attending law school — even a great law school — more attainable. Book a free consultation with a Crimson counselor today. Together, let's explore your potential for a rewarding law career and kickstart your path to success!

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