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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Avoiding the Debt Trap, Starting Salaries for Law Grads Not What You’ve Been Led to Believe

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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While some Texas firms are raising starting salaries to match the Coasts, the reality of starting out is much less lucrative than many law students have been led to believe. For the jobless JDs in a tough legal market, finding a job is hard enough. As noted in National Law Journal article About That Huge Salary: It’s a Long Shot, the picture isn’t as rosy in all aspects of the legal market.

…the eye-popping salaries are the reality for a small fraction of law school graduates, and all those stories of big money may be creating unrealistic hopes for the vast majority of law school students. Contributing to the situation is the effort by law schools to portray their employment numbers as robustly as possible to boost their ranking scores. The upshot means dashed expectations for lots of graduates, many of whom are saddled with high debt as they struggle to start their careers. “They do not have an accurate perception of the job market,” said Emily Spieler, dean of Northeastern University School of Law. “They have very restricted views.”

The Houston Chronicle’s Mary Flood takes a local view on the Legal Trade Blog in Lawyers who make the smaller bucks and in the Chronicle article Salary reality: Many lawyers don’t earn big bucks.

So what’s a JD candidate to do? Here’s one option -

Evening Law School, One Way to Avoid the Debt Trap

Money was the main factor in going the evening route. I spent a year trying to save up some money to do the traditional full-time route and had to concede that what I managed to save up wouldn’t even make a dent. In-state tuition at public schools has skyrocketed in the last decade. It’s cheaper than a private school, but it’s no longer the bargain it once was.

Evening Law Schools have had a long and varied history in the pantheon of legal education. Some notable institutions such as Georgetown started out exclusively offering evening classes.
Prior to the current rigorous accreditation regime enforced by the ABA however, many law schools operated in a laissez-faire environment and night schools in particular developed a reputation for being more interested in collecting tuition than teaching the law. The reputation of evening law schools has improved with an emphasis being placed on the equivalence of the education. At Houston, for instance, evening students have the same professors, the same opportunities for extracurricular activities and academic honors and the same degree at the end. Working and going to law school at the same time can be tough, but it may be worth the sacrifice to avoid the debt trap.

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Category: advice to law students, Evening and Part-Time Law Students, law school, university of houston

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3 Responses

  1. [...] I’ve blogged about this issue before in Avoiding the Debt Trap, Starting Salaries for Law Grads Not What You’ve Been Led to Believe. I think the obvious question from most non-lawyers would be this – so you’re not making $160,000 a year in your first year out of school? and this is shocking to you? this is somehow unfair? Only in bizarro-world law-school-land does not making six figures your first year at a new job qualify as newsworthy. So why does this make the front page of the Wall Street Journal? [...]

  2. Kim says:

    You have no idea what you are talking about. The vast majority of law students do not expect 160K after graduation. In fact, the bottom 90% of the class would take a job making 30K with the hope of cracking six figures in a decade.

    You must remember that a decent salary for your average person is different from a decent salary for someone who is paying 1500K a month in student loans. Law schools tell you that an average grad makes 75K. What they don’t tell you is that most grads consider themselves very lucky to find a job in their field that pays 40K. The average is driven up by the small percentage who earn 160K as associates in big firms.

    You must understand that the big law firms that pay big bucks recruit students during the fall semester of the second year of law school. You work as a summer associate after your second year, and usually get an offer to come back full time after graduation. There is no other way to get into Biglaw. You cannot take a low-paying job to get experience and then move into a high-paying job. It doesn’t work that way in this field.

    If you start out in a low-paying job, there are really only two ways to ever make a middle class living. First, if you are lucky enough to land a job with the federal government, you will get decent raises and eventually make six figures. Second, you can start your own solo practice. As for the second option, most law students are not entrepeneurial, and they are not great at getting clients. Many are painfully shy. If we were entrepeneurial and extroverted, we probably wouldn’t have gone to law school now would we?

    Maybe you ought to stick to blogging about things that about which you have at least a little of information.

  3. lukegilman says:

    I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I am proof of my own pudding. Read more closely next time.

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