Earlier this week, at the PLI Law Firm Leadership and Management Institute ... Dean David Van Zandt, of Northwestern University School of Law, offered some reflections on the future of legal education. ...
One of his most interesting tidbits was the starting salary that would constitute a “break-even point” for going to law school. In other words, what salary would you have to earn upon graduation in order to make going to law school an economically rational decision?
Van Zandt and some of his Northwestern colleagues did a study to determine the added value of a J.D. degree. They concluded that the break-even starting salary for a law school graduate is $65,000. Put another way, going to a law school with a median salary upon graduation that’s below $65,000 is not a wise investment.
Schools with median starting salaries under $65,000, which generally land somewhere in the 70s in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, are not good values. They need to either lower their cost to students and/or improve job opportunities for their graduates, according to Van Zandt.
(A break-even point of $65K seems low to us, given high law school tuition, the borrowing costs associated with student loans, and the opportunity cost of going to law school when you could be earning a salary in some other industry. We’ve reached out to Dean Van Zandt to ask for more detail about the data he utilized and the assumptions he made in reaching his conclusion. Another academic, [Tax Prof] Herwig Schlunk of Vanderbilt Law, believes that the break-even point is much higher.)