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04 September 2007



A non-trivial portion of the first bump, of course, is those doing clerkships. Federal clerkships pay right around that bump - around 50K. If state clerkships are generally around that same bump - even if many are on the smaller end - then the 10% of grads that are included in this chart that are clerking play a big part in the bump, without necessarily sharing lasting financial difficulties.

Bill Henderson

Loyola 2L,

You have earned quite a reputation on the Internet. I am putting your comment in my tenure file. Thanks, bh.

Loyola 2L

Mr. Henderson,

This is a wonderful piece which should be published in many other sources. I loved your prior career placement article too, and eagerly await your ranking of law schools by career placement. Don't doubt how much law students appreciate the work you are doing to de-mystify post law school career prospects.

Loyola 2L

P. Anonymous

I think a large part of the problem is that students are choosing law school right out of college, before they have a reasonable understanding of the costs of adult life and the opportunities of the workplace. In a market-based system, you cannot fault schools for providing a product at a cost that people buy. The problem is, though, the buyers are uneducated. Some luck out and it works at the 145-160k range. Many do not.

But, if the schools choose not to follow the market imperatives and instead modify their admission standards to reduce the risk of students leaving school with debt that they cannot manage, they would go the way of business schools and emphasize prior work experience in the admission process. By taking an older, more sophisticated (economically) student body, it wouold most likely produce a better alignment of realistic expectations for salary and students ability to pay off debt.

Jeff Yates

(cross posted on Voir Dire Blog) Bill notes that this phenomena has important implications for law students, law schools, and law firms. I would add that it may have implications for public perceptions of attorneys and how much they earn relative to others, especially those who take a different professional degree path (e.g. M.D.s, MBAs, Ph.D.s etc.). I think that it would be interesting to compare this distribution to the other programs’ graduates’ salaries.

Is the conventional notion that “lawyers make a lot (too much?) money” a very meaningful generalization given this “feast or famine” salary distribution? Keep in mind the outlay of tuition, effort, and lost income opportunities for three years that are involved in earning this degree (not to mention the relative difficulty of gaining admission). The costs are, typically, constant across degree earners, but the enhanced salary opportunities are not. Even the median salary for attorneys is not “accurate” or at least very meaningful for the massive number of graduates in the left mode.

It seems that we hear a lot about the attorneys in the right mode, but much less about attorneys (and their salaries) in the left mode. While highly ranked law schools’ graduates have excellent opportunities to place in the right mode (assuming that they wish to do so, at least to work off some law school debt), students in non-elite schools are essentially in a “lottery” for getting these high paying jobs (or perhaps even those jobs in the “death valley” area between modes), since such firms ordinarily only interview those in the top 10 to 15% in these law schools.


The majority of the salaries from the "left" side, come from Insurance Defense and personal injury attorneys, sadly, NOT from PD, DA or Public Intrest. The majority of law school graduates (from the thousands of graduates in NYC, not from NYU, Columbia or Cornell) are forced to work in that field, which starts around $45-$50K, with $5K raises each year. Do to the saturated market in big cities, this is all that is left. Except, of course, for unemployment which many new attorneys are experiencing in major cities. Sadly, again, even fellow attorneys (those from high ranking schools or practicing for several years) are oblivious.


Wonderful post, and very interesting information. As a potential future law student I find the information quite helpful.
I know that the outsourcing of commodity work to smaller markets has become more common- do you think that this trend might continue and serve to even out that death valley area in the middle?

Law schools seem very unlikely to stop the increase in tuition, even with this knowledge. I suppose in part it may be that even a lower ranked school wants to maintain the perception that students can graduate and make large amounts of money in top markets and that they prepare students to do so.

Sam Kamin

Bill --

That really is an amazing distribution. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I suppose the left side of the distribution is the starting salary of public defenders, prosecutors, and public aid lawyers. If you're right that their starting salaries are barely tracking inflation, I wonder if we can expect to see a dip in the qualifications of those going into public sector jobs out of law school. For a long time, graduates who had much higher paying alternatives have gone to the PD or the DA because the experience was great and the sense of well-being they got from doing good went a long way. As law school tuitions -- and loan burdens -- continue to grow faster than inflation, however, the gap in salary may become too much to overcome.

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