Which undergrad majors make the most money as lawyers?

A law student’s undergraduate major could have a big impact on their earnings as a lawyer, according to a new study.  Students who majored in economics, finance and math earn the most as lawyers. But students who studied humanities showed the greatest increase by adding a law degree.  

“It’s not surprising that STEM majors do well with a law degree as those set you up to be an intellectual property lawyer, corporate lawyer or tax lawyer,” said Michael Simkovic, one of the studies two authors and a law professor at University of Southern California Gould School of Law. “But the added value was higher for folks in the humanities, which is where most law students major.”

The study found that a law degree is associated with more than doubling of expected earnings for humanities majors, doubled earnings for social sciences majors, and closer to 50% increase for business and STEM majors. 

Simkovic, who wrote the study with Frank McIntyre, a professor of finance and economics at Rutgers Business School, first made a name for himself in legal education in 2013 with the release of a study on the value of a law degree. That paper, also written with McIntyre, placed the pre-tax lifetime value of a law degree at approximately $1 million.

The paper countered a popular view at the time that a law degree was not worth the cost of tuition, and generated a lot of press coverage and some derision. Simkovic and McIntyre have continued to address the topic.

“This is a follow up study,” he said. “There were questions about whether the value of a law degree was higher for some students rather than others, and what major should look at.” 

Simkovic said the biggest surprise was philosophy/religion, which tied history for the biggest income increase when adding a law degree. 

“It makes sense,” he said. “They are very smart and capable people and had learned some of the reasoning needed in law school.”

The authors, who used earnings, education and demographic data from the U.S. Census Bureau, concluded that attending law school is “generally a better financial decision than terminating education with a bachelor’s degree. Even for STEM majors with a relatively low expected boost to earnings from a law degree, a law degree would typically more than pay for itself over the course of a lifetime.” 

 

Major Earnings Law premium
Economics $105k $78k
Finance 99 55
Math 87 67
History 69 81
Political Science 82 67
Accounting 89 60
Philosophy/Religion 62 81
Business 79 48
English 61 66
Journalism 67 56
Biology 63 45
Liberal Arts 59 49
Communications 66 41
Foreign Language 56 48
Sociology 57 44
Psychology 55 43
Criminal Justice 62 26