To hear many students tell it, law school is a guaranteed ticket to a well-paying career. So a recent milestone must have sounded like good news.
The United States last week became the world's first nation of 200 accredited law schools, as the American Bar Association gave provisional approval to two North Carolina institutions.
In other countries, it's much harder to become a lawyer. In the United States, the doors are open and getting wider. The 150,000 students enrolled in law schools last year were an all-time high. So adding more slots means even more avenues of opportunity, right?
On closer inspection, however, the economics of the "more is better" argument for legal education don't necessarily hold up.
It's the numbers at the top that get all the attention: At the largest law firms, median starting salaries were $145,000 last fall, according to NALP, an organization that tracks law placement.
But many students don't realize at first that the high-paying law firms recruit almost exclusively at institutions ranked in the top 15 or so. Overall, the median salary for new lawyers is $62,000. For public interest law jobs, new lawyers can expect about $40,000.
Meanwhile, the average amount students borrow to attend a private law school surged 25 percent between 2002 and 2007 to $87,906, ABA figures show. For public law schools, borrowing averages $57,170....