The Economic Value of a Law Degree

68 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2013 Last revised: 26 Nov 2014

See all articles by Michael Simkovic

Michael Simkovic

University of Southern California Gould School of Law; University of Southern California - Marshall School of Business

Frank McIntyre

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: April 13, 2013


Legal academics and journalists have marshaled statistics purporting to show that enrolling in law school is irrational. We investigate the economic value of a law degree and find the opposite: given current tuition levels, the median and even 25th percentile annual earnings premiums justify enrollment. For most law school graduates, the net present value of a law degree typically exceeds its cost by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We improve upon previous studies by tracking lifetime earnings of a large sample of law degree holders. Previous studies focused on starting salaries, generic professional degree holders, or the subset of law degree holders who practice law. We also include unemployment and disability risk rather than assume continuous full time employment.

After controlling for observable ability sorting, we find that a law degree is associated with a 60 percent median increase in monthly earnings and 50 percent increase in median hourly wages. The mean annual earnings premium of a law degree is approximately $53,300 in 2012 dollars. The law degree earnings premium is cyclical and recent years are within historical norms.

We estimate the mean pre-tax lifetime value of a law degree as approximately $1,000,000.

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A final version of this article has been published in The Journal of Legal Studies as Michael Simkovic & Frank McIntyre, The Economic Value of a Law Degree, 43 J. LEGAL STUD. 249 (2014). The final published version of the article can be accessed through Jstor or the JLS website.

Keywords: Economic Value of a Law Degree, Law School Crisis, Human Capital, Labor Economics, Valuation, Tamanaha, Schlunk, Empirical, Earnings, Wage, Work Hours

JEL Classification: C1, I2, J24, J31, J44, J6, J7, K4, L31

Suggested Citation

Simkovic, Michael and McIntyre, Frank, The Economic Value of a Law Degree (April 13, 2013). HLS Program on the Legal Profession Research Paper No. 2013-6, Available at SSRN: or

Michael Simkovic (Contact Author)

University of Southern California Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

University of Southern California - Marshall School of Business ( email )

701 Exposition Blvd
Los Angeles, CA California 90089
United States

Frank McIntyre ( email )

Seattle, WA 98144
United States

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