Grantee Research

Timing Law School

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



legal market, legal employment, earnings premium, value of a law degree, lawyer salaries, cohort effects


We investigate whether economic conditions at labor market entry predict long-term differences in law graduate earnings. We 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. This suggests that earnings figures from After the JD II and III -- which track law graduates who passed the bar exam in 2000 -- are likely generalizable to other law cohorts because these studies are outside the window when graduation conditions predict differences in subsequent earnings. 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. This article has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. A powerpoint presentation of an earlier version of this article is available at:


Related research:

Frank McIntyre & Michael Simkovic, Value of a Law Degree by College Major (2016),

Frank McIntyre & Michael Simkovic, Are Law Degrees as Valuable to Minorities? (2017),