Timing Law School

Research and Data

Frank McIntyre and Michael Simkovic
September 2016

Professors Frank McIntyre and Michael Simkovic investigate whether economic conditions at labor market entry predict long-term differences in law graduate earnings. They find that unemployment levels at graduation continue to predict law earnings premiums within 4 years after graduation for earners at the high end and middle of the distribution. However, the relation fades as law graduates gain experience and the difference in lifetime earnings is moderate. Outcomes data available prior to matriculation do not predict unemployment or starting salaries at graduation. Earnings premiums are not predicted by BLS projected job openings. While changes in cohort size predict changes in the percent of law graduates practicing law, we find little evidence that changes in cohort size predict changes in earnings. This suggests that law graduates who switch to other occupations when law cohort sizes increase are not hurt financially by larger cohorts. For medium to high earning graduates, successfully timing law school predicts a higher value of a law degree ex-post, but simulations show that no strategy for ex-ante timing is readily available.

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