(CN) – A majority of graduates who got their law degrees during or after the Great Recession say their degrees were not worth the cost, according to a new study.
The study released Tuesday by AccessLex and Gallup showed high student loan debt and increasing uncertainty about the legal profession have led more grads to say their law degree was not worth the cost.
Only 48 percent of all law school graduates interviewed for the report said they “strongly agree” that their degree was worth the cost.
Student loan debt had a strong correlation to how people valued their law degrees.
College tuition and fees have risen more than 60 percent since 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. From 2006 through 2016, the Consumer Price Index for college tuition and fees increased 63 percent, compared with an increase of 21 percent for consumer items. Meanwhile during the recession, housing at school increased 51 percent.
Before 1980, only two percent of law school grads borrowed more than $100,000 to get their degrees. From 1990 to 1999 that figure spiked to 26 percent of people, and in the last eight years 60 percent of law school grads borrowed over $100,000 to get their degrees, according to the report.
Among grads with over $100,000 in debt, only 23 percent strongly agree that their degree was worth the cost, according to the report.
Still, the report showed that a law degree is one of the highly valued advanced degrees. Although a doctor of medicine is seen as the most valuable advanced degree, the study showed that 90 percent of adults with bachelor degrees or higher said a JD degree was either “valuable” or “very valuable.”
Among people who graduated law school between 2009 and 2017, 53 percent said they would recommend others to seek a law degree, the study said. The uncertain job market was the main reason why 45 percent of graduates would not recommend a law education. The cost of a law degree was the second-highest reason why 28 percent of holders of law degrees would not recommend getting a law education.
Even students who had no debt after law school said they questioned their decision to get a degree. Only 68 percent of students who did not go into any debt to earn their degree said it was worth the cost, according to the report.
How students fared in the classroom plays a role in how they value their law education. Sixty-six percent of students who were in the top 10 percent of their class said they “strongly agree” their degree was worth it, while 46 percent of people who were in the top 30 percent of their class feel the same.
Also, students’ reasons for going to law school in the first place affects how they value their law degrees. Of students who saw a law degree as the path to financial success, 39 percent said the degree actually helped them achieve their financial goals, according to the report. However, more than half of the respondents who went to law school for more altruistic reasons, such as being their own boss, said the degree was worth it.
Class position also influenced the amount of time it took to find a job after graduation. The study showed that 71 percent of people who were in the top 10 percent of their class had a job waiting for them after graduation. Only 30 percent of the people who were in the top 33 percent of their class had a job waiting.
The recession has taken its toll on the law profession. Only 44 percent of people who graduated law school after the recession had a job waiting. Twenty-six percent waited over a year to land a job, the AccessLex study said.
The money spent on a law degree doesn’t necessarily correlate to higher levels of financial well-being, according to the study, which said law school graduates are less likely than people with bachelor’s degrees to have “thriving financial well-being” as high student-loan debt likely affects post-graduation financial status.
The American Bar Association is well aware of the financial challenges facing the legal profession and how those challenges can result in low attorney well-being. According to an August 2017 report from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, “The legal profession is already struggling. Our profession confronts a dwindling market share as the public turns to more accessible, affordable alternative legal service providers. We are at a crossroads.”
“Lawyers, judges and law students are faced with an increasingly competitive and stressful profession,” David Brink, past president of the American Bar Association, said in a statement. “Studies show that substance use, addiction and mental disorders, including depression and thoughts of suicide – often unrecognized – are at shockingly high rates.”
A study from the University of Pennsylvania said the 2008 financial collapse “catalyzed sweeping changes in the legal profession that resulted in dwindling work for law firms and client demands for deep price discounts.
“But most law firms are proceeding as if it were business as usual despite significant evidence that their lawyers – plagued by mental health problems and job dissatisfaction – are not ready for the challenges of the future.”
Results from Tuesday’s report are based on interviews by Gallup with 10,715 U.S. adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher who received their degree from a U.S. institution between 1941 and 2017. Gallup interviewed 723 graduates who have a bachelor’s degree only, 1,947 who completed some graduate work but did not earn a degree, and 8,045 who have an advanced degree.
Of the advanced degree holders, 631 hold only juris doctorates, while 182 of the respondents hold a J.D. and another advanced degree.
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