One Reason Why People Still Go to Law School

Today’s NYT had a very interesting article asking Is Law School a Losing Game?   The article left out one important fact, though, that might help explain why people still go to law school.  Here it is:

Unlike the private sector as a whole, legal services  has actually added jobs over the past 10 years.

While other industries have been sinking beneath the waves, the demand for lawyers has been rising, spurred on by an increase in regulation and just the sheer complexity of the modern American economy.  By comparison, many other industries have been hit by a combination of outsourcing and technology (so has law, but to a lesser extent). As a result, students have been enticed into law school because other options looked worse.

What about pay for lawyers? That’s a difficult question to answer.  The BLS publishes several data series on legal wages, but each of them has different  pros and cons. In general, the picture is that the median pay of lawyers has been basically keeping up with inflation in recent years, doing a bit better than some managerial and professional occupations, and a bit worse than others.  There is no sign, though, of lawyer pay falling off the cliff.


  1. Regulations and increased propensity towards litigation (in part caused by lack of regulation and more dispute resolution that is elsewhere administered institutionally left to private parties) certainly lead to relatively more “opportunity” for the legal profession.

    But I suspect in some part it is also because there is not (yet?) an effective vehicle for offshoring legal work. For one thing legal proceedings are highly jurisdiction specific and not based on universal principles like engineering or accounting. You are availing yourself of local lawyers not just because of the convenience of being proximate to the court or place of business (if your legal affair is not a lawsuit), but also because of relevant local jurisdiction experience. Then there is the fiduciary/privacy angle. OTOH financial back office work is also offshored. And finally legal backgrounds are probably heavily represented among the entities designing trade policy. How many people who hold allegiances to the engineering profession have participated in the latter?

  2. Then Law is a licensed profession. But paralegal work is probably a different matter. Is that included in the numbers?

  3. The health of the US economy is inversely proportional to the fees earned by lawyers.

    I think all of the readers here would agree with this.

    Whenever I hear of a lawyer whining that he/she only makes $90,000 a year, they fail to realize that had they not gone to law school, those same people would make only $20K a year.

    • While I think I understand the sentiment, I don’t think this is correct. Some share of lawyers surely make their living from dispute and fighting over the scraps. But then dispute and fighting over the spoils happens during good times too.

      Many lawyers and paralegals OTOH are engaged in activities that scale with aggregate business volume, like drafting and reviewing contracts, advising on legal aspects of business transactions or strategies, designing corporate processes for this and that (butt cover to protect against legal exposure), preparing and filing documents, executing corporate compliance, etc. Even in lawsuits the largest amount of work is of this rather mundane nature.

      The less business activity, and perhaps more importantly the thinner the wallets, the less paying business for (business) lawyers and their paralegal staff. It’s like with all other business services. The less money, the less for the accountants to count etc.

  4. MarcTheEngineer says:

    Law school tuition has been increasing at a rate far greater than inflation (all tuition has, but law school much moreso)


  1. […] Mandel points out one reason people are still going to law school – the legal sector was one of the relatively few that added jobs over the last 10 […]

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Toby Elwin and dave broadwin. dave broadwin said: so why do people go to law school here is a statistical answer go figure […]

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