Law School Discussion

CPA v. JD; Is it worth it?

CPA v. JD; Is it worth it?
« on: December 27, 2010, 10:11:42 PM »

As the time approaches to enter law school, I am plagued with the question of is law school today worth going to.  Before answering this question, please read the situation below as it has become a decision which has bothered me for months now.

I am currently an undergraduate student who studied accounting and have approximately $60K in student loans from my undergratuate degree (due primarily to attending a private college).  I took the LSAT and got into a respectable law school (which I would prefer to not name).  I have read many articles and have family members who went to law school only to find themselves $150-200K in debt in a dismal job market where they work solely to pay back these loans over 30 years.

I am now trying to look at my sitation and decide what would be best for my financial stability between being an accountant beginning in public, obtaining my CPA, and eventually moving into private industry or going to law school to practice corporate law.  As an accountant, my student loan payment is approximately $7,200 annually whereas after law school it would total about $24,000 annually.

In either case, I am not looking to become rich, but rather live a comfortable lifestyle with a family in mind down the road.  I am fearful that with the number of individuals going to law school and a continually declining salary range that for 30 years I will work to pay down these loans ($60K for undergrad, 120K for law school) and make less than I would have as an accountant (essentially worsening my financial situation by going to law school).  Again, this is not about the money, however I am trying to be realistic about the cost of each degree and the quality of life I will be able to have in the future.

I realize no one can predict the future, but can anyone lend advice or opinions as to which career path is better in today's economic climate and into the future, CPA or JD (with student loans and salaries being considered)?

Thank you.

Re: CPA v. JD; Is it worth it?
« Reply #1 on: December 27, 2010, 11:55:56 PM »
Undecided -

First, congratulations.  You're asking the right questions. 

The answer should fundamentally depend not upon dollars, or loans, or any of that.  It should depend upon YOU.  Do you have a burning desire to do research, to confirm with absolute finality the answer to a microscopically refined question?  Chances are not many would answer "Yes" to that, but that is much of what a lawyer will be doing (in addition to counting billable hours, dealing with upset bosses--and later clients--and so on).  There's not much in your questions that address this.  Not wrong . . . just pointing to a different set of questions to be asked.

To your questions, your opportunity cost is real, and is higher than many prospective law students.  With a bachelor's in accounting, chances are good you can cover your current debt and enjoy a reasonably good lifestyle, for at least the foreseeable future. 

Do you like taking risks?  If so that points away from law school--on both financial and personality points.  Consider an MBA in finance or accounting instead (assuming you like those areas).

Are you happy with the law school you would attend?  Would you qualify for scholarships?  If you studied for the LSAT again, could you do markedly better?

Do these questions help in refining the next questions toward that answer?   = :  )


Re: CPA v. JD; Is it worth it?
« Reply #2 on: December 28, 2010, 07:51:07 AM »
It depends on if you want to limited to one box or not. CPA is taxes only. Lawyers can do a lot more than just that.

I've seen a lot of CPA's turn around and come to lawschool. The truth is that a JD is cheaper than a CPA. It really is, you just have to get a good enough GPA or LSAT to go for friggin' free. You only need a 160 for a 100% free ride at some lawschools, as low as a 146 can be partial scholarship. People can cry and nash teeth about it being a lower "T" school, but anything that allows passage of the lawbar puts you miles if not galaxies ahead of a plain CPA.

Re: CPA v. JD; Is it worth it?
« Reply #3 on: December 28, 2010, 02:27:13 PM »
A CPA is hardly  taxes only.  Many CPAs do financial advising etc, then eventually become CFOs, directors and that sort of thing.

If the practice of law doesn't especially appeal to you, I suspect the best financial move would be to go forward with the accounting thing and lean toward corporate advising/consulting.  If it goes well, have your company send you to a top MBA school and begin to move toward upper management with an eye toward a CFO slot.  From what I've seen most or all students from the top three law schools can still get 120-160k jobs straight out of law school if they want them.  Some may end up being deferred for a year.  The very top students can do much better financially, though its usually deferred (2yrs clerking, then a firm with a 250k signing bonus and above-market pay).  Outside the top three, the lower the class rank the lower the average expected income more or less. 

I don't know what sort of hours CPAs work, but they are probably fewer than most biglaw associate positions.  Expect to be in the office roughly 12hrs a day 5-6 days a week at a typical firm in a major market at first. 


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Re: CPA v. JD; Is it worth it?
« Reply #4 on: December 29, 2010, 01:33:07 PM »
To be honest, "respectable law school" can mean a lot of things.

You say you want to do corporate work or go in house. That means a large law firm to start. Only the top 14 (and many would argue only the top 6 or even 3) schools in the country give you enough certainty of getting a large firm job that you should bet 200k on the prospect. To be sure, there are other ways of handling that debt load (income based repayal with public interest jobs for example), but there really are few ways of getting into corporate law outside of the large law firms.

The truth is that a JD is cheaper than a CPA. It really is, you just have to get a good enough GPA or LSAT to go for friggin' free.

Depends on the state, but in many states you can get your CPA with just your undergrad accounting courses plus accounting work experience. So you actually get paid while getting your CPA. Even if you get a full ride to law school, you still have to pay for your living expenses. And those "full rides" often come with onerous conditions that may mean that most people awarded scholarships lose them before graduation.