How Much Does It Cost to Become a Lawyer? Working as a lawyer can be a fulfilling and rewarding career choice, but the court road can be an expensive and bumpy ride. Before embarking on the journey to become a lawyer, it’s vital to understand both the costs and benefits.
A legal career will require an investment of both time and money. The first step to becoming a lawyer is obtaining a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree is awarded after four years of study at an accredited college or university. According to the College Board, the average college tuition in the 2022–2023 school year was $10,740 for in-state students and $27,560 for out-of-state students.
How Much Does It Cost to Become a Lawyer?
After finishing college, students can apply to law school. Before applying, students must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Currently, the LSAT costs $215, and students pay an additional $45 for each score report that is sent to a law school.
Law school is a three-year program designed to teach students how to write and think like lawyers. A law degree carries a significant cost. In the 2022–2023 academic year, the average cost for one year at a private law school was $53,000. At public law schools, the average cost was roughly $29,000 for in-state students and $42,000 for out-of-state students.
After law school, students must apply for admission to the state bar. Nearly every state requires graduates to take the bar exam as part of this process. The bar exam is a rigorous two-day test of legal knowledge and skill.
Because the bar exam is so important, most students take a bar review course to prepare. Bar review courses last roughly six weeks and can cost up to $4,000. Graduates must also pay fees to sit for the bar exam and complete the necessary background checks.
Return On Investment
Return on investment (ROI) is a simple calculation that helps you understand the gains or losses you may accrue from a financial investment. The calculation is easy: divide the net gain of an investment by the cost of the investment, and multiply the result by 100. To calculate the ROI of law school, you might divide your potential post-graduation salary by the total cost of law school.
The median annual salary for a lawyer is $127,990. And three years of law school as a full-time, in-state student living on campus costs $186,549 on average, according to ABA-collected data. Using the above figures, let’s calculate the law school’s potential ROI after one year of work as a lawyer:
($127,990 / $186,549) x 100 = 68.6%
This means one year of work as a lawyer could recoup almost 70% of your total law school costs. By that logic, after just two years of working as a lawyer, you may already start to see a significantly positive ROI.
How To Pay for Law School
Even with a potentially high payoff, the cost of law school can be daunting. Thankfully, resources are available to help relieve some of the financial burden. Common types of financial aid for college students include grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and loans. All law students should submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year. The FAFSA can qualify you for federal grants, work-study programs, and student loans, along with student aid from your state or school.
Law School Loans
You might also take out a loan to help pay for law school. Federal student loans, available to qualifying students who submit the FAFSA, typically offer relatively low-interest rates, more flexible repayment plans, and possible forgiveness options. You can also seek loans through private lenders.
Grants And Scholarships
In addition to submitting the FAFSA, you can seek grants and scholarships from non-government sources. Grants and scholarships are great ways to secure funding for law school because they don’t require repayment. You may consult the Law School Admission Council’s website for possible scholarship opportunities.
Federal work-study programs allow you to work in your field of interest while earning income to help cover education-related expenses.
Benefits Of Being a Lawyer
No matter what type of lawyer you are, having this profession comes with several advantages. Understanding the benefits of this job can help you determine whether you want to pursue a career in this field. Here are some benefits that come from this profession:
An Intellectual Challenge
With such compelling benefits, it stands to reason that obtaining a law degree is not easy. The standards are high, and outstanding academic performance is expected. Studying law is demanding and a truly intellectual challenge. If you enjoy working your little grey cells, this may well be the biggest benefit of studying law.
Argue And Debate
While not all lawyers argue in court, many trial attorneys do. If you enjoy a challenge and debating with other attorneys, this may be the career for you. During a court case, you not only have the chance to present your findings, but you can also argue legal theories, debate law interpretations, and prove your point to the judge, jury, and others in the courtroom.
Many people view the law profession as one with a high level of prestige. This typically stems from their impressive degrees and the level of authority they have over others. This profession demands respect and is often viewed as glamorous by the media.
Many lawyers spend time in a law firm, corporation, or government agency during the day. This means they can avoid the traditional office cubicle that most professions provide. If you prefer a more open layout, this is a particularly beneficial perk.
Ability To Help Others
Many lawyers cite the opportunity to help others as an advantage of their career. From representing victims of crime and helping children through the juvenile court system to counseling nonprofit organizations working for worthy causes, there are many ways to feel as if you’re doing worthwhile and fulfilling work.
Many lawyers work on pro bono cases—those for which they don’t charge a fee – through their firms or legal aid societies. They help clients who have nowhere else to turn with problems such as evictions and domestic violence.
While some lawyers have unpredictable schedules, for the most part, this career allows you to fit your schedule to your particular needs. If you work for a law firm, they may even allow you to work from home. Having this option lets you spend more time with your family, giving you a greater work-life balance overall. Also, you can hire an assistant to help you with your duties.
Lawyers can earn a generous income. They make a national average salary of $106,979 per year. Though you may not earn this income as a new lawyer, you can work your way towards it with enough hard work and experience. However, finding satisfaction in your specific field may be worth more than your annual salary.
Awareness Of Rights and Responsibilities
Being unaware of your rights and responsibilities prevents you from becoming the best that you can be as a fellow human. Studying law allows students to understand the reasons behind the regulations.
Development Of Self-Confidence
Studying law is an empowering experience. Law students often work in groups and actively participate in debates or discussions; such environments nurture good self-esteem and confidence.
Better Communication Skills and High Adaptability Towards Various Career Transitions
Law students develop the ability to argue on the basis of evidence in a way that can be hard for others to do; this actively cultivates advanced communication skills, keen problem-solving abilities, and the capacity for independent thinking. As a result, law graduates adapt very well to various situations or career transitions.
Multiple Career Options
Lawyers have many career options. Corporate lawyers represent major companies. Government lawyers help federal, state, or local officials draft and enforce laws. Criminal prosecutors are probably the most well-known type of government lawyer. Some lawyers, like public defenders and legal aid attorneys, work for public interest agencies.
Drawbacks Of Being a Lawyer
While the law can be a wonderful career, it is not perfect. Lawyers face challenges in their daily work. Here are a few of the downsides to the legal profession:
Many things are beyond a lawyer’s control. Even the most prepared lawyer cannot predict how a judge will rule. Lawyers have to deal with the whims of opposing counsel. Also, lawyers often handle cases involving highly emotional issues such as divorce and custody. Uncertainty, high emotions, and other factors make the law an incredibly stressful occupation.
Even if you have a flexible schedule, there may be some days when you need to put in long hours to help your clients. This is mostly the case for new lawyers just starting their careers. While a normal workweek consists of 40 hours, some lawyers put in 60 to 90 hours each week, depending on the needs of the case they’re working on.
Many law schools come with a large price tag. Typically, the better the law school, the higher the educational expense. Even with a generous salary, new lawyers may not be able to pay off their debt as quickly as they’d hoped to.
Legal ethics rules state that the client, not the lawyer, directs the representation. So, unless the client’s request is illegal or unethical, the lawyer must follow the client’s orders. This is true even if the lawyer knows that the client is making a grave mistake.
Uncertain Job Market
Some think of the law as a “recession-proof” industry, but this is not necessarily so. The Great Recession of 2008 toppled the legal job market. Major firms stopped hiring, and some even laid off employees.
New lawyers struggled to find jobs. It took nearly 10 years for the legal market to fully recover. While some believe the legal profession will be better prepared for the next recession, the fact remains that the law seems more vulnerable to economic shifts than other industries.
Because litigation is a major expense, it’s reasonable to predict that clients will once again cut their legal budgets in future economic downturns.
Many people dislike lawyers. The ABA once stated that while people admire lawyers’ intellect, they feel lawyers lack empathy. To make matters worse, many films and television shows portray lawyers as immoral creatures who fake evidence and twist facts. In reality, ethics rules strictly prohibit lawyers from doing either of these things. Whatever the reason, many people take delight in criticizing the legal profession.
Final Thoughts on Lawyer Education Costs
Practicing law is an extremely rewarding career path, but it can come with serious financial costs. Make sure you understand the costs of law school (which go well beyond tuition), the reality of practicing law, and the financial options available to help you on your journey before submitting your law school applications.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is A Law Degree Worth It?
For many graduates, yes. According to the ABA, the average total education debt among law school graduates is around $120,000. However, if you end up working as a lawyer and earning average lawyer wages, you can recoup the cost of law school within a couple of years.
Does Law School Pay Off?
According to the above calculations, law school typically pays off for graduates who go on to work as lawyers. For lawyers who spend three years in law school and earn wages on par with the average salary for their profession, law school can pay for itself in less than two years.