I talk with my students about the Value of a Law Degree

October 29th, 2013

Today in property, we covered In Re Marriage of Graham . This case presents the question of whether the future earning potential of an MBA is marital property (the wife had worked and supported the husband while he was in business school). The Colorado Supreme Court said it as not marital property. But then I teed up the question of the value of a law degree. Which led me to a lengthy discussion of  The Economic Value of a Law Degree by Michael Simkovic and Frank McIntyre. I met both co-authors at the Empirical Legal Studies this weekend, and enjoyed their talk.

I shared many of their findings with my students. After boiling through some basic limitations of the study (it only looks at JD v. Bachelors, it does not consider the recent economic downturn, and a few others), I told the students that for nearly all of them (even at the 25th percentile), the JD is a worthwhile investment, even assuming they accumulate debt. I think they were actually somewhat relieved afterward. I feel it is incumbent on me to be frank with students, and make sure they understand what is going on in the economy around them.

You can watch the discussion in the class here, starting at 40:45:

I also paste a few of the key graphs from the Simkovic/McIntyre article here to highlight the numbers

This chart depicts the value of a law degree over the course of a persons’ career.


This chart breaks down the lifetime earnings from a law degree by decade across percentiles (ranging from people the bottom to the top of law degree holders):


Here are the numbers broken down by gender, from their powerpoint talk: