Deciding to go to law school is not a decision you should take lightly. In their profession, lawyers need to be able to examine all aspects of an argument -- and you definitely need to do that when you're considering this big career move. Before you get starry-eyed about the big salary and prestige you'll get from being a lawyer, make sure to weigh the personal disadvantages of pursuing this path.
Law school takes a minimum of three years to complete, if you're going full-time. During that time, students are encouraged not to work an outside job, so they can focus on their legal education. That means you'll have to take out more student loans or find other sources of funding to pay for it -- and it's not cheap. The average debt for a student graduating from a private law school was about $92,000 as of 2009, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office. For students at public universities, the average debt was nearly $60,000, and according to the GAO, those costs only continue to rise. On a personal level, that means more of your salary will need to be devoted to paying your student loans, which could mean fewer vacations, shopping trips or frivolous spending.
The financial picture gets a little worse when you start to look at job prospects for lawyers. Competition for jobs is pretty high -- and will continue to be so. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more students graduating from law school than there were jobs available in 2010. That means you may have to move to a less-desirable city or choose an area of practice you wouldn't have otherwise considered in order to get a job.
Stress comes in many forms when you're a lawyer. First is the stress of knowing that you hold a person's future in your hands. Not only may you have to deal with difficult and long-lasting cases, you may actually come across clients, litigants or defendants who will make threats against you. Then there's the stress of moving up in the profession. If you're working in a law firm setting, there's extreme pressure to perform well and to make partner.
To be successful in the business of practicing law, you'll likely need to work very long hours, which can mean the rest of your life takes second fiddle to your job. If you have a family or husband, they may complain that you don't spend enough quality time with them. If you have hobbies, they may fall by the wayside. You may also find it difficult to maintain friendships outside of work. In short, time is precious when you're a lawyer.
2016 Salary Information for Lawyers
Lawyers earned a median annual salary of $118,160 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, lawyers earned a 25th percentile salary of $77,580, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $176,580, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 792,500 people were employed in the U.S. as lawyers.
- Government Accountability Office: Higher Education -- Issues Related to Law School Cost and Access
- U.S. Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics: Lawyers -- Job Outlook
- Lawyerist: Applying to Law School? Please Reconsider!
- The Girls Guide to Law School: Should I Become a Lawyer? Some Advice from the Author of Best Friends at the Bar
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Lawyers
- Career Trend: Lawyers
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.