Lawyers are ranked fourth as the Best Social Service Job in the 2020 U.S. News and World report best job rankings. But, becoming a lawyer is no walk in the park. This job requires years of education that can come at a high cost. Understanding the lawyer job outlook should be a top priority for future law students.
The lawyer job market can fluctuate based on the need (demand) for lawyers and how many lawyers are out there working (supply).
Lawyer job outlook
The good news is the demand for lawyers is growing, even if it’s not rapid. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has projected 9% growth from 2020 to 2030.
“Law and Order” lawyers standing up for victims and the accused in court proceedings is just one of many fields within the profession. In general, a lawyer’s job is to go to bat for a business, individual, or government on any legal issues, disputes, or lawsuits.
Law firms are the largest employers for attorneys, with government agencies coming in second. This could change over time. The BLS has noted a shift in the industry as many large companies are trying to cut costs by hiring in-house legal services counsel instead of a law firm. This means more jobs are opening up for lawyers in new settings.
But the need to slash expenses isn’t all beneficial in the legal work sphere. The BLS predicts that price competition will have law firms changing their staffing needs. Tasks like reviewing legal documents could be given to paralegals and legal assistants or outsourced for a lower cost overseas. This is slightly concerning for the lawyer job market in general.
The upside is that the current law graduate data from the American Bar Association (ABA) says most graduates get some kind of work experience. Only 7.3% of the 2018 graduating class is unemployed or seeking employment. This is down from 2017 when 7.9% of graduates were unemployed.
Employment outlook: Lawyer wages are a concern
While job placement as a lawyer is promising, the type of legal jobs you get determines your pay scale. The BLS reported a median salary of $126,930 in May 2020. The truth is, you might not be able to get the six-figure salary you were hoping for with a legal profession.
The average salary for entry-level lawyers is $59,882, according to PayScale. If you plan on being a public defender, the median pay is $61,345. On the higher end of the pay scale, a managing attorney’s average annual salary is $104,510. Your field of practice (e.g. tax attorneys, family law, criminal law, civil cases, real estate, etc.) plays a huge roll in how much you can make as a lawyer.
You’ll also want to consider location when reviewing lawyer salary. The state you live in can have a big impact on your earning potential as a lawyer. According to BLS data, the states with the highest salaries are the District of Columbia, California, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. You can do your own research on your state before enrolling in law school.
The reason you should be concerned about your compensation doesn’t only correlate to the lifestyle you want to lead. The cost of law school is exceedingly high and that means student loans through the federal government or via private student loans.
Does going to law school with the lawyer job market make sense?
If you go to school full-time, it should take about seven years plus passing the bar exam to be able to practice law. You need a bachelor’s degree and then three years of law school. In law schools accredited by the ABA, you’ll complete a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. Going to a school accredited by the ABA is recommended for future job openings.
The cost of getting an undergraduate degree and a J.D. is high. Most lawyers we help at Student Loan Planner® have well over six figures of student loan debt. Paying off the amount of student loan debt that lawyers take on should be a top consideration when looking at potential occupations.
You have options for how to pay for law school, so you can avoid taking on too much debt. Look into scholarships, grants or working part-time. This can slice off some of the debt, but not all of it. So you’ll want to look into student loan forgiveness for lawyers to see if you can qualify.
It’s totally possible to pay off student loan debt after law school graduation, but you may need help knowing exactly what path would be best. This is why we offer a predebt consultation. You can learn about all of the common mistakes made with student loan debt and how to take advantage of student loan forgiveness programs.
With a predebt consultation, you can sign up for law school while feeling confident not only in your knowledge of the lawyer job outlook but also your student loan debt plan. Ideally, a weight is lifted off your shoulders so you can focus more on graduating and less on how you’re going to pay back your student loan debt.