According to a report released Tuesday that focuses on the long-term outcomes of law degrees and includes a survey of college graduates, more than half of the individuals with JDs surveyed indicated that if they had it to do over, they’d still go to law school. However less than half of that group felt that their law degrees were worth the cost, particularly recent graduates.
The report was done by the AccessLex Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on improving access to legal education. It commissioned Gallup for the survey.
For respondents who graduated from law school during the Great Recession—which the report describes as being from 2009 and 2017—only 44 percent indicated that they had a “good job” waiting for them when they graduated. Of the post-recession graduates, 26 percent said that it took them more than one year to find a good job. Comparatively, only 10 percent pre-recession law graduates said that it took them more than a year to find a good job.
The survey questioned 10,715 adults with bachelor’s degrees or higher, who graduated from college between 1941 and 2017. Out of all respondents, 813 had JDs, and 63 percent practiced law. Also, 182 of the JDs surveyed had additional advanced degrees.
Titled “Examining Value, Measuring Engagement: A National Study of the Long-Term Outcomes of a Law Degree,” the report notes that for people who graduated from law school between 2010 and 2017, 60 percent borrowed more than $100,000 to pursue their law degree. Among those who graduated between 1990 and 1999, only 26 percent borrowed more than $100,000 for law school. And for those who graduated from law school between 1980 and 1989, 4 percent borrowed more than $100,000 for law school.
Among the JD respondents who borrowed more than $100,000 for law school, 42 percent “strongly agreed” that if they had it to do over, they would again go to law school. Twenty-three percent of the JDs who borrowed more than $100,000 indicated that their law degrees were worth the cost.
Regarding respondents’ perceptions of a law degree’s value, 47 percent of all the survey respondents—those with and without JDs—saw having a JD as “very valuable,” and 41 percent saw the degree as “valuable.” The only other advanced degree rated as having a higher value was a doctor of medicine, which 80 percent of all respondents saw as being very valuable.
“Higher costs and difficulty finding good jobs have raised the question about the true value of a law degree. Conventional estimates of the value of a law degree use traditional economic metrics, such as employment rates and income amounts. While these are important factors in evaluating the return on investment for graduates, they do not fully capture the value of an education—and specifically, a legal education, which more appropriately includes an examination of individual well-being, employee engagement and perceptions of degree utility,” the report states.
When asked if they would suggest law school for someone else, 59 percent of all JD holders surveyed said that they would. Among those who graduated from law school during the Great Recession, 53 percent indicated that they would suggest law school for someone else.
Also, work engagement among JD respondents was strong. Only 8 percent reported that they were “actively disengaged” with their work. Comparatively, among respondents with advanced degrees that weren’t in law, 9 percent reported that they were actively disengaged with work. And among respondents whose education was limited to a bachelor’s degree, 13 percent reported that they were actively disengaged with their work.
The report also looked at respondents’ well-being, breaking out categories for purpose, social, financial, community and physical well-being. Thirteen percent of the JD respondents indicated that they were thriving in all five elements. Among JDs who graduated after 2009, 5 percent reported that they were thriving in five areas.
“With 74 percent of post-recession law graduates practicing law, this finding may be shaped in part by the job market and student loan repayment pressures recent graduates face as new attorneys. Also, more nonpracticing than practicing JD holders have thriving purpose well-being (59 percent vs. 51 percent, respectively), which indicates that more law graduates like what they do every day when they are outside of the legal profession,” the report states.
For the financial well-being category, 48 percent of the JD respondents reported that they were thriving, 35 percent reported that they were struggling and 17 percent reported that they were suffering. Fifty-five percent of the JDs who didn’t practice law reported that they had a thriving financial well-being, compared to 43 percent of the respondents who were practicing lawyers.