Law School Costs
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Barack Obama, Mahatma Gandhi, Gloria Allred, Thurgood Marshall. These famous lawyers all chose different paths, bolstered by their dedication and passion for the law and doing what’s right. People who choose to pursue law school may have different motivations, but they seem to share a sense of determination and integrity necessary to succeed as a lawyer.
If you’re considering law school, you know that it’s an expensive venture. But it’s a path with many opportunities beyond the courtroom. That’s why you should consider all the costs associated with law school so you’re prepared and informed before making the decision.
Use the guide below to explore how to get started and understand what law school costs.
Law School Requirements
Most law school programs require a four-year bachelor’s degree. Many students study subjects like English, government, history, philosophy, or economics, but no specific major is required. The American Bar Association (ABA) suggests that taking “a broad range of difficult courses from demanding instructors is excellent preparation for legal education.”
Some undergraduate programs also offer pre-law advising, which can help you get a better idea of what a career in law could look like. The advisor will also help you choose appropriate classes in undergrad and aid your law school application process. In order to apply, you need to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which evaluates reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning.
Once you’re accepted, you will begin a three-year program (some schools offer a four-year part-time program) to complete a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. During the first year of law school, students take courses in torts, contracts, constitutional law, civil procedure, property, and a legal writing class. Second- and third-year courses vary across institutions, but will typically require writing credits, experiential electives, professional responsibility courses, and more. These give you the opportunity to explore specialty areas and learn what interests you the most, like tax, labor, or corporate law. Cornell Law School suggests second-year students take courses in administrative law, business organizations, evidence, and federal income taxation for a wide range of topics. In the third year of law school, students will take elective courses that cover their specialty of choice, including seminars and problem courses.
To become a practicing lawyer, students must take a licensing “bar” exam for the state in which they wish to practice. According to the BLS, “most states require that applicants graduate from an ABA-accredited law school, pass one or more written bar exams, and be found by an admitting board to have the character to represent and advise others.” Even after being admitted to the bar, lawyers are expected to continue their education as often as every year.
Private and Public Law School Tuition & Average Costs
The cost of law school will vary depending on where you study. According to educationdata.org, the average cost of law school including tuition and living expenses is $68,726 (not accounting for the cost differences between out-of-state and in-state expenses).
Tuition varies across institutions, and the price of books, food, housing, and supplies are just as variable. Here is a breakdown of average costs by institution type:
AVERAGE PRIVATE LAW SCHOOL COSTS
$53,034 Tuition & Fees
AVERAGE PUBLIC LAW SCHOOL COSTS
$29,610 Tuition & Fees
$42,754 Tuition & Fees
According to U.S. News, the average annual cost of a public, out-of-state law school is $42,754, compared to a much higher private school at $53,034. The least expensive choice would be to attend a public, in-state law school at an average of $29,610 per year. Even for the least expensive option, in-state public school, the cost over three years is $88,830.
Total Cost of Law School
Over three years, a law student can expect to pay anywhere from $88,830 (in-state, public school) to $159,102 (private school) and up. If you use the average cost including tuition and living expenses and multiply it by 3 years of school, you could incur average costs of $206,178 to attend law school. Be sure to look at the expenses of each school, including the differences of attending an in-state vs. and out-of-state law school.
These numbers can be overwhelming, especially when moving from undergrad directly to law school. But according to BLS, the median annual salary of a lawyer is $127,990 as of 2021, with the top ten percent earning more than $208,000 per year. There are also many options for paying for law school. Specialized student loans, grants, scholarships, and affordable programs can make payment easier on your mind and wallet.
Understanding the cost of law school is just one step in a long career path. Make sure you use the right tools and available research to make smart choices and set yourself up for the future you deserve.