Is a law degree really worth it?

I know that there are Penelope Trunk lovers and haters. To me, she is a writer that states her opinions, and sometimes in inflammatory ways that get people riled up.

The article she recently wrote for CNN (link above) though really caught me: in my undergrad, my business law professor told me that I should pursue a career in law, because I loved learning about it and seeing how it applied. I have thought about my career and the education I would like (I’m currently pursuing an MBA, hoping to double with an MPP, and in the future I will likely get a doctorate level degree). So why not law school?

For me, I love learning the history and the application of law, both in personal life and in business. I tend to think, however, that a few things are missing when youth look at potential career futures. I agree with most of Penelope’s points, but want to focus on a few things:

#1 – The value of the degree is not the same as the cost of the degree. Like any job or career choice, sometimes we have to “make ends meet” or “pay our dues” in order to progress in the direction we want to go. As I mentioned, I may decide to go for a doctorate in my future… the value of gaining that higher degree, for me, is much more than other people. Will it have a positive return on investment? Well, that depends on what you consider investment (just time and money?) and what you consider a return on that investment (the pleasure of learning or a better job?).

#2 – Law education, like any business, is about turning a profit. This profit is not strictly based upon the demand for lawyers. Considering the over-supply of law school graduates, one would assume that the demand has decreased, decreasing the price of the law degree. However, the reputation of having a JD, regardless of whether you get a job in that field, increases the price of the degree. As long as people are willing to pay inflated prices for a law degree, educational institutions will continue to sell it at a premium.

#3 – We make the conscious choice to pursue graduate education. We need to educate our children at a much earlier age about the cost versus value. How much more successful would I have been graduating from one college versus another? At what cost? What value would it bring to me and my future? In the graduate degree business the reputation, alumni networks, and connections with corporations is important… So when we choose the institution for graduate school, we need to consider whether the value we would gain from the institution’s reputation is worth the higher price.

Whether one decides to choose to apply the additional education or not is dependent upon each person. Some people think that not getting the financial reward for additional education is a slap to the face. Others spend every day wanting to learn something new, and are rewarded by their pleasure in learning. Some of the latter people get lucky and find someone willing to pay them millions to keep learning.

In the end, I disagree with Penelope’s premise that law school isn’t worth it. If I decided to go, I would do it because I wanted to learn more. And as much as people can try to tell you that some things aren’t worth it, they’re not you. So don’t let them tell you how you value something.

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