Free PDF: Proven brainstorming exercises to kickstart your personal statement and get you into your dream law school

Is Law School Worth It in 2024? The Ultimate Guide

Wondering if law school is worth it? 

You’re in the right place. Today, we’ll talk about the costs and benefits of attending law school and how to decide whether law school is the right choice for you

Click here to subscribe

What are the pros and cons of law school? 

If you’re asking yourself, “Is law school worth it?” you are doing some useful digging. Law school can benefit you immensely, even if you don’t pursue a legal career. 

But it also comes with some serious drawbacks. 

To help you decide whether law school is worth it, this article will cover the pros and cons of law school and what factors to consider in deciding whether it is the right choice for you

Here are the top benefits and drawbacks of law school: 


  • High earning potential 
  • Job security 
  • Increased job opportunities & responsibilities
  • Sense of meaning in work 
  • Broad professional network
  • Develop analytical and communication skills  


  • Expensive 
  • Stressful career 
  • Demanding hours 
  • Hierarchical profession 

But how expensive is law school? Let’s find out.

What’s the average cost of law school? 

Before you attend law school, it’s important to understand the actual cost of attending law school, so you can decide whether it’s the right decision for your financial future.

Here are some quick facts highlighting the cost of law school

  • The average total cost of law school is $220,335
  • The average cost for tuition alone is $146,484 or $48,828 per year 
  • On its current trend, the average cost of tuition increases by $1400 per year
  • Taking the bar exam can run up a tab of several thousand dollars 

Going to law school full-time requires a three year commitment, with tuition alone averaging out at $48,828. 

Living costs

This does not include living expenses like: 

  • Textbooks
  • School supplies
  • Rent
  • Food
  • Transportation
  • Health insurance 

Living expenses on average will add an additional $73,851 to your law school bill, but these will vary widely depending on what region a law school is in. 

And going to a top law school will cost you even more. The average annual cost to attend a Top 10 law school is $71,000. 

Top law schools

Just take a look at Columbia Law School’s charges for tuition and fees, and you’ll see that tuition alone is only part of the actual cost to attend:  

Bar exam

And when you finally graduate, you still have to take the bar exam, which with all the fees and bar prep course cost can rack up an additional thousands of dollars to your bill. There is even a loan specifically to help recent law grads fund their bar exam.

Cost by school 

But law schools also vary widely in terms of cost. 

The following chart shows the most recent data on the average “nominal tuition” or “sticker price” for U.S. law schools, and how it varies by private schools and public schools. Public schools on average tend to be cheaper than private schools by around $21,000 (which over three years adds up to over $63,000!).

Source: Law School Transparency 

Here are some additional facts: 

  • Most expensive tuition: Columbia at $75,572/year 
  • Most expensive law school (due to living expenses): Stanford at $46,233/year 
  • Least expensive tuition: University of District of Columbia at $12,438/year (in-state)
  • Least expensive law school (due to living expenses): Oklahoma City at $12,600/year

What’s the average debt of law school grads? 

Law school’s time demands make it difficult to simultaneously hold a job (assuming you go to a full-time program). Meaning, most law students rely on student loans to fund their education.

Average debt 

In fact, according to a recent survey by the American Bar Association, more than 95% of students take out loans to attend law school, with the average law school graduate owing approximately $165,000 in educational debt. 

On average, lawyers graduate with higher student loan debt balances than their incomes, leading to longer repayment times. 

Here are the law schools with the highest average indebtedness:  

School Average Loan Amount % of Students Borrowing
Southwestern Law School $188,16489%
University of Chicago$184,11961%
California Western School of Law$181,27386%
Santa Clara University $181,19869%
Howard University $174,12296%
New York University $172,12258%
Georgetown University $172,01263%
University of San Francisco$170,63377%
Western Michigan University – Cooley Law School $170,48589%
Harvard University $169,18771%
Columbia University $168,49362%

Source: Law School Transparency 

Funding Options 

While law school is clearly expensive, you do have opportunities to make it less expensive or fund it.

The majority of law school students don’t pay sticker price. According to the most recent data from Law School Transparency, nearly 78% of law school students had some kind of tuition discount, whether merit-based or need-based. 

Here are the main sources of tuition discounts you could receive, as well as other funding options: 

1. Merit-Based Aid 

Merit-based aid is the most common form of law school financial aid, and is awarded on the basis of an applicant’s strength. So a law school might offer if they see you as a top applicant and want to entice you to attend their law school. 

Most schools automatically consider you for merit aid when you apply. 

Schools vary widely in how much merit-based aid they offer. For instance, some schools, like the University of Florida, have a blanket rule against offering full ride scholarships. While other schools, like the University of Wisconsin, offer their top applicants a full-ride scholarship that includes an additional stipend to help cover books and living expenses. 

The below chart shows the law schools that offer the most amount of merit-based aid, based on the percentage of students who received enough money to cover at least half of their tuition. 

School % of students who receive enough aid to cover at least half of their tuition (2022-2023) Median grant amount (2022-2023)
University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign80%$35,000
Case Western University 80%$40,000
University of Southern California (Gould)72%$40,000
University of Dayton 72%$33,000
Gonzaga University 66%$24,378
Loyola University Chicago65%$31,000
DePaul University 65%$30,000
Washington & Lee University 64%$35,000
University of California, Irvine63%$25,000
William & Mary61%$25,193

Source: US News 

Typically, merit aid is given to those with high stats, as schools try to boost their rankings. Yet with the right application, one that stands out and speaks to exactly what law schools are looking for, you don’t need to have the highest stats to get significant merit scholarships. 

In fact, every cycle I help my clients earn huge amounts of money, even when they definitely don’t have the highest stats.  Click here to subscribe

2. Need-Based Aid 

In addition to merit aid, most law schools also offer some form of financial aid based on an applicant’s demonstrated financial need (aka, their ability to pay for law school). A few schools, like Harvard, Stanford, and Yale, don’t offer merit based aid, and exclusively award aid based on financial need. 

The confusing aspect of need-based aid is that schools typically offer it through a combination of grants (free money) and loans (money that you have to pay back). So pay close attention to how much you’re being offered for free and how much of your aid you’ll be expected to pay back. 

Most law schools will ask for financial information about your parents or family, but each school will differ in how they weigh this factor in calculating your final aid. It may depend on your age, your relationship, or other contextual factors. You can discuss the specifics of your situation with a financial aid officer at any given law school. 

But if you’re a recent college graduate, expect that schools will factor in your parents’ income, even if your parents will not provide any financial support. 

Unfortunately, compared to undergrad, law schools are much stingier when it comes to need-based aid.

3. Loans 

All U.S. citizens and green card holders are eligible for federal loans. Unfortunately, international students are not eligible and will have to rely on merit based aid or private loans. 

Federal Loans

The most common federal loans are the Federal Direct Stafford Loans and Federal Graduate PLUS Loans. 

Federal Direct Stafford loans are the first stop in your federal loan journey. These loans are funded by the U.S. Department of Education and allow you to take out up to $20,500 per year, with a lifetime loan maximum of $138,000. 

For many law students, the Federal Direct Stafford loan won’t provide enough to cover an entire tuition, let alone living expenses. That’s where the Federal Graduate PLUS loan comes in. This loan lets you borrow the remaining cost of your education (after merit awards and other financial aid has been used). The PLUS loan will require that you have good credit history, and not everyone will automatically qualify for it. 

Both of these federal loans are unsubsidized loans, which means that the government starts charging interest as soon as you receive the money (they don’t wait until you graduate!). And you’ll be required to start repaying the loan six months after you graduate. 

Private Loans

If you reach your maximum limit for federal loans or if you are not eligible for them, you can consider taking out private loans from a bank or credit union. But be wary, because interest rates are typically significantly higher than the rate for a federal loan and you may have to make payments towards your loan while you are still in school. 

Private loans will also require that you have a strong credit history, and may still require you to have a credit-worthy cosigner. 

4. School specific scholarships 

School specific scholarships are another potential avenue to reduce your law school cost. These are typically dedicated funding sources for applicants who meet certain criteria, such as a commitment to a specific area of law (typically public interest, but can be as niche as University of Chicago’s scholarship for animal law). 

Schools vary on how they consider applicants for these scholarships. Oftentimes applicants have to submit additional application materials or get invited to apply and go through a rigorous interview process. 

School specific scholarships can be competitive because they are often generous, and can include full tuition, and even housing, living stipends, and extra mentorship and networking opportunities. 

For example, I myself chose to attend the University of Pennsylvania Law School because I received the generous Toll Public Interest Scholarship

5. Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) 

Many law schools offer what are known as Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) for those who go into a career in public service or public interest law. While this is not an up-front aid award, it does allow you to minimise the amount of debt you will ultimately pay. 

LRAPs vary by school, with different requirements to participate and differing repayment amounts. In many cases, law students with have their law school pay for the loan payments through LRAP and then have their entire debt cancelled through the federal government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.  

6. External Scholarships & Fellowships 

There are also external scholarships and fellowships that may help you pay for law school, typically reserved for special categories of applicants (but not always). These scholarships are offered outside of the law school, via a third party organization. 

For instance, the Truman Scholarship provides up to $30,000 for future public service leaders, and a new Samvid Scholars program offers up to $50,000 for aspiring “leaders and changemakers.”   

But the ultimate question is: Is law school worth the cost? Let’s find out.

What’s the expected salary after law school? 

While law school is undoubtedly expensive, the good news is that lawyers have a high earning potential – and that might make law school worth it. 

The average salary for a lawyer in 2023, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was over $160,000. 

Yet the amount you earn will depend on a number of factors, including geography, industry, job function, credentials (such as school you graduated from, years in practice). 

Industry type

The below chart shows the different salary you can expect, depending on what kind of industry you go into. 

Industry Average Salary
Civil legal services (legal aid)$68,000
Public interest organizations (non-profits)$79,000
State government $103,390
Local government $124,010
Federal government $152,700
Legal services (law firm) $166,640
Management of companies and enterprises (in-house counsel for example)$227,050

Sources: Bureau of Labor StatisticsNational Association for Law Placement 

These stats show the significant pay disparity between the public and private sector. 

While working for the federal government can provide a significant salary if you’re in the public sector, that is still lower than most big law first year associates’ starting salaries. 

Needless to say, public interest pay is well below that of lawyers working in law firms. 

Size of law firm

If you choose to work for a law firm, your salary will greatly depend on the size of the firm.

The following chart shows the difference between median base salaries for first year associates by firm size (in $/year):

Firm Size – Number of Lawyers
50 or fewer51-100101-250251-500501-700701-1,0001,001

Source: NALP, 2023

“Biglaw” has no official definition, but usually refers to the nation’s largest law firms, smaller firms that pay at market rate or medium-sized firms with international reach. Most Biglaw firms are located in the major U.S. cities. 

Biglaw salaries are in lockstep, which means compensation is based on the number of years out of law school (bonuses may differ). 

The below chart shows the most recent pay scale for Biglaw associates, based on average annual bonus, and by class year (years since graduation):  

ClassSalaryAnnual BonusTotal Compensation
1st Year$215,000$20,000$235,000
2nd Year$225,000$30,000$255,000
3rd Year$250,000$57,500$307,500
4th Year$295,000$75,000$370,000
5th Year$345,000$90,000$435,000
6th Year$370,000$105,000$475,000
7th Year$400,000$115,000$515,000
8th Year$415,000$115,000$530,000

Source: Biglaw Investor

Big law is not the only place where big money is for lawyers though. While being an associate at a smaller size firm may be less lucrative, becoming a partner or starting your own practice can bring in large sums.  

Schools’ Salary-to-Debt Ratio: The School You Choose Matters: 

If you want to secure a hefty paycheck after law school, one that can support the high cost of law school, where you go to law school matters…a lot. 

Starting salaries for law school graduates correlate with the rank of the school they attended, according to U.S. News

At each of the top 15 schools in the 2023 Best Law Schools rankings, the median private sector salary was $190,000 – the highest median salary for all law schools, period (meaning no other school below the top 15 surpassed median salary). 

The law schools with the lowest private sector starting salaries were all at the very bottom of the rankings (fyi, starting salaries are not a factor in the law school rankings). 

What this shows is that, overall, the higher ranked a school is, the higher your salary tends to be. Meaning, where you go to law school matters (at least in terms of earning potential). 

Benefits of law school

But having the highest possible income is by no means everyone’s goal for going to law school. And law school can still be worth it, even if it doesn’t mean you’ll have the highest salary. 

Now I want to be clear, I believe money is a totally acceptable motivation for going to law school (everyone is in a different situation and no one can judge others’ motivations), but it is also typically not the sole or even foremost reason most lawyers go to law school. 

So let’s talk about some of the intangible benefits of going to law school, which cannot be quantified, but are nevertheless incredibly important to consider: 

High impact 

Lawyers are in a unique position to have a real impact through their work – whether it’s helping an individual navigate a difficult situation, guiding two companies through a financial deal, or holding a corporation accountable for wrongdoing. 

This was probably the most fulfilling part of my career as a civil rights and environmental litigator. I loved knowing that the cases I was working on would have concrete impact in the real world. 


Many lawyers join the profession because they see it as a way to help others, either on an individual level or a broader, more societal level. And in this way, they find a lot of meaning in their work. 

Danny Factor, a public interest attorney in Massachusetts, wrote in a message: 

“With law, whether it’s ‘worth it’ comes down to what you use it for. If you use it for good, such as to further what it says when you walk into the U.S. Supreme Court (‘Equal Justice Under Law’), it is worth it for the lawyer, the client, and for our world.” 

Interesting and stimulating career 

The fun thing about being a lawyer is that you are a problem solver. Which means there are always new problems to solve, new puzzles to figure out, new facts to wrestle with. 

On top of that, the tool you use (the law) is ever evolving, so you are always learning new things and always kept on your toes. This makes for a fulfilling and stimulating career. 

Your skills are relevant in various industries. A few career options include: 

  • Law firms
  • The judiciary 
  • Government
  • Nonprofits
  • Teaching
  • Business 

Transferable skill set

Through law school, you will be part of a regular culture of arguing, cold calls, mooting, giving speeches, written and oral advocacy challenges, which will teach you strong critical thinking and advocacy skills. These skills are highly coveted across industries, which makes having a legal degree a highly marketable asset, whether or not you practice law.  

In other words, law school might be worth it even if you don’t want to be a lawyer.  

At the same time, a career in law can involve demanding hours and a stressful work environment. According to the 2018 Legal Trends Report, showed that 75% of lawyers reported often or always working outside of regular business hours, and 39% said it negatively affected their personal life. Especially in Biglaw, attorneys can easily work 80 hours a week. 

That said, work hours depend on things like your location, practice area, employer, and more. While a career in law does come with drawbacks, just like any career, many of the positives make up for those. 

Over to you!

So, is law school worth it? 

It’s clear that law school is expensive and the legal field is demanding. 

Whether law school is the right choice for you will depend on your career goals, the school you choose, and the amount of debt you’re comfortable with. 

To maximize your chances of getting into the right law school AND increasing your chances of landing scholarships, take a look at how my law school coaching can help you

Frequently asked questions: 

How difficult is law school? 

Law school is hard. No matter what kind of student you were in college, it is a different ballgame in law school. 

First, there is a lot of pressure. Your entire grade typically is based on a single exam at the end of the semester, and you’re competing against other brilliant students on a tough grading curve. 

Second, you’re not just learning new material and terms, you’re learning a brand new way of thinking. Law school doesn’t just ask you to learn material; it asks you to be able to apply what you learned. This can be tough to get accustomed to. 

Finally, the workload is immense. You should expect for at least your first year of law school to have at least 3 hours of reading per night. 

How long is law school? 

Law school is typically three year full-time, with summers “off” from school (though you’ll usually have a legal job during the summers). Some students opt for part-time programs, which can take a little longer, usually four years. 

Will AI impact the legal job market? 

Short answer is yes, AI will impact the legal profession. How, and to what extent it will take away jobs from lawyers, remains to be seen.

While technological advances have always changed how attorneys work, the introduction of the most recent chatbots that rely on large language model-based systems (like GPT-3 and GPT-4 and Bard) marks something different. And that’s because this is the first time that such widely accessible technology can perform sophisticated writing and research tasks with a high level of proficiency–the very tasks that make lawyers so valuable.

However, according to the Brookings Institute, “AI is most effective when it is used to complement human skills.” And that “even with widespread adoption of AI, attorneys will still be vitally important.” 

But you can make yourself more marketable, by developing skills related to AI and the legal field, such as knowing how to choose the right AI tool, which queries will get you the most accurate results, and then how to evaluate the relevance, quality and accuracy of AI responses. In sum, AI will be a critical part of lawyering, but it won’t replace lawyers. 

Read more:

Can You Get Into Law School with a Low LSAT Score? 

How to Be Top of Your Class in Law School

Click here to subscribe


Hope you enjoy this blog post! Want to know how to use the power of your personal statement to get into your dream law school, even if you aren’t the “perfect” applicant?

Mara has helped countless law school applicants get into their dream law schools, even without a perfect GPA, the highest LSAT score, or most unique story. Mara used to be a litigator at one of the top law firms in the world and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School as a prestigious Toll Public Interest Scholar.

Get the three exercises that have helped countless law school applicants craft a wildly successful personal statement


How to kickstart your personal statement and get into your dream law school

When you sign up, you’ll also receive regular updates on law school admissions

Where can I send your PDF?

Privacy Policy: We hate spam and promise to keep your email address safe.

How to Stand Out & Get Admitted to the Law School of Your Dreams