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Is law school worth the price?

A flag flying from Wilf Hall at the New York University School of Law May 4, 2012 in New York.

It's not just high school seniors who check their email obsessively this time of year. College seniors and in particular law school aspirants, are eager for news of their futures, too.

For the bright young students who get in, the thrill comes with the cold reality of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt.

Trevor Morrison has a thrill of his own this spring. The Columbia law school professor will become the dean of NYU's law school this June.

Despite the great number of lawyers already practicing, and the threat of stagnating wages, Morrison believes top-tier graduates have an advantage over other students, even taking NYU's $51,500 annual tuition into account. Like Morrison's previous employer, the school is among the top 10 law schools, according to U.S. News rankings

"The decision whether to go to law school at all, and the decision to pursue an education at a place like NYU, if one is afforded that opportunity, are just not the same decisions," he says. 

Even the best legal education doesn't guarantee future employment. Morrison says a good law school will do its best to help graduates' career prospects.

"The goal is not simply to find jobs for our graduates," he says, "but to help them pursue the employment they most want to pursue."

Some young lawyers who aspire to become judges or public advocates may have a much harder time paying off loans for law school. That can push talented, but not already well-off students, toward elite private firms. 

While Morrison says you can serve the public good in the private sector, NYU and some other top law schools do lend students a hand after graduation. 

"All NYU graduates working in public interest related jobs with income of $80,000 per year or less can qualify for 100 percent loan repayment assistance through the law school."

Despite the short- and long-term challenges in legal profession, Morrison is decidedly optimistic. 

"The value proposition of a legal education, of a top-level legal education, is clear. And has never been clearer."


Would you recommend your career path to a younger person? Let us know in the comments. 

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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