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It Pays for Recent Law Grads to Pass the Bar

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on October 29, 2010 3:26 PM

A new paper published in the Journal of Legal Education announces the interesting but ultimately unsurprising news that law grads who fail the bar never quite catch up in earnings to their classmates who pass. Soon-to-be grads can take this as just one more bit of motivation to stay awake in BarBri courses, or they can just pause and ask some further questions about the relevance of this new study to their lives.

As described in The Wall Street Journal Law Blog, the statistics used in the paper were difficult to come by, but too important to continue not to seek out. Initially, those that fail the bar "lag far behind their [passing] peers in areas such as earnings, job stability and marriage and divorce rates." However, by their mid-30's, those not passing the bar narrow the gap in earnings, but never close it entirely. The last statistical punch: between the ages of 30 and 39, non-passers surpass college grads who did not attend law school in earnings, but never do catch up to the passers.

Let's place this news in context. Recent reports have highlighted the need for greater transparency from law schools about the earning potential of all grads, those who fail and those who pass the bar, alike. Taking into account the current job market, it is reasonable to question the paper's stated gap in earnings. Isn't it possible many new J.D.s will never practice law at all, but go onto find possibly less lucrative but more creative careers where they can use the critical thinking and downright doggedness it takes to survive the Socratic Method?

A very cursory examination of the detailed and well-researched paper by Jane Yakowitz seems to show that the salary data comes mostly from 2003 or earlier. So in this current job market, which 2011 law grads will pass into, will the disparity of salaries remain? Will even those who pass the bar go on to practice law as much as their forerunners did?

One emphasis of the article is to ask legal educators to look hard at which students are passing and which are failing the bar and the potential effect on the rest of their professional (and personal) lives. In this way, the study could not be more topical or more on point. There is a push for greater "truth in reporting" about the real benefits and real costs of getting that J.D. If you are considering law school, are in it or leaving it behind, take the time to get out those scales of justice and weigh all the factors before you decide which path to take.

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