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Law School Myth: Lawyers Make a Lot of Money

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by Alison, The Girl’s Guide to Law School

Originally posted on September 7, 2011.

Original source can be found here.

 

To put it charitably, one reason people consider joining the legal profession is to cash in — lawyers make lots of money, right? Sure, maybe they work all the time and aren’t always happy, but they’re rich! Totally worth it.

 

Reality check: Most lawyers don’t make all that much money, given the time and cost required to become one.

 

 
Most Young Lawyers Aren’t Making Bank

 

The starting salary distribution in law is odd, in that it’s bimodal. In other words, you don’t see an even distribution of starting salaries from low to high. Instead, there are two distinct humps.

 
What a Bimodal Salary Distribution Looks Like

 

 

The graph above is from NALP data, and displays the starting salaries of 2010 law graduates, by percentage. You’ll notice that the mean salary is $84,111. Not too shabby. Even the adjusted mean of $77,333 (which accounts for underreporting in the lower salary ranges) isn’t that bad.

 

You could probably live comfortably on that in a major city, even with some student loan payments.

 
The “Mean” Starting Salary is Meaningless

 

However, almost no one makes the mean salary. Instead, a small number, about 18%, make BigLaw money — that’s the peak at $160,000. Far more make around $50,000. You’ll find 48% of 2010 graduates, most of them in debt up to their ears, making between $40,000 and $65,000.

 
Is Law School Worth It?

 

Some people can live comfortably on a salary of $50,000. Those people probably don’t live in an expensive city, work a job that requires “court” clothing, and have $1000+ in student loan payments every month.

 

If your starting salary is in the first “hump”, you really have to start asking some hard questions about whether the payoff is worth it.

 

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