A career in law might seem like a lucrative idea, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting in 2012 that attorneys made $113,530 per year. The process of becoming an attorney can be a long and costly one, though, and even after you are licensed to practice, your expenses will continue.
Law School and Loans
Law school is an expensive undertaking. In 2013, the average tuition at a public law school for in-state students was $23,879. Students attending private school pay an average of $41,985, according to the Law School Transparency Project. These figures, though, don't take into account the cost of textbooks and other expenses. Law school books are notoriously expensive. Harvard Law School, for example, recommends an annual budget of $1,250 for books. Students who buy new books, supplemental materials and expensive supplies such as new laptops can expect to pay much more.
Bar and Career Preparation
After you graduate law school, your expenses aren't over. The Bar is an intensive two-day exam that requires significant knowledge. The overwhelming majority of students take a Bar preparation class, and these courses cost several thousand dollars. BarBri, for example, charges Virginia students $3,895 for its bar preparation class, while Kaplan's fees range from $2,000 to $4,000, as of 2014. The expenses don't end there, though. You'll have to pay Bar dues, which vary from state to state, usually costing a few hundred dollars. In Georgia, which is one of the more expensive states, the cost of a license to practice law is $350, a price that must be paid to renew your law license each year. Texas, by contrast, offers a fee schedule based on years of practice, with new lawyers paying just $68, as of 2014. Lawyers also must take continuing education classes to retain their licenses, and these courses typically cost several hundred dollars.
Costs of Running a Business
Not all lawyers run their own practices. If you work for a judge, corporation or law firm, you'll have fewer expenses. If you work for yourself, though, you'll have to pay any employees you hire, such as a paralegal or secretary. Practice management software can cost several thousand dollars per year, and many lawyers invest in legal research software such as Westlaw, which can also cost several thousand dollars per year. Case filing fees are often several hundred dollars. In some cases, your clients may reimburse you, but if the case is a contingency case, you'll often pay costs out of pocket. Practice manuals, which provide relevant case law for your area of law, can cost several hundred dollars per year. You'll also need to cover the usual costs of running a business, such as obtaining an office, furniture and utilities.
Lost Cases and Nonpaying Clients
If you earn a salary from an employer, as some lawyers do, clients who don't pay and lost cases only cost you time. If you work for yourself or your earnings are dependent on your caseload, though, your career will become even more expensive. If you lose a contingency case, you won't get paid, meaning you've worked for months -- or even years -- for free.
- Law School Transparency: Tuition Tracker
- Harvard Law School: Tuition Budget
- State Bar of Georgia: Rule 1-502. Amount of License Fees
- CBS Moneywatch: 5 Reasons Not to Get a Law Degree
- BarBri: Bar Review Pricing
- Internal Revenue Service: Deducting Business Expenses
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Lawyers
- Kaplan Bar Review: Kaplan Bar Review Tutoring Offers
- State Bar of Texas: State Bar of Texas Dues Schedule
- Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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