Sorry for the delay in posting Part 2, but I’ve been kind of busy getting accustomed to my new job!
In Part 1, I showed how the “Big Law” route mixes with full-time motherhood, which is to say not at all. I promised to tell you what’s going on in the world outside Big Law. Well, here it is… and if you thought Big Law was bad, the rest of the profession is even worse.
If you’re comtemplating a career in law, you NEED to see this chart… YESTERDAY. This is the distribution of full-time salaries for all JD graduates in 2006 (incidentally, the year I graduated from law school) who reported income data to their schools. The chart is based on reports from over 22,500 graduates, slightly more than half of all JDs awarded in the country that year. It would also be helpful to read the blog post in which this chart was discussed.
The median salary for newly minted JDs in 2006 was 62K, which doesn’t sound too bad. However, there is very little clustering around that median. Slightly over a fourth of all graduates who reported income data made over 100K, while a virtually identical percentage made between 40 and 55K. (By the way, I made noticeably less than 40K as an attorney.)
The problem is twofold:
(1) The average debt for a newly minted law graduate is now around 85K, and is quite often higher (as in my case, though not outrageously so). That level of debt is manageable if you get a Big Law job making 100K and up. It’s all but impossible if you’re in or below that 40-55K zone.
(2) The chances of your getting one of those highly lucrative Big Law jobs goes down exponentially as you go down the law school food chain. According to this article, once you get outside the top 25 or so in the US News and World Report rankings, you have less than a one-in-five chance of landing a position at a large law firm. To see charts of employment outcomes at all law schools accredited by the American Bar Association, see the “Charts By Region” links at this page.
Basically, if you’re a young woman who would like to stay at home and raise a family, you won’t be able to do it if you have to service a debt load that can easily run to twice your annual salary. Also, a lot of guys would think more than twice before marrying a woman with that kind of debt load.
I also promised I would tell you how Bravo Whiskey–that would be Kilo Mike’s sister–managed to combine a law career with being a mother. (As a reminder, she has three daughters.) Here’s how…
(1) Bravo was able to get into a law school that’s ranked just outside the “Top 14” (the 14 schools that have occupied the top 10 places in every US News ranking to date).
(2) By itself, that would have helped her greatly in landing a Big Law job. I won’t give the percentage of students at that school who landed Big Law jobs, since it might ID her law school… but let’s just say that it’s several times higher than where I went. However, she had another unique credential:
(3) She got her BS in electrical engineering. (It runs in the family; Kilo has a BS in chemical engineering, which is the same bachelor’s I have.) That’s especially important because…
(4) …she could then qualify to take the examination for registration to practice before the US Patent and Trademark Office, popularly known as the “patent bar”. Practice before the USPTO does not require a law degree, but you have to have a bachelor’s degree, extensive course work, or in rare cases extensive work experience in a “hard science” (engineering also qualifies) before you can sit for the patent bar. If you pass that exam, you become a “patent agent” if you’re not admitted to a state or territorial bar, and a patent attorney if you are.
(5) Because the overwhelming majority of attorneys do not have the scientific background needed to qualify to sit for the patent bar, this makes patent attorneys a fairly rare commodity. While pretty much everyone agrees there’s a glut of attorneys, there’s no glut of patent attorneys–instead, there’s a real shortage. With the patent bar and a state bar, she could pretty much write her own ticket.
(6) Bravo also married well. Her husband was a law school classmate and has been practicing ever since.
(7) Finally, because there is such a shortage of patent attorneys, she was able to ratchet down from a full-time practice to part-time once the girls started coming. It’s often said among lawyers that a part-time lawyer works 40 hours a week, but that’s NOT the case if you’re a patent lawyer. Bravo now works somewhere between 10 and 15 hours a week, and still manages to make a salary that most people would kill for.
My point here: Bravo was able to combine full-time motherhood and law because she had a unique background that qualified her for what may be the only legal specialty which has a legitimate shortage of practitioners. Someone without that background would probably not be able to combine the two.
The final verdict: If you really want to be a lawyer, more power to you. But you really need to count what the cost can be: debt, long hours, deadlines… and if you’re a young woman, possibly your dreams of devoting yourself to a family.