Illinois ranks third in the U.S. for states aspiring law students should consider, with its strong job prospects, degree affordability, and the emotional health of its working professionals, according to a recent study.
The study, conducted by re-settlement loan company Uplift Legal Funding, ranked states on a scale of 1 – 10 on factors important to aspiring law students, like average yearly salaries, financial aid and tuition, cost of living, bar exam passage percentages, and quality of life.
The rankings were based on data gathered from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2023 Princeton Review Law School Rankings, American Psychological Association, World Population Review, Numbeo, Education Data Initiative, and Gallup.
The survey only ranked New York and Massachusetts ahead of Illinois in terms of “top performing states.” Virginia and Georgia rounded out the top five.
Where Illinois ranks high for aspiring law students
Illinois ranked fourth in degree affordability per state—which looked at factors including the number of first-year students receiving financial aid, in-state tuition fees, and the cost of living on campus—and ninth in job prospects, which took into account average yearly salary, area of specialization in law, and the relative number of lawyers in a state.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2022 report, per every 1,000 jobs in Illinois, 5.39 people are employed as lawyers. This is in line with California and Florida but falls behind the District of Columbia, which has a whopping 48.70 lawyers per thousand jobs.
The vast majority of lawyers in Illinois are in one area of the state, according to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. Eighty-seven percent of lawyers in Illinois practice in Cook County and its collar counties, underscoring the rural access to justice gap that persists.
When it comes to salary, the annual mean wage for lawyers in Illinois is $158,030, just below the national mean annual wage of $163,770. The mean wage for lawyers in the Chicago metro area is $163,220.
Supporting emotional health
Illinois also ranked near the top (11th) in emotional health, which analyzed the mental wellness, contentment, and stress levels of working professionals in each state.
A study recently ranked Illinois the second happiest state in the country, based on markers including personal finance, leisure activities, mental and physical health, employment, social policies, and personal relationships.
More legal professionals in Illinois may be seeking help for mental health and substance abuse issues post-COVID-19.
The Illinois Lawyers’ Assistance Program (LAP) has reported an increase in self-referrals for its services, which provide free and confidential support to lawyers, judges, law students, and their families concerned about mental health and substance abuse.
LAP attributes this growth to “increased education and training throughout Illinois and the recognition that LAP has valuable staff and resources to assist on the road to recovery.”
Illinois can be expensive
Illinois scored lower when it comes to cost of living, which considered student debt, disposable income, and average rent.
According to the Education Data Initiative, the average borrower in Illinois owes $37,757 in federal student loan debt, the seventh highest in the nation.
However, this doesn’t compare to the debt owed by the average law school graduate in the U.S., which has risen to $160,000.
Roughly 42% of these students say they owe as much or more than they did when they graduated, and a significant number have cited their debt as a reason to postpone or opt out of significant live events, like getting married, having children, and buying property.
The nation’s best law schools
“As a graduate of an Illinois law school, I’d like to say that we have some of the best in the country.”
This sentiment was shared by Martin Sinclair, Chair of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, during the annual Jumpstart program, which helps first-generation and historically underrepresented Illinois law students prepare for success in law school.
With nine of the nation’s preeminent law schools, a thriving academic and job market, wonderful statewide resources to support lawyers and law students, and diverse cities that will fit any lawyer’s lifestyle, Illinois should be at the top of the list for any potential or practicing lawyer.
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