I’ve written a few times about how I feel law schools are letting students down. I make my living working with lawyers, and I enjoy working within the profession. However, there are thousands of kids hoping to ride out the recession by going to law school not fully realizing the consequences of taking on an astronomical amount of debt in today’s job market. Buyer Beware: very few of you will attend a top tier law school and graduate in the top 10% of your class, and be offered a job making $145,000 – $160,000 per year. The ABA Journal is reporting that 1/3 of all law school grads will graduate $120,000 in debt:
Twenty-nine percent of law students surveyed said they expect to owe more than $120,000 at graduation, up from 23 percent in 2008, 19 percent in 2007 and 18 percent in 2006. The findings come from the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (PDF), which garnered responses from 26,641 law students at 82 law schools in spring 2009.
Yet the huge debt load isn’t having much of an effect on career choices, the survey found. Of those 3Ls who expected to owe more than $120,000, 32 percent planned to enter public interest law jobs, compared to 27 percent of students who expected to graduate with no student debt. Similarly, 49 percent of those with the highest expected debt load planned to work at private law firms, compared to 52 percent of those with no expected debt.
And then I read Debt: The Silent Killer in today’s ATL. It should be required reading for all law students.
I graduated law school in 2003, owing Harvard University just under $150,000. At the time, I had no idea what starting my professional career $150K in the hole would do to my life. I figured I’d work hard, make money, and I’d pay my loans out of my general non-disposable income funds — kind of like my cable bill. Seven years, two careers, numerous deferments and defaults, and one global economic meltdown later, I still owe a ton of money. Now, however, I pay it to various debt collection agencies and lawyers. When prospective landlords run a pro forma credit check on my application, they come back looking at me like I’ve been convicted of multiple war crimes. Every raise I’ll ever get will be eaten up by the collection agencies until sweet death allows me one everlasting and satisfying default. And, oh yeah, I don’t even want to practice law anymore — I quit my Biglaw job because, despite the debt, I really wanted to have a job that I enjoyed. So I essentially purchased a $150,000 disposable good. My time working in Biglaw was kind of like a very expensive vacation that I debt financed. I mention all this because I am the cautionary tale prospective law students never want to think about. I mention all this because it is noble to crush false hope. I mention all this because there are way too many people poised to follow in my financially ruinous steps.
I’m not saying don’t go to law school … I’m just saying make certain that you do your due diligence. That you are aware of the debt to job potential out there. That you are making the right choice. That you are doing so with full awareness.