Law students are inundated with the pessimistic narrative that job prospects are dismal, law school debt is insurmountable, and the demand for new attorneys is waning. The message is being heard loud and clear as law school applications are at a 30-year low. Over the past three years alone, administered LSAT exams have plummeted 34% and law school enrollments have dropped a staggering 24%.
In years past going to law school was thought to mean guaranteed steady employment. Comparatively, this is no longer the case. But that is not just for law. An education no longer assures work in any field. What makes things seem worse for law students, than those pursuing a Bachelor’s degree, is that they incur a higher level of debt. An undergraduate student completing their Bachelor’s degree accumulates approximately $29,400 worth of loans at the end of their studies, whereas a law student graduating with a juris doctor degree at a private law school ends up owing around $125,000. Many students, and parents alike, are no longer justifying assuming the additional debt in an unstable prospective job market.
When is law school not worth the cost?
Some students who are fresh out of college choose to continue going to school simply to delay adulthood. These are the students who are grossly overwhelmed by the level of financial commitment and personal responsibility that pursing a law degree entails. They are the classmates who try to float on by, end up incurring the greatest amount of debt, and then graduate without the skills requisite to practice law in the real world. Unless you have the passion and dedication to become an attorney, law school may not be for you. Law school is simply not suited for the perpetual student with mediocre grades. In the current market, it is best intended for those who are willing to invest the time and effort of trying to be at the top of their field and choose to remain focused on the end game of practicing law.
Should you be worried?
You should be aware of the market, but there is no need to be overly concerned about putting off or quitting law school so long as you plan on being a competent, driven, and hard-working attorney. Even in a depressed economy, people will be employed, but the competition gets tougher. You may have to work harder to prove your worth to your employer and clients, but the higher the quality of your work, the less you have to fear. If you have a passion for the law, you should continue to pursue your ambition of becoming an attorney. The need for lawyers has not decreased at a rate consistent with the decline of applicants. Naturally supply and demand will result in the availability of more work in the years ahead.
During a recession, the need for lawyers does not go away; rather the type of work adapts with the current demands. For example, while real estate sales decline, bankruptcy and foreclosures are on the rise. As an attorney today, you may have to be more flexible and open to the possibility of temporarily working in a field of law that you did not initially consider to be your forte or passion. It may even mean sometimes working part-time, until you find steady work and benefits.
What if I can’t find a job?
So what about the worst-case scenario? What if you graduate from law school with a great deal of debt and can’t find employment or are laid off? Your juris doctor degree is still innately valuable in a variety of fields. There is no rule that says one is pigeonholed into strictly practicing law. The intrinsic worth of your degree makes you a more valuable employee on the job market. Whether it is in the field of law or elsewhere, a law degree will provide you with the distinction and added value to the gamut of prospective employers. Don’t expect a law degree to land you any job, only you can do that, but a law degree will open many new doors.