Rich Lawyers, Not-So-Rich Lawyers

If you complete law school in this day and age, your first job is likely to pay around $45,000 — or around $140,000. That’s the lesson of a remarkable chart that was flagged last week at the blog Empirical Legal Studies by William Henderson, of Indiana University’s law school.
The chart, which shows the annual salaries of more than 22,000 people who earned law degrees in 2006, was originally published this summer by NALP, formerly known as the National Association for Law Placement.
The salary distribution is a two-humped camel. A large cluster of people — many of them presumably prosecutors, public defenders, and other public-interest lawyers — earn salaries of $40,000 to $50,000. But in a second cluster, the salaries reach $135,000 to $145,000 — the first-year associates working 80-hour weeks at corporate-oriented firms.
Henderson suggests that the salaries in the lower cluster have stagnated during the past 20 years, while the salaries at law firms have been moving toward the stratosphere. It’s tough to pay off law-school debts on the lower salaries, he notes. He wonders if some less-prestigious law schools ought to go out of business: “Because different law schools supply graduates into different modes (roughly tracking U.S. News rank), it is indisputable that lower-ranked schools cannot continue to heap ever higher debt onto their students.” (In a follow-up post, Henderson links to a paper in which Richard Allan Matasar, dean of New York Law School, argues that many law schools’ days are indeed numbered.)
Gregory Bowman, of Mississippi College School of Law, agrees that law schools’ incentives are out of whack with both students’ needs and the public good. But reform will be difficult, he writes, “in a market in which so many of the actors are well-entrenched (read: tenured).”
At CALI’s Pre-Law Blog, Austin Groothius, a student at Chicago-Kent Law School, argues that students should weigh costs carefully when they choose a law school: “It’s extremely likely that you’re going to end up in that first hump if you don’t go to one of the law schools with brand-name recognition.”
Back in January, The Chronicle took note of a report on the financial barriers that discourage law-school graduates from taking public-interest jobs. And in 1996, Robert L. Potts argued in our pages for a “national moratorium on the creation of new law schools.”

Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education
Footnoted: from academic blogs (September 12, 2007)