One Reason Why People Still Go to Law School

Today’s NYT had a very interesting article asking Is Law School a Losing Game? The article left out one important fact, though, that might help explain why people still go to law school. Here it is:

Unlike the private sector as a whole, legal services has actually added jobs over the past 10 years.

While other industries have been sinking beneath the waves, the demand for lawyers has been rising, spurred on by an increase in regulation and just the sheer complexity of the modern American economy. By comparison, many other industries have been hit by a combination of outsourcing and technology (so has law, but to a lesser extent). As a result, students have been enticed into law school because other options looked worse.

What about pay for lawyers? That’s a difficult question to answer. The BLS publishes several data series on legal wages, but each of them has different pros and cons. In general, the picture is that the median pay of lawyers has been basically keeping up with inflation in recent years, doing a bit better than some managerial and professional occupations, and a bit worse than others. There is no sign, though, of lawyer pay falling off the cliff.

About Michael Mandel 127 Articles

Michael Mandel was BusinessWeek's chief economist from 1989-2009, where he helped direct the magazine's coverage of the domestic and global economies.

Since joining BusinessWeek in 1989, he has received multiple awards for his work, including being honored as one of the 100 top U.S. business journalists of the 20th century for his coverage of the New Economy. In 2006 Mandel was named "Best Economic Journalist" by the World Leadership Forum.

Mandel is the author of several books, including Rational Exuberance, The Coming Internet Depression, and The High Risk Society.

Mandel holds a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University.

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1 Comment on One Reason Why People Still Go to Law School

  1. 1. That graph is misleading, as its categories seem odd and selected solely to make the point that legal services are trumping something. Large portions of the private sector have been omitted (medical, other service industries, etc.). You conclude that “other options looked worse” based on what, exactly? Because factory jobs have disappeared? Most lawyers alternative careers are as doctors, engineers, PhDs, etc., none of which have seen a massive decline in the last 10 years.

    2. “Legal services” and “jobs for lawyers” do not always correlate. For example, there could have just been a boom in paralegal or legal secretary work. Or, with some firms, adding a full IT staff.

    3. A 5% rise in legal services should not be met with a 20+% rise in law school enrollment and a 50% rise in law school tuition.

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