Law School: A Right Time To Apply?

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Is There A ‘Right Time’ To Apply To Law School?

It’s a valid question, especially with law school applications falling at an alarming rate over the past five years. Is there an ideal time to apply to law school? With enrollment numbers dropping, there has to be a time when schools will throw money at people to get butts in seats, right? The job market has to rebound back to those white-collar glory days of 2005? When it does, students will go back to applying to law schools based on salary potential of the current market, right?

Not really. That was opinion expressed in a recent paper published in the Washington Post by Michael Simkovic, a Seton Hall School of Law professor, and Frank McIntire, an assistant professor at Rutgers Business School. “Middle and high ability law students who are lucky enough to graduate into a booming economy see a large boost to their earnings for approximately the first four years after graduation, but the effect quickly fades. There is a roughly 10 percent swing up or down in the present value of lifetime earnings for graduating into a boom or recession,” they write.

And then there’s the obvious—how can you predict an economy three or four years down the road when incoming students will be searching for jobs? In short, if law school is a desired path, the authors suggest it’s best to just go ahead and do it instead of waiting for an uptick in the economy. The main reason? For every year that prospective students go without the average salary boost a law degree gives, they enjoy one year less of increasing their lifetime earnings.

“…Each year of delay will cost on average around $31,000. The optimal strategy to get the most out of law school financially is to go to law school as soon as possible after deciding that you eventually want to go to law school,” the authors write.

Some legal critics claim structural changes, technology, automation, and outsourcing will make the legal industry less desirable and profitable for recent law school graduates. The authors, however, argue that this hasn’t been the case.

“Law graduates have maintained their relative advantage. If automation, outsourcing, and structural change are affecting law graduates negatively, the impact of these forces on those with less education has been just as great,” they write.

Of course, the authors’ research and opinion comes with a caveat. After all, they are both products of higher education. What’s more, the research compares salary benefits of those with bachelor’s degrees only to those with law degrees. It doesn’t take into account the amount of debt many law students will incur. As a result, the average $31,000 extra that lawyers may make might not be as helpful with mountains of debt. Many top-ranked schools along with lower-ranked schools will produce graduates with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.

Source: Washington Post

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