Your Law School Investment by the Numbers

Your Law School Investment by the Numbers

Herwig Schlunk, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School, agrees that many of these changes are likely permanent. "There is no reason to believe that the currently-experienced changes in the legal market for freshly-minted law school graduates are temporary."[1]  Permanent changes would mean "all future crops [of law students] will need to ratchet down their expectations not only with respect to first-year compensation, but also with respect to job security and chances for partnership," which could easily tip the balance of the economic value of a law degree "decidedly into negative territory."[2]

Schlunk attempted to analyze whether law school is a good investment by taking into account the costs of law school: tuition and fees at law school, summer income from law internships, and the opportunity cost of employment during the three years of law school (subtracting taxes that would have had to be paid on that income but adding lost increases in salary due to promotions and inflation for 3 years). Schlunk estimates that total cost of law school including these factors ranges from $201,000 to $279,000. He compared that to the potential gains from law school by subtracting the earnings from employment that could have been gained from an undergraduate degree alone (estimated based on college major and quality of degree-granting institution) from a Biglaw salary weighed by the likelihood that a Biglaw job could be secured, which he estimated to be between 20 and 90%, depending on the quality of law school attended. For each of the three hypothetical students he analyzed-an average student with a non-marketable major at a second- or third-tier law school, a student with relatively good grades and a marketable major from a better institution at a low first- or second-tier law school, and a student with stellar grades and marketable major from a stellar institution who attends a top law school-law school costs more than it yields in increased income.[3]

"Using what he termed a somewhat conservative calculation, Schlunk determined that the second- or third-tier student would need to earn a starting salary of just below $80,000 to justify the expense of law school. The middle of the road student would need about $113,000, while the top student would need to earn $150,000 out of law school."[4]  And this is just to break even.   "Schlunk calculated that the students actually can expect to earn starting salaries of $65,000, $105,000 and $145,000, respectively - a poor investment in all three cases."[5]

Building a Better Legal Profession (BBLP) is an organization based at Stanford Law School.   BBLP is a national grassroots movement that seeks market-based workplace reforms in large private law firms. For more information, visit BBLP's Web site at

Sources and Footnotes:

[1] Herwig J. Schlunk, "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be. . .Lawyers," Vanderbilt Law and Economics Working Paper No. 09-29, October 31, 2009 (revised January 12, 2010), 14,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Sloan, "Going to Law School?"

[5] Ibid.


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