Written by Joanna Hughes

The results of a recent Gallup poll offer new insights into how professional school graduates view the value of their education. How did law degrees stack up, and what does it mean? Here’s a closer look.

Low Perceived Value

Just 23 percent of law degree holders responded that they “strongly agree” when asked whether their education was worth the cost. This trailed behind doctoral, medical, MBA, MS and MA degrees with 64 percent, 58 percent, 42 percent, 49 percent, and 45 percent, respectively.

Law degrees also fell short of other degrees when it comes to how graduates perceived the degree to which graduate school prepared them for life outside of graduate school.

Drilling Down on the Data

All of these degrees are expensive. So to what can particularly low law school numbers be attributed? For starters, doctoral graduates are more likely to receive financial aid during their studies. In other words, while the cost in itself may be similar, the impact of that cost is ultimately mitigated by the availability of aid.

The weak job market for lawyers is also cited as a factor. The good news? This means that satisfaction with law degrees may improve in pace with the job market. At the same time, perception of value may also evolve as the field evolves. Contends Mainspring Legal CEO Michael Allen in a recent Above the Law op-ed, “The one trend that we see continue to stick is the importance of the personal brand over the law firm brand, and that means that every attorney should really focus on how they differentiate themselves from the pack, regardless of where they hang their shingle.”

A Call for Change

One last thing to keep in mind? While the poll results may seem grim, it’s also an invaluable call to -- and incentive for -- law schools and the law industry at large to focus on potential areas of improvement.

Says Gallup, “While higher education discussions often focus on ways to improve the undergraduate experience, thought leaders in higher education should also consider how to maximize the postgraduate experience. Though the context of undergraduate and postgraduate education may differ, supportive and applied learning experiences are critical to the success of both.”

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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