Wednesday, July 17, 2013

New study on the financial value of a law degree

A law professor from Seton Hall and a business professor from Rutgers have teamed up to publish a study showing that over a lifetime, the mean, pre-tax value added of a law degree is about $1 million.   The study found that even for lower ranked law schools, the economic value of a law degree still justifies the decision to enroll.  Inside Higher Ed has a good summary of the study here including some commentary from Kyle McEntee of the Law School Transparency Project and Professor Brian Tamanaha who says the study is flawed because it doesn't compare lifetime earnings for those who go to top ranked schools versus lower ranked ones but instead "blends the winners and losers" to come up with the $1,000,000 figure.  Over at Above the Law, Elie Mystal has his own take on the study's conclusions.

Here's the abstract of the study which is available on SSRN:
Legal academics and journalists have marshaled statistics purporting to show that enrolling in law school is irrational. We investigate the economic value of a law degree and find the opposite: given current tuition levels, the median and even 25th percentile annual earnings premiums justify enrollment. For most law school graduates, the net present value of a law degree typically exceeds its cost by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We improve upon previous studies by tracking lifetime earnings of a large sample of law degree holders. Previous studies focused on starting salaries, generic professional degree holders, or the subset of law degree holders who practice law. We also include unemployment and disability risk rather than assume continuous full time employment.

After controlling for observable ability sorting, we find that a law degree is associated with a 60 percent median increase in monthly earnings and 50 percent increase in median hourly wages. The mean annual earnings premium of a law degree is approximately $53,300 in 2012 dollars. The law degree earnings premium is cyclical and recent years are within historic norms.

We estimate the mean pre-tax lifetime value of a law degree as approximately $1,000,000.

A powerpoint presentation version of this article is available at:

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