Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Law school: a particularly raw deal

Ezra Klein says this article makes him happy not to be a lawyer, and I have to say I agree. Especially this graf:
There are the jobs at white-shoe firms that pay about $160,000 per year to recent graduates, and then there are the rest of jobs, which generally pay between $45,000 and $60,000. Almost no salaries are near the median or the average.
I know there are a lot of lawyers that are passionate about what they do, but my experience in college was that people who wanted to be lawyers were largely in it for the money. Frankly, though, if you want to make money, picking an overcrowded profession with high barriers to entry seems absolutely crazy. As this list proves, the best way to make big bucks is to pick a major with math in it:

Best Undergrad College Degrees
By Salary
Starting Median Pay Mid-Career Median Pay

Petroleum Engineering $93,000 $157,000

Aerospace Engineering $59,400 $108,000

Chemical Engineering $64,800 $108,000

Electrical Engineering $60,800 $104,000

Nuclear Engineering $63,900 $104,000

Applied Mathematics $56,400 $101,000

Biomedical Engineering $54,800 $101,000

Physics $50,700 $99,600

Computer Engineering $61,200 $99,500

Economics $48,800 $97,800

Computer Science $56,200 $97,700

Industrial Engineering $58,200 $97,600

Mechanical Engineering $58,300 $97,400

Building Construction $52,900 $94,500

Materials Science & Engineering $59,400 $93,600

It seems obvious why these majors pay off so highly: they're really, really tough! At Cal Poly, it was widely known that the College of Engineering had the second-worst GPA out of all seven colleges (Agriculture kept us from last), and the reason for that wasn't that all engineers are stupid, but that the coursework was really freakin' hard, even for brilliant people. I did a CS degree and even though I have a talent for it, it was still plenty difficult. And, honestly, CS is one of the easier degrees on this list. Something like aerospace engineering just scares people who have a visceral fear of equations taking up five whiteboards, which is something I can relate to. But if you can actually make it through a program like that (and most people probably can't) and endure the four-plus* years of brain pain, then you're pretty much assured of getting a well-paying job with decent stability. Contrast this with the law, where you spend four years at college, plus three years of law school, plus the time and money to pass the Bar exam so that you can actually get a job, and all for an entry-level position that pays about as much as a starting job that a Building Construction bachelor's degree can get you (not to mention the opportunity cost of not working for several more years) just makes the law school route seem like the worst of all possible worlds. Then again, a lot of people seem to think that being a lawyer means making huge cash being some sort of stylish bullshitter who never does any work, which only goes to show you that many people still make career choices based on television shows.

*Of course, hardly anyone finishes college in four years anymore. Personally, I worked toward my BS and MS concurrently and did them both in five, which was made possible by AP credits and summer classes, and taking full loads most of the time. Most college kids don't do that stuff, so it can typically take five-to-six years, unless you're a journalism major or something.

Update: I actually did consider being a lawyer for a time, as I have an interest in software patents. Probably should have made that clear. I might have had an easier time with a law career, given that I had a direction and some pertinent education that I could have applied to it, and I wonder whether law students who have a specific focus in mind--like, say, environmental justice--are better able to tailor their bachelor's degrees to what they want to do with the law, and are better equipped to find a job. Then again, it's generally the case that any sort of public interest profession doesn't pay too well, so my particular example might not be great.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.