I think we’ve long known that law is a refuge for people who are afraid of numbers. People who are good at math don’t borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars for a shot at winning the bi-modal salary distribution lottery and a job that they’ll most likely hate. I don’t think we needed a longitudinal survey to show that.
But the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth also found that lawyers are more likely to come from relatively rich families, which does surprise me.
Studying law is hard, and your financial success is somewhat directly tied to the amount of hours you work. A banker can earn money in his sleep. A lawyer has only 24 hours in a day to bill. If your family makes a lot of money, aren’t you supposed to get an anthropology degree and work for an NGO? Why would you slum it with the social climbers trying to get into the upper middle class, one deal sheet at a time?
The ABA Journal summarizes the results of the survey that looked at people’s 2010 jobs against the income their parents made in 1979:
The lawyers and judges in the sample came from households with median incomes of $85,000 to $89,999, in 2010 dollars.
The study also found:
• Doctors, dentists and surgeons came from households with median incomes of $55,000 to $55,999. Also in this childhood income category were nurses, social workers, counselors, clerks, salespersons and administrative assistants.
• Teachers, accountants, computer programmers and administrators, and media workers came from households with median incomes of $60,000 to $64,999.
• Engineers, architects, chief executives, general managers, designers, musicians and artists came from households with median incomes of $65,000 to $69,999.
• Financial analysts and advisers came from households with median incomes of $80,000 to $85,999.
The biggest climbers in terms of wealth relative to their parents were doctors, dentists, and surgeons. Designers, artists, and musicians undoubtedly disappointed their parents with their poor career choices.
It really is surprising to me that the guy who is playing drums in his “band” out of his mother’s garage comes from less money than the girl pulling an all-nighter in the law library. What, if you have “poor” parents, you don’t feel as motivated to make them proud?
It just goes to show, though, that maybe the people most responsible for pushing this “law is a safe career investment” aren’t charlatan deans of admissions, but your own parents. They are the ones who have drunk the Kool-Aid. They are the ones who can’t be bothered to do internet research on the new realities of the legal profession. They are the ones who still remember a time when lawyers were highly paid and respected members of the community.
And they are the ones who will be “surprised” when you boomerang back home after not being able to get a lucrative law job.