Whether you’re an undergraduate student weighing your post-grad options or an experienced paralegal with dreams of becoming a partner, you’re likely wondering the same thing: is now a good time to go to law school?
You’ve likely heard about the so-called “Trump Bump,” an uptick in law school applicants induced by the current political climate. Will this trend continue, and will the increase in applicants lower your chances of acceptance? And now, you may have heightened financial concerns due to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whatever your concerns, it’s best to slow down and look at the facts when making this pivotal decision.
Applicants and Acceptance Rates
If you’re considering attending law school, your first hurdle is taking the LSAT test. The current average LSAT score hovers around 151, with the median score for students accepted to the top law schools in the low 170s. According to the most recent data published by the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), applications to American Bar Association-approved (ABA) schools have increased 51.7 percent from just one year ago.
But does that mean it’s now more difficult to get into law school? It’s hard to say, especially now that the pandemic has thrown a wrench into higher education and the economy at large. However, analysis of 2019 data did show an overall increase in the average acceptance rate for applicants to the 193 ranked law schools.
But the jury is still out on how the pandemic will impact admissions. For example, will a significant number of accepted students choose to defer a year because of health and safety concerns? With so much in flux, looking at applicant and acceptance rates to decide whether or not to apply for law school may prove futile; you’ll definitely want to consider other factors.
Cost of Tuition
According to U.S. News, ranked law schools charged an average of $40,244 for full-time residential students and $46,161 for out-of-state students for the 2019-2020 school year. Looking at all public law schools, students with resident status paid an average of $28,046, and out-of-state students paid an average of $41,549. Across all private law schools, students paid $50,000 on average.
How do these numbers compare to previous years? Even taking inflation into account, the cost of attending law school has steadily increased over the past 35 plus years. However, this trend is not unique to law school; tuition costs have continuously climbed and outpaced inflation across four-year universities as well.
Job Prospects and Starting Salary
Again, it’s difficult to project the future job market for current law school applicants due to the current economic turmoil. But looking at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2019 (before the pandemic), the ten-year job outlook for lawyers matched the average growth rate for all occupations. The median pay for lawyers in 2019 in the U.S. was $122,960 per year or $59.11 per hour.
In the past few years, the average pay for first-year associates has significantly increased across large and small firms alike. The ABA Journal explained the analysis from the 2019 Associate Salary Survey from the National Association for Law Placement:
- At firms with 701 attorneys or more, first-year associate median base salary rose from $155,000 to $180,000 from 2017 to 2019, a 16.1 percent increase.
- At firms with 251-500 attorneys, first-year associate median base salary rose from $150,000 to $160,000 from 2017 to 2019, a 6.7 percent increase.
- At firms with fewer than 50 attorneys, first-year associate median base salary rose from $90,000 to $98,750 from 2017 to 2019, a 9.7 percent increase.
But will this positive trend continue despite the COVID-19 pandemic? Some experts argue that the demand for lawyers could actually increase due to the pandemic’s challenging consequences. According to U.S. News, “America’s triple crises of illness, economic downturn and racial injustice have exposed structural problems requiring legal solutions, from health care disparities to police reforms to the fragility of small businesses. The global scope of the pandemic has also revealed the dangers inherent in an increasingly complex and multilayered world.”
All Evidence Considered
Looking at the facts and statistics, you’ll see the common denominator of uncertainty. There are a lot of unknowns in the world right now, and the field of law is no exception. For some, the unpredictability may deter you from pursuing a career at this time. For others, the uncertainty might inspire you and motivate you to change the world around you through a legal career.