Law School Survey: Recent Students Care More About Money

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on November 12, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

According to the results of a survey, money was not the primary reason that law students decided to attend law school -- at least not for grads between the 1970s and the 2000s.

This sounds like surprising and welcome news, but don't celebrate too soon ...

Survey Background

The survey was conducted by Northeastern University School of Law and generated responses by over 800 of its graduates over the course of several decades. Indiana University Law School Professor William Henderson outlined the results on the Legal Whiteboard.

The top three reasons given for attending law school were:

  • Having a satisfying career
  • Helping individuals
  • Improving society

All noble goals!

Sign of the Times

In recent years, however, the results were generally skewed toward more practical concerns. For more recent graduates, the transferability of useful skills and financial security moved up the priority list even if "money" did not make it to the top.

It's notable that tuition used to be much more affordable during the 70s and 80s. Also, the job market was generally healthier. As a result, the opportunity costs of attending law school were much lower during those decades.

Additionally, those graduates are very same group who currently dominate partner positions at top law firms in the country -- a position that only 3 percent of Gen Xers have secured.

Limitations of the Survey

There are glaring limitations to the survey if one intends to extrapolate a wider conclusion about the general law student population.

The most obvious limitation of this survey is the localized nature of the sample used. Northeastern University Law grads may "self-select" for particular traits, dreams, and career goals. Additionally, according to Henderson, Northeastern law grads are more likely to work in government and public interest than graduates of other law school.

It would be interesting to see if there are any current studies being done linking the recent slump in law school applications with greed.

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