Law school was, for as long as anyone could remember, one of the most solid, dependable career investments possible. But when the financial crisis of 2008 hit, lawyers found for the first time that a recession could hit them just as hard as other industries and professions. In the years following 2008, many attorneys were laid off, salaries stopped growing and many law schools saw their enrollments fall, as potential students became nervous about investing years of their lives to get into what looked like a shrinking profession.
Fast forward to this year, and it appears that prospects are getting better for law school graduates – at least, some law school graduates. The New York Times reports that major New York law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore has recently bumped first-year salaries from $160,000 to $180,000. Other firms have followed suit.
But before your eyes light up over those salary numbers, be aware that The Times estimates that only 17 per cent of law school graduates end up with salaries in this range. They are the graduates of Princeton, Harvard or other top schools, or the very top of class graduates of slightly less prestigious schools. Half of all law school graduates apparently earn salaries in a range from $40,000 to $60,000, not a major windfall when the cost of a law degree at even a state university can easily exceed $50,000.
Two pieces of good news cited by The Times:
- It is possible to come out of a second tier law school and become very successful. A good example is Senator Marco Rubio, who went to University of Miami School of Law – a poorly ranked school – and has clearly become a major political figure.
- While salaries may vary widely, law school grads should find more job opportunities today because enrollments have been down at law schools for several years, but many firms have increased hiring now that the economy is stronger.