Buyers' Remorse? An Empirical Assessment of the Desirability of a Legal Career
The literature attacking the value of legal education relies as a rule on the idea that individuals attend non-elite law schools because of optimism bias -- thinking they will get the lucrative corporate jobs deemed necessary to pay off educational debt. They presumably would then get buyers' remorse when their optimism proves unjustified. Drawing on the first two waves of the only longitudinal data on lawyer careers, the After the J.D. Study, the authors examine whether those who began their careers in the year 2000 -- with substantial debt even if not as high as today's graduates -- showed evidence of buyers' remorse about their decision to get a law degree. The evidence indicates that law graduates beyond the most elite were able to pay down their debt at the same rate or better than most elite law graduates. In addition, after seven years of practice the great majority of these lawyers were still satisfied with their decision to become lawyers. In fact, there is no statistically significant difference in reported satisfaction with the decision to become a lawyer when we compare graduates from the higher and lower ranked law schools. And while there is some suggestion that lawyers who reported still owing more than $100,000 after seven years of practice were either ambivalent or dissatisfied with their decision to invest in a legal career, multivariate models show that percent of debt remaining seven-eight years into one's career has no significant relationship with career satisfaction. Thus, in contrast to the dominant story, most respondents irrespective of debt are extremely or moderately satisfied with their decision to become a lawyer. There is no indication in our data that these law graduates feel they made a mistake by choosing to go to law school. The data also show that those most likely to favor eliminating the third year of law school were elite law graduates and attorneys in large corporate law firms -- again a contrast to the dominant story.