If you're trying to decide if law school is the right choice for you, thoroughly analyze all the pros and cons of your decision. Law school is a big commitment in both time and money. You'll spend three years in law school and then you'll likely need to work your way up from a low-paying entry-level job. Decide early on if the advantages of becoming a lawyer are worth the costs.
Law School Debt
The cost to attend Vanderbilt Law School, tuition only, is $47,746 and the University of Texas School of Law costs $33,162. Don't put your money into attending a school that's unaccredited, says Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown law professor. If a law school's bar passage rate is under 60 percent or if few graduates have jobs nine months out of school, you shouldn't take on any debt to attend that school either. According to Brooks, you should look into whether the yearly salary of the job you'll likely get is higher than the total debt you'll accumulate from law school. If it isn't, you'll need to make sure your school offers a good loan-forgiveness program.
Bar Exam Debt
Another large cost of becoming a lawyer is preparing for and taking your state's bar exam. The cost is only a disadvantage if you don't pass or if you have trouble finding a job, so you can pay back your bar exam prep loan. The bar exam itself isn't overly expensive. In 2013, California's bar exam cost $614 to take, plus $139 for a laptop fee. In Illinois in 2013, the bar exam costs $400 to take, or $850 if the applicant didn't already file and pay a fee to register to practice law in the state. The bar exam in any state is very hard, so you'll have to pay for an extensive two- to three-month bar exam prep course. The BARBRI prep course, the most expensive, costs around $4,000 to take, with the exact fee varying depending on the state. An app called BarMax, one of the newer bar prep courses, costs $999.
The costs of becoming a lawyer don't stop when you finish law school and pass your state's bar exam. You'll also be responsible for paying yearly fees to your state for being a lawyer. In Texas, as of 2013, attorneys have to pay a yearly occupation tax of $200, a legal services fee of $65, and state bar dues of $68 for attorneys who've practiced less than three years. These fees are only a disadvantage if you have trouble finding a job and can't make the payments.
Whether the costs of becoming a lawyer are advantageous depend partially on the type of job you get when you graduate. As of 2013, getting an attorney job was difficult because more attorneys were graduating than there were jobs available. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010 the median pay for an attorney was $112,760, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $54,130 a year. An attorney's salary depends on the size of the firm he works for and the type of law he practices. A bigger salary has the advantage of helping you pay off debts faster, but it also has hidden costs. You'll have to work far more than 40 hours a week and you'll frequently need to work weekends.
Another concrete advantage to attending law school is that, even if you don't want to be a lawyer, a law degree can open the door for you to get an array of other interesting jobs that you wouldn't qualify for otherwise. These include congressional politicians, policy advocates and ambassadors. Senators and members of the House of Representatives make $174,000 a year. Ambassadors, who are classified as senior foreign service representatives, are paid from $119,554 a year to $179,700 a year as of 2010.
- Foreign Policy: Should You Go to Law School?
- The State Bar of California: Fees
- Illinois Board of Law Admissions: Information For Bar Exam Applicants
- BARBRI: California Bar Review Course Pricing
- Tech Crunch: The $1K iPhone App Took Just 3 Weeks To Scare The Crap Out Of BarBri
- Texas Bar: 2013-2014 Licensing Fees Schedule
- Vanderbilt Law School: Cost of Attendance
- UT School of Law: Estimated Budget
- Huff Post: Why You Should Not Go to Law School
- Above the Law: The Decision: Should I Go To Law School At All? Plus George Washington v. William & Mary
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Lawyers -- Pay
- House Press Gallery: Salaries
- United States Department of State: 2010 Foreign Service Salary Table
- Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images