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Thinking About Law School? Be Wary Of The Stats

my name is Ben Trachtenberg I'm an

associate professor of law at the

University of Missouri someone who's a

college senior who's thinking about

going to law school

sees a statistic that says 90% of our

graduates are employed and the average

salary is one hundred and thirty

thousand dollars that's the kind of

thing that if crew makes law schools

sound like a really good financial

investment and if not true is a problem

average salary statistics are generally

anything but average lawyers have what

are known as a bimodal distribution of

salary data you have a lot of people

making a lot of money

and a lot of people making a lot less

and not much in between for example in

New York and in Los Angeles and in

Chicago and other big cities you have a

lot of first-year law firm associates

getting paid 160 thousand dollars a year

it's a lot of money and then you have a

lot of lawyers making less than $50,000

a year there's very few new lawyers

making a hundred thousand dollars

because there just aren't that many

firms that pay that number and so what

happens is if a huge number of your

graduates are over here a couple people

over here can skew your average make it

look like the average is over here not

only is there a very small number of

people who respond to these surveys with

their salary a lot of people respond

saying whether they're working or not

where they're working but a lot of

people's response to how much money are

you making is mind your own business

imagine you have two people who graduate

from law school one gets a job at a

fancy law firm in New York City and is

getting paid $160,000 a year the other

he's working at Starbucks which of those

two students do you think is more likely

to respond to the career services office

salary survey and imagine that neither

of them respond to the survey because

the Starbucks guy's a little embarrassed

and the fancy lawyers too busy well the

law schools are allowed and indeed

encouraged to look online and to find

out what their graduates are up to which

is only sensible that they would try to

do this but the thing is salaries of

those law firms are public information

so the law school career services office

will diligently type that publicly known

number into the database whereas

Starbucks guy is invisible and even if

they know he's working at Starbucks they

don't know his salary so you have a huge

upward skew I think you should ask

yourself what

kind of job do I need to get to pay back

the debt I'm planning to incur and then

you can say and is that the kind of

thing that most graduates of this school

are able to do students who are

considering going to law school should

think about what it's really going to

cost