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As tuition rises, value of law degrees is questioned

A report on the high cost of law school, which many students borrow to cover, suggests schools should provide information on how their graduates fare in the work world.

Bob Moon: There was a time when law school all but guaranteed a ticket to a good life. There's a reason Mom always wanted you to be a doctor or lawyer.

But as plenty of recent grads will tell you, today that golden ticket might just buy you a boatload of debt and a temp job. So how to deal with this oversupply of lawyers? From the Marketplace Education Desk at WYPR, Amy Scott reports.


Amy Scott:How about giving would-be law students a more realistic view of their future? Todd Kelly graduated from the Massachusetts School of Law in 2009.

Todd Kelly: Of my class of about 50, there’s a half a dozen, let’s say, working in the legal field, that I know personally, and only a couple that are actually working as attorneys.

When Kelly couldn’t find a job, he started his own firm, and folded it when he couldn’t make enough money. He’s now working as a software sales engineer.

Kelly: I think what I didn’t fully appreciate was how difficult it would be to get that first job.

Julie Margetta Morgan wants to change that. She’s a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. In a new report, she says the federal government should publish data on what workers can expect starting out in any field. Right now, if you looked on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, you’d see that the average lawyer makes more than $125,000 a year. But Morgan says most new lawyers can expect to make half that, and they owe, on average, upwards of $90,000 in student loans.

Julie Margetta Morgan: The problem is, that there just aren’t jobs out there to support that kind of debt for students at this point.

The American Bar Association, which accredits many law schools, recently changed its standards. It’ll require members to report more detailed job placement data for their graduates. But law grad Todd Kelly says they’ll be up against a little denial.

Kelly: I believed I would be an exception to the rule.

Don’t we all.

I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.
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