Are law schools just a big scam? Students are graduating but not able to find jobs, let alone 6-figure salaries

As a society we all assume that lawyers make a lot of money, no?

But when I hear from readers who are lawyers, and read other law blogs on occasion, I’ve noticed a trend about how it isn’t what they expected.

Not to single out Paying Myself, but I read her blog posts a while back and was both surprised and enlightened, and I really want to share them with you.

She does consider herself lucky to be a lawyer but acknowledges that it isn’t all roses:

I’m a lawyer.  I thought I was supposed to be rich.  I’m only half kidding when I say my first idea of being a lawyer came as a child when the occupation of “lawyer” made the most money in The Game of Life (I loved that game).  And it’s not just me – it’s the rest of the world.  Everyone thinks lawyers are rich.

But we’re not.  At least I’m not.

POST: I thought I was supposed to be rich— Paying Myself

And even in a more recent post of hers:

I was one of the lucky ones – I found work after only a few months of searching, and I found exactly what I was looking for – a set up where I am essentially a “sole practitioner”, practicing in an area of the law that I love (the majority of the time anyway) and that I feel passionate about (most of the time at least).

But I wasn’t one of the super lucky ones.

I’ve had to make a few sacrifices.

I don’t have benefits, my own assistant to do all my administrative work (though we do have one amazing co-worker who does a lot of the hard stuff), a steady salary, a fancy office, or any guaranteed clients.

I have to pay a lot of mine own expenses, including insurance, professional fees and ongoing education.

Some months I make a lot of money, and some months I make less.  I’ve found a job that I love but I can’t always pay myself generously.

POST: Passion Versus Money — Paying Myself

Before her posts, I had no idea that being a lawyer was not profitable.

To me, the little FB many years ago thought the holy triumvirate of high paying jobs were: Doctor, Lawyer, CEO.

In Penelope Trunk’s post on why salaries plateau at 40, someone wrote a comment pleading others to NOT become a lawyer:

So when I came across this New York Times article entitled: For Law School Graduates, Debts if Not Job Offers – Is Law School a Losing Game, I was fascinated.

Here are the main summary headlines of what I gleaned from the article, in my words.

All the text in bolded dark blue is from the article, and may have been re-arranged for clarity.

There’s an oversupply of new law school graduates and a lack of demand

Since 2008, some 15,000 attorney and legal-staff jobs at large firms have vanished, according to a Northwestern Law study.

Law schools are a business

Many schools, even those that have failed to break into the U.S. News top 40, state that the median starting salary of graduates in the private sector is $160,000.

That seems highly unlikely, given that Harvard and Yale, at the top of the pile, list the exact same figure.

How do law schools depict a feast amid so much famine?

…..a law grad, for instance, counts as “employed after nine months” even if he or she has a job that doesn’t require a law degree. Waiting tables at Applebee’s? You’re employed.

…but we’re all bright-eyed, bushy-tailed optimists

Apparently, there is no shortage of 22-year-olds who think that law school is the perfect place to wait out a lousy economy and the gasoline that fuels this system — federally backed student loans — is still widely available.

Everyone assumes they’ll make a ton of money, and they spend it before they even graduate!

This is definitely not just a “law school thing”, because I know plenty of people who went to college, only to imagine that once they graduated, they’d make enough to pay back their loans in no time.

Not so.

Or how about people who are working now? Many people spend before they have the money, which is why debt is such a hot topic these days.

It’s a “way of life” for many.

It’s a prestige thing, but status doesn’t pay the bills

MR. WALLERSTEIN, for his part, is not complaining.

“It’s a prestige thing,” he says. “I’m an attorney. All of my friends see me as a person they look up to. They understand I’m in a lot of debt, but I’ve done something they feel they could never do and the respect and admiration is important.”

Just … yeah.

I can’t imagine going into a quarter of a million dollars in debt for prestige, or status like he has.

But I suppose many people do that.

Think about it: there are a lot of blue collar jobs out there that pay a decent salary without requiring higher education, but because those jobs aren’t sexy, no one wants to go into them.

We all go to college, even for degrees we don’t really know what to do with afterwards.

As a kid, I never heard anyone say to me: I want to be a crane operator on a construction site!

We all wanted to be in white collar jobs that hold prestige and status in our society as being respected, highly-paid and desirable.

I would like to point out that I am aware that making a lot of money doesn’t mean you’re rich. Wealth is simply money saved.

If you don’t save anything, you don’t have any wealth.

So whether you make a lot of money, or very little, but you don’t bank it, it’s pointless to discuss how “wealthy” you are.

Your income is not your “wealth”.

So what do you think? Are law schools scamming eager students?

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.