New Lawyers Believe They are Ready for the Job; Practicing Attorneys Disagree According to First-Ever State of the Legal Field Study

Legal education experts at BARBRI report these and other insights from first-annual survey of law students, law school faculty and attorneys 

DALLAS (March 5, 2015) – Among 3L law students, 71 percent believe they “possess sufficient practice skills.” In contrast, only 23 percent of practicing attorneys who work with recent law school graduates and 45 percent of law school faculty members think new attorneys are ready to do their jobs.

That’s according to a recent study from BARBRI, the company that has helped more than 1 million U.S. lawyers pass the bar over the past 48 years. In its first-annual “State of the Legal Field Survey” of law students, law school faculty and practicing attorneys, BARBRI delved into such debated subjects as whether or not new attorneys are actually prepared to practice law.

BARBRI’s survey found that law students assess their practice readiness more positively than do law school faculty and attorneys who work with recent law school graduates.  In fact, more than three-quarters, or 76 percent, of 3L law students believe that they are prepared to practice law “right now.” In comparison, 56 percent of practicing attorneys who work with recent law school graduates believe that, in general, soon-to-be law school graduates are prepared to practice law.

“BARBRI is helping to bring key industry matters like practice-readiness into sharper focus with our new annual survey,” said attorney and BARBRI President Mike Sims. “Each year, we will identify things that are working as well as opportunities for improvement.”

After pioneering bar exam preparation nearly 50 years ago, BARBRI soon became recognized as the gold standard by law students. Since then, BARBRI has evolved into a further-reaching education firm. Today BARBRI is more than the de facto bar review choice among students; the legal education company now supports every stage of the legal life cycle – from pre-law student to practicing attorney.

State of the Legal Field

Both law school enrollment and the legal job market have steadily declined since the 2008 recession, sparking questions and controversy about law schools’ effectiveness and new attorneys’ job prospects. BARBRI commissioned the first-ever State of the Legal Field study to establish related benchmarks and plans to repeat the survey annually to track trends and better understand industry challenges.

“The State of the Legal Field Survey underscores BARBRI’s commitment to the industry and to shaping the evolving legal landscape,” said Stephen Fredette, BARBRI CEO. “Our company’s goal is to help each law student – whether just beginning law school, in the midst of classes, preparing for the bar or gaining additional skills or certifications – realize his or her individual dream. BARBRI has played a critical role in legal education for almost a half century, and we take that responsibility seriously.”

Other key findings from the BARBRI State of the Legal Field Survey include:

Job Market Outlook

Most law students who participated in BARBRI’s State of the Legal Field Survey are optimistic about finding positions after passing the bar, even though attorneys expect a somewhat stagnant job market.

  • Attorneys at companies that hire recent law school graduates report a median starting salary of $50,000 per year, while the median starting salary expected among law students is $70,000 per year.
  • Most attorneys – 81 percent – expect their law firms to stay the same size or decrease in size over the next three years.
  • Almost half of law students (46 percent) expect to have a job in the law field immediately upon graduation, and 83 percent expect to have a job within six months.

Law Student Debt

According to the BARBRI report, most law students will have significant debt at graduation but generally expect to get good value out of their legal education. And, most practicing attorneys say they have earned a high return on their investments in their juris doctor degrees (J.D.s).

  • When they graduate, 83 percent of current law students expect to have unpaid education loans. More than half of the students surveyed (57 percent) will owe more than $100,000.
  • The median time current students expect it will take them to pay off their education loans is 10 years. But 50 percent of law students anticipate they will either still be paying off loans in 10 years or that they will “never be able to repay them.”
  •  In contrast, many practicing attorneys and faculty used means other than education loans to pay for law school (40 percent and 32 percent respectively).
  • The majority of law students – 82 percent – expect to get good value out of the money they’re spending on their legal education. An almost equal number of practicing attorneys agree, with 78 percent saying their incomes since graduation have justified the cost of their J.D.s. The overwhelming majority of law school faculty members – 96 percent – concur.


Survey Methodology

BARBRI commissioned an independent research firm specializing in the legal industry to survey more than 1,500 law school students, law school faculty members and practicing attorneys for the BARBRI State of the Legal Field study. Each group completed online quantitative surveys in late 2014. The audiences surveyed comprised students currently enrolled in law school; faculty members who hold J.D.s and work at law schools; and licensed attorneys practicing law in the United States. Visit for complete State of the Legal Field survey details.



At the core of The BARBRI Group Companies is BARBRI Bar Review, which has helped more than 1 million U.S. lawyers pass the exam. Now, The BARBRI Group companies meet the legal education needs of both law students and attorneys throughout their careers with expert instruction and innovative technologies. The BARBRI Group comprises affiliated companies working to improve legal learning in the United States and around the world by providing superior opportunities for law schools, law firms and law-related businesses to prosper. Founded in 1967, The BARBRI Group is headquartered in Dallas with offices throughout the United States. To learn more, visit  

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For more information, contact:  Robyn Caulfield, media relations representative: or 913.663.4200