Message From the ABA: Uh, Maybe Going to Law School Isn’t Such a Great Idea

Wednesday, January 5, AD 2011

As faithful readers of this blog know, I am an attorney, and I have written several posts which may be read here, here and here, warning about some of the pitfalls of the profession, especially the financial cost of attending law school.  The facts of law school debt as opposed to the job market have become so grim that even the American Bar Association has now issued a warning on the subject that may be read here.  This is significant since the ABA has studiously ignored this problem for over a decade, even denying  that there was a problem, and has passed out accreditation to new law schools with a glad hand.  Well, better late than never.

Far too many law students expect that earning a law degree will solve their financial problems for life. In reality, however, attending law school can become a financial burden for law students who fail to consider carefully the financial implications of their decision.

You can underline and put several stars by that!  The general public has the illusion that the law is a quick path to riches.  Few things are farther from the truth.  Except for the top 10% of the top law schools most new attorneys, if they can find employment, will be starting out at around 40-45k a year.  When I graduated from law school in 1982 I started out at 16k.  Earning 40k a year and having 100k in law school debts is a very bad situation, and decades of dealing with a huge debt, which cannot be discharged in bankruptcy except under the most extreme circumstances, await.

Obtaining a degree from an ABA-accredited law school is not cheap. Over the last twenty-five years, law school tuition has consistently risen two times as fast as inflation. Consequently, the average tuition at private law schools in 2008 was $34,298, while the average in-state tuition for public law schools was $16,836. When one adds books and living expenses to tuition, the average public law student borrows $71,436 for law school, while the average private school student borrows $91,506. Many students borrow far more than $100,000, and these numbers do not even include debt that students may still carry from their undergraduate years.

The numbers speak for themselves.  I would never have taken on this type of debt to become an attorney, and if I had, I can’t imagine how I would have serviced that debt in my first lean decade as an attorney.   There is more good news for people about to begin law school:

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9 Responses to Message From the ABA: Uh, Maybe Going to Law School Isn’t Such a Great Idea

  • I came out of law school making very good money (over 50K per annum nearly 20 years ago) and with relatively less debt than today’s law students (around 50K – I paid it off in less than the 10 years in which I was obligated to do so).

    I was still miserable practicing law.

  • All in all, I have rather enjoyed my legal career, but at least half of the attorneys I encounter wish they were doing something else, and about a quarter of the attorneys I know really despise being an attorney.

    Most of my friends and fellow law students have been pretty fortunate in the job search and have good jobs. Even among that subset – the lucky ones – I’d say more than half wish that they had not gone to law school. I don’t personally regret it, but I’m thankful every day that I failed to get into my target school and as a result graduated with very little debt. Working as a lawyer is exceptionally demanding compared to most other jobs; there are wiser courses of action than getting into $100k of debt for an uncertain shot at a job that will require you to work more hours with less pleasant people (and possibly at less pay than the alternatives).

  • I wish I had gotten a finance degree and gone into trading instead.

  • I mentioned the ABA report to a judge I appeared in front of today and his comment was, even leaving income and law school debt aside, that the law was a suck “posterior” profession.

  • Thankfully my situation is not as dire. What the ABA report does not mention is that you can get subsidized loans for the tuition amount and then unsubsidized for an amount afterward (about $6,000 per semester). The problem is that the tuition amount is frequently determines before schools set up their tuition and/or fee amounts. What frequently happens is that the tuition is set by the loaner and then raised by the school. Thus, you often need to get the unsubsidized loans as well (these loans collect interest while in school).

    It’s pretty much a racket.

  • I suppose that the suck-posteriorness of the job could be assuaged by the high pay in some corners. My college roommate got into “Preparation H” along the Charles River and is now a partner at a blue chip Manhattan firm. I imagine he paid off his law school debts pretty quickly. The loss of his soul is another matter.

  • Is it not to a cause for rejoicing that we may end up by having fewer lawyers?

    Did Our Lord not warn lawyers: “Woe to you lawyers!” [Luke 11:46].

    With such a warning from on high, how can one lament so poor choice?

  • Add to the mix about five grand to take courses and tests both to get into law school and to pass the bar as well as the annual fees and CLE costs.

    I was well into my career before going to law school; good thing since servicing my debt eats up almost a quarter of my salary and I haven’t found a legal job that would let me make as much as I make now. My last application joined more than 3800 others; 3800 applicants for one job!

    I am grateful for my present situation but the constant solicitations from my alma mater is all the more tiresome for my not being employed as a lawyer.

  • G-Veg, I get calls from my alma mater all the time for contributions to my Law School. I’m polite, since they dragoon students into making the calls, but I have never, and will never, give them one thin dime, especially since my tax dollars already go to them, not to mention the fairly large sums I’m spending to have my son attend my alma mater.