harvard law school experience is law school worth it

Is attending all but the top tier law schools a personal and financial mistake?

I often respond to questions from readers on the law school admissions process. Here is a question I recently responded to:


Q: Is attending all but the top tier law schools a personal and financial mistake?

A: I think it is probably true.

I might have given a different response if this were the year 2000, but the cost of attending law school has become so expensive, and the job security afterward uncertain, that I don’t think it necessarily makes sense to attend unless you can get into a top law school.

Fact: As a Harvard Law School graduate who also worked 5 years as a law school admissions counselor for Kaplan and Harvard College before and during law school, the most common reason I heard for why students want to attend law school was to “keep their options open.” They see it as a solid default option that will allow them to “do anything with a law degree.”

I think that is a mistake. I strongly discourage applying to law school with the thinking that it is a good backup option and will “keep your options open.” To be sure, it is true you can do a lot with a legal education, and you can do a tremendous amount with a Harvard legal education in particular. But you should be prepared to actually enter the legal profession and practice law for at least a few years, if for no other reason then to pay off your sizeable academic debts that you will have accrued following graduation. Practicing as a lawyer is what you are being trained to do in law school. So if you already know right now you don’t want to practice law, then it doesn’t really seem to make sense to attend in the first place. 

Even jobs at “big law” firms are still really only assured if you went to a top law school. So unless you can bear the risk of accruing $170K in law school debt, potentially without a 6-figure job prospect after graduation (as is commonly the case at non-top law schools), the risk-reward tradeoff of attending a non-top law school may not be worthwhile. 

Be sure to check out our law school admissions guide “How to get into Harvard Law School (whether you have the highest scores or not)” for in-depth tips and strategies on admission to elite law schools!

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Andrew C.

Andrew Chen is a graduate of Harvard Law School. He was admitted to Harvard on his first attempt at applying – in the very first round of applicants. He was also admitted to the law schools at Stanford, Columbia, NYU, and Chicago among others – also all in their first rounds. You can follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.