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The great law school 'rip-off': By the numbers
Going to law school used to seem like a surefire path to financial security. But increasingly, according to a New York Times investigation, it's only guaranteeing massive student loan debt
These Harvard Law students will reportedly need to earn at least $65,000 a year to stay on top of their debt.
These Harvard Law students will reportedly need to earn at least $65,000 a year to stay on top of their debt.
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oing to law school and becoming a lawyer has long been considered a certain ticket to a financially rewarding career. But big law firms have slashed thousands of jobs since 2008, and now many recent graduates are finding themselves unemployed or underemployed, and unable to pay off monstrous loans. In an extensive New York Times piece, David Segal reports that, despite the dwindling market for lawyers, law schools continue to draw in more and more students, thanks in part to their "Enron-type accounting standards" for reporting the employment success of their alumni. "Law schools are ripping off students," says Larry Reibstein in Forbes. Here, a brief guide by the numbers:

15,000
Number of attorney and legal-staff jobs at large firms that have "vanished" since 2008, according to a Northwestern Law study. "How is it... that in a dramatically shrinking legal industry, law schools are reporting increasing number of their grads are landing positions within nine months of graduation?" asks Larry Reibstein in Forbes.

84 percent
Average employment rate for law school graduates nine months after graduation in 1997, as published in U.S. News

93 percent
Average employment rate in the most recent U.S. News rankings

$160,000
Median starting salary that most schools, even those not in the top 40, claim in the recent U.S. News rankings. But, "that [figure] seems highly unlikely, given that Harvard and Yale, at the top of the pile, list the exact same figure," says David Segal in The New York Times.

$65,000
Estimated amount law students need to earn a year to stay on top of their debt. "That kind of money is hard to earn hanging a shingle in rural Ohio or in public defenders' offices, the budgets of which are often being cut," says Segal. "As elusive, and inhospitable, as jobs in Big Law may be, they are one of the few ways for new grads to keep out of delinquency."

Up to $43,000
Approximate cost of one year's tuition, even at "mediocre law schools"

$131,800
The average indebtedness of students graduating from Thomas Jefferson School of Law, the highest of any school in the U.S. News rankings

95 percent
Proportion of students who graduate from Thomas Jefferson School of Law with debt, per the U.S. News rankings

About 43,000
Number of law degrees handed out in 2009, 11 percent more than in 1999. "Apparently, there is no shortage of 22-year-olds who think that law school is the perfect place to wait out a lousy economy," says Segal in The New York Times, "and the gasoline that fuels this system — federally backed student loans — is still widely available."

Sources: NY Times, Forbes, U.S. News

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