Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Economics of the Law School Decision for those with Careers

As I sit here hoping to get accepted to a law school, the obvious question of "why didn't I do this sooner?" becomes even more obvious.

A little bit of it is basic economics.  In fact, most of it is basic economics.  I graduated in 1993 with a degree in Information Systems, which, at the time, was pretty much the hottest undergrad degree you could get.  We were making better money than petroleum engineers.

I do remember being about halfway through my MBA thinking I should go to law school.  Trouble was, I was making 30-ish or 40-ish grand a year at that point.  So, taking 3 years off to pursue a law degree would have had an opportunity cost of six figures.  Then, throw in the actual cost of attending and sustaining myself while I attend, which would probably be another six figures, and the result is that getting a law degree would have been exceptionally expensive.  Probably on order of $200,000 or more when both opportunity cost and direct costs were considered.

I finished my MBA part-time in 1997.  At that point, I was making $60-ish a year.  So, the cost of a law school education at that point would have been $300,000 or more. 

Not such a big deal if I finished high in my class from a really good school.  An absolute disaster, however, if I were to finish mid-pack and get out to a job that might only pay $60,000 a year.

There were part-time options.  However, I met my future wife in 2000, and we started a family immediately after getting married.  We were fortunate and our son was born in 2001. 

My career was also humming right along until about 2002.  There really wasn't a good reason to get a law degree.  All but the very best law jobs would have paid less than what I was already making.

Though, I do remember in 2004, thinking, "I could have gotten a law degree these past four years."  I was in the same place the entire time.  I could have done it, but it would have placed additional stress on my family since my wife was getting a degree part-time as well. 

I would also have missed out on a huge chunk of my son's childhood.  I can't tell other people how to feel about parenting.  I think it's an intensely personal experience and some people view it differently than others.  However, I have LOVED being around a baby who became a little boy, who is now on the brink of being a fine young man.

Some things, you just can't put a price on.  This is one of them.  Besides, a law degree, despite what people say, is really only good for one thing:  a career in the law.  Using a chunk of money, and all my free time to get a degree that I didn't anticipate I'd ever use (because my business career was going so well) would have been odd, to say the least.

Now, I own a business.  Most of the years of the business, it's been very profitable.  2010 is an exception, but with normal weather patterns, the biz should return to its normal profitability.  This will allow me to attend school full-time.  Granted, full-time school usually means classes in the morning, then lots of studying whenever you can fit it in. 

The main difference is that now, there's not an opportunity cost.  There's still the direct cost, but the direct cost was, at the most, half the cost and usually much less.  It was the opportunity cost that kept me from attending. 

Right now, the business isn't doing so well.  It's profitable, and even if it did no better than this for the next 3 years, it would make sense for me to keep doing it.  However, I anticipate that business will improve substantially. 

If it does, then I will be able to attend law school with relative ease and comfort.  If it doesn't, then I need to get a law degree all the more because the business won't sustain me for much longer if things stay like this.

So, in a very, very strange way, the time is right for me to go to law school now.  In fact, there has never been a better time for me.  I don't recommend this to anybody else, by the way.  I'd advise something more like knocking out your undegrad with the easiest major and highest GPA you can manage.  Then, going to the best law school you can find and hitting the work-world at about 25. 

I don't think there's a lot to be said for the "spend 30 years joining the army, futzing around getting a degree, working a different career to get money to start a business, then use that business to support yourself while going to law school" plan. 

However, it's what my path appears to have been.  It's the hand I was dealt, and the hand that I played, for better or worse.  I'm too old to be embarassed by the idea that I didn't do things in my life the right way.  I have seen enough to know that until somebody refuses to let you do something, you're virtually never too old to try something new. 

Of course, that's really going to be put to the test if I continue down this path.

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