I still remember the day I defied convention and gave societal norms the finger. Screw Law School, I was going to be a cop! Police Academy here I come. Why? In six years would you rather be a cop with $400k in the bank or a lawyer with no money?
Having graduated from UCLA with a History B.A. I was faced with the decision of what to do next. I’d applied aggressively to various government jobs which appealed to me and was accepted into Pepperdine Law and Big City PD the same month. I can’t remember which was more stressful, the LSAT or the polygraph! I was faced with a decision that many would have no problems making. However, looking into it more deeply, I believe that the choice was simple and can use hard data to prove it.
Obtaining a law degree is a momentous occasion that opens up a career, but there are a lot of factors that people fail to consider.
Let’s look at two hypothetical 6 year careers and compare.
The Lawyer: Pepperdine Law School, (all numbers are acquired from Pepperdine Law School’s website) cost of attendance: $51,120 per year. This is just tuition. When you add in total expected cost of living Pepperdine budgets its fledgling lawyers at $79,800 per year. Thus over your three year education there you would travel $239,400 into debt.
Now to follow the scenario through, let’s say you are a dedicated servant of the public like myself. I’m not interested in going private and would have been solely interested in working in the District Attorney’s office. Per “Transparent California” an entry level DDA walks out the door with approximately $60,000 a year. More advanced DDA’s make $70-$80k a year.
The Cop: Big City PD (thanks to my Bachelor’s Degree/prior military service) was willing to start me at $55k. After 6 months of an academy I would be increased to $60k. After a year of probation my pay would again be raised to $65k. It would then continue increasing by approximately $5k a year until capping out at $90k.
So let’s presume that the DA and the cop both camp in their parent’s basements, live off of Ramen, and drive Mom’s Astrovan for 6 years. The (very) hardworking DA (if he did not get any grants) will be able to pay off his $239,000 Law Degree in a little over 3 years. That’s right, 6 years of hard labor to break even.
Now the cop. Over the course of 6 years, he has been paid since starting the academy. Without adding in any overtime, Big City has paid him roughly $409,000 and he has 18% of his paycheck guaranteed for life after his retirement age.
Conclusion: SIX YEARS into a career a cop has made $400k and has pension benefits. The Lawyer just broke even.
Disclaimers! You can of course alter the math by going to a private firm and making millions, just don’t forget the prerequisites. Great grades and super long hours. Honestly most lawyers will agree that being in a top law firm is like a highly paid sweat shop. I love a well balanced life and that isn’t for me.
Also without getting soppy, I have a lot of love for public service and like believing in what I do. I chose to join Big City PD and loved it for all six years I was there. If you are thinking of a legal career, working it on the street isn’t all bad. Did I mention that of those 6 years, 6 months would be spent on paid vacation?
Seriously though, leave your comments below. Careers are give and take and I’d love to hear your opinions on what compels you most.