The belief that law as a sensible career option for young Americans has just been quashed by a new study (hat-tip, Instapundit).

Published in the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, the analysis indicates that more than 50% of law school graduates from the 2011 class aren’t earning enough to buy a house.

The study was done by University of St. Thomas Law Professor Jerry Organ, who wrote up the results in a forthcoming article in the Washington University Journal of Law and Policy.

Mr. Organ took a formula for measuring a law school graduate’s economic viability developed by University of Louisville Law Professor Jim Chen and applied it to employment outcome data published on a per school basis by the American Bar Association for the class of 2011.

Graduates need to be earning an annual income that’s at least two times their annual tuition — or an income that’s at least two-thirds of their law school debt — to reach “marginal financial viability,” according to the formula. Those below the threshold can’t afford to buy a $100,000 house and struggle to retire their debt.

And in Above the Law, recent law school graduate Elie Mystal concurs with the study’s findings and expands on his real world experiences (hat-tip, TaxProf Blog).

Now, I know what prospective law students are thinking (especially those who are bad at math). They’re saying, “Well, d’uh, I don’t need to own a home two years after I graduate. First I’ll pay off my debts, then when I’m years out and making bank, I’ll buy a sweet house.” But try to understand the numbers: Organ is saying that if you aren’t earning at least double your annual tuition, you’re going to struggle even in paying off your debt, to say nothing of accumulating the resources needed to buy a house. …

You also have to think about how your starting salary affects your long-term salary. It’s very hard to go from making $50,000 with your first job out of law school to making $250,000 while still in the legal profession….

And Organ is just looking at individual debtors. He’s not taking into account spouses: sure you might be like me and get lucky with a spouse who has a better earning potential than you do, but as law graduates you are more likely to be like my wife and get saddled with a low-rent “writer” who destroys whatever hope you had at financial security. Organ isn’t looking at having kids, or having parents who need long-term care and money. Or all of the other things life throws at you.

He’s just looking at whether or not your expected salary can manage your debt load while also owning a home. And his answer is “NO,” for 53 percent of recent law school graduates.