Harvard and other top law schools are expensive. Tuition alone for Harvard Law exceeds $54,000 per academic year as of 2014. Over the three years required to graduate, the total cost can exceed $240,000. Fortunately, the average lifetime value of a law degree is approximately $1 million in additional earnings, according to a 2013 study by Harvard and Columbia researchers. Even with a Harvard degree, though, your income depends on your choice of career.
Harvard Law School has an ongoing commitment to public service and requires all students to complete a minimum of 40 hours of pro bono work during their years of study. Students who continue in this altruistic spirit after graduation typically receive low pay, especially those who work at low-cost or free clinics. Graduates working in an inner-city law clinic sometimes receive as little as $30,000 annually, according to Harvard Law School Career Services. By way of comparison, the average annual wage of all lawyers nationwide was $131,990 as of 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Other Public Service Jobs
Other Harvard graduates choose public service careers with nonprofit institutions, organizations that protect the rights of marginalized groups, or government agencies at various levels. On average, these jobs also typically bring more modest pay. The median starting wage for Harvard law grads in the public sector, for instance, is $58,000 annually, according to "U.S. News."
Major Law Firms
At large law firms in major cities, the average starting salary for a Harvard Law graduate is approximately $160,000 per year, according to the Harvard Law Career Services. In fact, big law firms are the dominant employer of Harvard Law grads. For the class of 2013, more than half of its graduates, or 328, were working for law firms nine months after graduation. Among this group, 263 worked for firms with more than 500 lawyers, and an additional 42 worked for firms ranging in size from 251 to 500. The vast majority of these were long-term positions.
The Job-Hunting Advantage
Average earnings are meaningless if graduates can't find work, but Harvard alumni do especially well in the job market. The major law firms prefer to hire from the top five schools, including Harvard, Columbia, Yale, the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago, according to the American Bar Association. As for Harvard, 91 percent of the class of 2012 had already found jobs at the time of graduation, according to "U.S. News." Nine months after graduation, the employment rate for the class of 2013 was more than 96 percent, or 556 out of 578, according to Harvard Law Career Services.
- U.S. News: Harvard University -- Law School Overview
- Harvard Law School: Office of Career Services -- Frequently Asked Questions
- Harvard Law School: Pro Bono Requirement
- Harvard Law School: Recent Employment Data
- Harvard Law School: Student Budget
- Social Science Research Network: The Economic Value of a Law Degree
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Lawyers
- American Bar Association Journal: The Pedigree Problem -- Are Law School Ties Choking the Profession?
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013 -- Lawyers
- Photo Credit evgeshag/iStock/Getty Images
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