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Answer & Cost Analysis: Should I Become a Lawyer or Work?


Do you want to become a lawyer, but aren’t sure if it’s worth it to get a degree? Is remaining in the workforce and advancing your career better? This analysis may surprise you.

Generally, the cost of obtaining a law school degree has higher returns on your investment vs. remaining in the workforce. If you are able to make an average starting salary of $81,750 or more post-degree, it would make financial sense to go to law school. If you plan to work public sector or government jobs, it may not make financial sense to become a lawyer.

The determination to become a lawyer includes more than just the financial analysis, however. Read on to learn how to make your own calculations and see if becoming a lawyer is right for you.

Should I Become a Lawyer or Work?

There are many reasons to consider when analyzing whether or not you should pursue a law degree. Do you have the time and determination it takes to obtain a degree? Do you have a sound grasp of the type of work you’d be doing, and is it of interest to you? Is there a demand for your particular area of focus right now or in the future?

These deep questions aside, another consideration is the overall cost of becoming a lawyer. There’s obviously tuition, but also the opportunity cost of several years out of the workforce. That can add up, and it’s important to weigh if the cost justifies the degree over time.

Thankfully, we’ve put together a basic analysis to help you consider if it may make financial sense for you to become a lawyer in your area of interest. We’ll get to that below, but first we need to lay down some basic assumptions for these calculations. Note: it’s best to leverage as much practical data as you can when making this decision, so if you have numbers that are more relevant to you, perform the same analysis by swapping out our data for your personal data instead.


Time it takes to get a Juris Doctor (JD) Degree: 3 years (though accelerated programs exist)

Salary out of College: $60,000 (slightly higher than the average)

Cost of Law School tuition: $135,000 (not including cost of living)

Average Yearly Raise: 3% (though raises may be lower initially – 2% – they may pick up over time 4% or higher on average)

Salary Post-law-degree: Varies depending on sector (we’ll use average estimates, outlining how some jobs can pay higher or lower depending on the sector or firm)

Time Horizon: 25 years (since both men and women would be able to reach their peak earning potential within this timeline; ages 35-44 for women, and 45 to 54 for men)

Taking these considerations into account, we’ll multiply the average yearly raise across a career in the workforce (with a degree out of college) against a law degree. Since the field varies widely in the kind of work you can do, leverage the data set that’s most applicable to you below. Additionally, if your starting salary is lower than $60,000, plug in your own data to make the analysis more practical for you.

Working Government or Public Interest Organizations

If you plan to be working in government or public interest organizations post-law-degree, you can expect a relatively lower starting salary (about $65,000). A job like a judicial clerk is a good example here. Assuming you took 3 years for schooling, you would have made $1,738,374 over the course of 25 years out of college. However, if you were to stay in the workforce instead, you would have made $2,187,556 instead. Therefore, it would have been in your best financial interest to remain in the workforce.

Year Working Salary (3% yearly)Salary Pre/Post JDAge
Cost of Law Degree$130,000.00
Total after 20 years$2,187,555.86$1,738,374.34
Difference: $449,181

Again, if your starting salary out of college is different than $60,000, re-make the table with your own salary data. If lower, the jump to $65,000 post-law-degree may better justify the cost of law school for your scenario.

Working in Private Practice

If you were to begin working a job in private practice, however, your starting salary may be much higher. If your post-law-degree starting salary were $130,000, you’d be able to make back the cost of tuition in about a year (not accounting for your living expenses).

In this scenario, you would have made $3,484,949 over the course of 25 years. In contrast, if you were to stay in the workforce, you would have only made $2,187,555. That’s a difference of $1,297,392. As a result, if you plan to work private practice as a lawyer, it would make financial sense for you to go to law school and obtain your degree.

Year Working Salary (3% yearly)Salary Pre/Post JDAge
Cost of Law Degree$130,000.00
Total after 20 years$2,187,555.86$3,484,948.68
Difference: $1,297,392

If your starting salary out of college is different: you only need to update the table with your data if you make more than $60,000 as your current salary. If you make less than that, you’d still make more with a degree working private practice either way.

Working as an ‘Average’ Lawyer

For everywhere in between, the magic starting salary would be around $82,000 post-degree. That is, it would make financial sense for you to go to law school so long as you were able to get a job with a starting salary of $81,750 post-degree (regardless of sector). If your starting salary is less, the degree wouldn’t justify the cost. Anything above this threshold would still justify the cost.

Year Working Salary (3% yearly)Salary Pre/Post JDAge
Cost of Law Degree$130,000.00
Total after 20 years$2,187,555.86$2,188,453.11
Difference: $897.26

The typical average salary post-degree comes in around $100,000 across the board, which would be around a $491,281 differential over time. If you make an average starting salary of $100,000 post-degree, it would still make financial sense for you to go to law school and obtain a degree instead of remaining in the workforce.

Is Going to Law School Right for Me?

In sum, it wouldn’t make financial sense for you to obtain a law degree unless you’re able to make a salary of around $82,000 post-degree. Typically, public service jobs don’t pay this kind of a salary (e.g. judicial clerks). Some smaller firms may not pay this kind of salary either, so it’s important to understand your opportunities post-degree before pursuing your degree. If you have a strong network or perform highly during your program, you may be able to graduate at the top of your class and work for a larger firm or private practice. These salaries would make the cost of obtaining your degree worth it in both the long and short haul.

9 Best Reasons for Becoming a Lawyer

Additionally, there are some other important factors to consider. Our financial analysis spread the course of 25 years – which would be the majority of your career. Before becoming a lawyer, make sure there are more than just financial reasons to get your degree. If not, it may make the long and arduous journey of becoming a lawyer exactly that – long and arduous – without the fulfillment at the end of a long day (or career) of work.

  1. Earning Potential. As outlined in our analysis above, becoming a lawyer can be a high-paying career for you and your family. You should be making enough money to save and grow your net worth over time, helping you to reach financial independence if you manage your finances properly (be sure not to overspend though! Follow the 1% rule as you accelerate your career).
  2. Career Growth. Becoming a lawyer is just the beginning. Once you have your degree, you have the chance to follow a fairly clear and steady path depending on your career goals. The plethora of lawyers makes it easier to network and learn from the experiences of a profession that’s been around for a long, long time.
  3. Service Opportunities and Job Satisfaction. Being a lawyer is unique in that it provides a more-than-typically direct form of service. Stocking shelves at a grocery store certainly helps people’s lives as well, but being a lawyer puts you in the driver’s seat for a chance to literally take someone’s situation and improve it through your work. Depending on your area of focus, you may be able to find work that is both satisfying and personally fulfilling.
  4. Intellectual challenge. Lawyers are some of the world’s most practical problem solvers. There’s a wide range of challenges across a varied field of work. If you want work that’s both intellectually stimulating as well as personally satisfying, becoming a lawyer may be right for you.
  5. Reading and Writing. If you’re an avid reader, and a lover of writing, then this profession will provide you with ample time to enjoy both of these activities. Lawyers spend a lot of time researching and preparing written documents for their work. If this is something you’re proficient at and enjoy doing for long periods of time, you may never get bored of being a lawyer.
  6. Transferrable Skills. Having transferrable skills makes you a hot commodity in a world where it’s easy to find new opportunities. Other than the practice of law, your legal abilities may serve you better in other areas like consulting, technology, publishing, education, finance, etc. There may be some comfort knowing that if you decide practicing law isn’t what you want to do for your entire career, you can transfer your skills to another area of interest.
  7. Influence & Prestige. As a lawyer, you have the ability to hold up as well as influence the law and society of your field or country. Lawyers have often been viewed positively in society due to their intellectual abilities and influence. As a lawyer you may have the unique opportunity to enact or pass societal change in your area.
  8. Independence. After a certain amount of time, you may have enough experience to begin your own legal firm. Doing so may help you capture the higher-paying salary potential of being a lawyer, even if you don’t end up in a private practice after graduating with your degree.
  9. Work Perks. Lawyers are considered a valuable role in society. They likewise are treated well by nature of work perks or accommodations. You may be able to save money on things like memberships or childcare if your firm helps subsidize these costs (granted, be sure to balance the amount of hours you’d have to spend in the office vs. outside of it to see if these perks are worth the cost(time) it takes from your life).


There are many honorable career paths in life. If you’re planning to become a lawyer, be sure to sit down and count the cost before pursuing a degree. Typically, the payout of becoming a lawyer outweighs the cost of the degree or the benefits of remaining in the workforce. However, if you’re already making a high salary or won’t be making that much more after graduating (less than $82,000) it may not make financial sense to go to law school.

Considering other options like a Master’s Degree or PhD? We’ve got the financial breakdown for both here (Master’s Degree analysis) and here (PhD degree analysis). The numbers may surprise you.

If you’re still in college and pursuing your Bachelor’s degree, check out our guides for the highest paying side hustles to help you graduate with as little debt as possible.

On your journey to financial independence, remember these tips and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Soon enough, you’ll be well on your way to reaching the top of your financial mountain.

Climb on, FinBase.

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John is a personal finance writer, editor, and a fellow FinBase climber. Tech worker by day, design owl by night, he is the co-founder and creator behind The Financial Basecamp.
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