There are employers other than the U.S. military that might help you out financially with respect to law school tuition. A second source reports:
I graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 2009, and I’m pretty happy about it. I’ll give some background about why I decided to go and whether those reasons held true on the back end. I was enlisted military for five years after high school, picking up a few college credits here and there, but no degree. Moved to Tennessee with my new wife, intent on finishing my undergrad and becoming a teacher. My wife encouraged me to get a job at a local law firm, as she had done in college. I wound up loving the work, and switched majors to go for a Legal Assistant bachelor’s, shortly taking over as our small firm’s litigation paralegal.
I decided pretty quickly that I was interested in law school, but I wasn’t sure where. My bosses realized it wasn’t that easy to find someone who likes doing ERISA work, so they offered me a deal to come back after law school, with some loan repayment assistance thrown in for as long as I stay with them post-grad.
Now I’ve been back as an associate for nearly three years, and things are what I expected they would be. I’m making the money I was tentatively promised up front, and while it’s not six figures, it’s more than enough to service my debts and have me living comfortably in this town. That might not be the case, by the way, if I had been accepted to Vandy, the only other school I applied to (the only other school that made sense geographically). UT gave me an 80% scholarship, Knoxville is a cheaper town to live in than Nashville, and I’d probably have 2-3 times the student loans I have now if I’d gone the other way.
I like my work, I like my co-workers, I like my town, I like my pay (for the hours I put in, anyway — I’m mostly a 9-5 kind of guy), and I like my partnership prospects. All in all, life is good, and law school was a success.
I asked this source about how much debt he had upon graduating from law school. Here’s his reply:
As it turns out (I had to look it up, to be honest), I still had around $50K in loans, so it’s not as if I got off scot-free. Even though Knoxville was a cheaper town than Nashville, I was still spending the week in one city, and had a wife, a house, and a mortgage in another city. Living expenses, they do add up.
All in all, I’m not having trouble servicing the debt, though, and I actually have a deal with my firm that for as long as I stay with them, they pay me half what I pay in student loans, as a sort of retention bonus. Not a bad deal, overall.
When we say you should try to go to law school without incurring “too much” debt, one might ask: how much is too much? The number will vary depending on a person’s individual circumstances, but it seems to me that $50K is manageable. It certainly is for this source — who, it should be noted, knew he would have a job waiting for him upon graduation.
UPDATE (6/1/2012): Professor Brian Tamanaha, author of the new book Failing Law Schools (affiliate link), agrees that the cutoff point for a manageable debt load upon graduation is $50,000. See his interview with Professor Glenn Reynolds (aka Instapundit).
The lawyer behind our next law school success story had even less debt than $50K — and paid it off very quickly….