STUDENT LETTER TO CASE WESTERN LAW DEAN LAWRENCE MITCHELL
Your article is completely biased and unfounded. Your point about “getting a first job” as not being an important factor in whether law school is worth the price of admission fails to take into account how the substantial debt continues to pile up, while a struggling grad attempts to find a job in a woefully difficult market. I graduated in 2009, with approximately $150K in debt. My federal loans have a devastating rate of 6.8 – 8.5 % annual interest. I have not even begun to scrape the interest of my loans away, and I have been employed for almost 3 years. While I searched for a job for a over a year following graduation, the interest on this “worthwhile” education debt kept being compounded. At no point in time have I defaulted, yet now I owe close to $200K. My interest payments alone are over $14K per year, meaning that even if I pay $1100/month, I STILL do not pay the full interest that has accrued and I do touch the principal. My first law firm job in 2010, at a mid-sized firm, in a big city market, paid $57K. I now make $100K and I consider myself extremely fortunate to be in this position. I am in my 30’s, and make more than the average American middle class person – or even family – yet I cannot even begin to think about buying a home, and I cannot afford to spend money on items other than my basic needs such as a car, gas to commute, rent, food, and a minor amount of entertainment. Myself, along with my colleagues in the class of 2009 should be driving our nation’s economy, yet the vast majority of us are under pressure to pay off these oppressive loans and cannot participate in the “American dream,” as we once envisioned would be the case. After all being a lawyer is worth it, correct?
Law school was the worst decision of my life. At no point was I advised by my law school that the debt would be so stifling. The lawyers in my position should be active participants in the middle class of this country, yet due to our suffocating debt, we can barely afford to rent a decent apartment. For you to say that Law School is worth the money, as a Dean of a Law School, without any experience or perspective of the great majority of the recent law school students and graduates – including your own alumni – is borderline criminal. The fact that you claim that the average law salary is around $123K completely ignores the fact that this takes into account the first year associate, as well as the 40-year partner from large multi-national firms. For a legal education to be worthwhile for a STUDENT, you should only be analyzing the 1-5 year associate salaries. I guarantee that these have gone way down in the past five years. Law schools keep admitting larger and larger classes of 1L students. Case Western is not innocent of this either as I am sure you are aware. Case Western’s 1L class of 2011-2012 of 239 students, consisted of 38% of the total students enrolled in the Law school – i.e. a bigger class than the previous years by approximately 50 students. Meanwhile, thousands of graduates, plus thousands more unemployed graduates, are piled up and competing for fewer and fewer jobs. Basic economic principals control, and it is not uncommon for starting salaries to be $40K or less, even in big cities as the small to mid-sized firms continue to take advantage of the huge supply of young attorneys.
When a student with, “an average of $125K of debt,” gets a starting salary of $50K, do you think he can afford to start paying his loan? Of course you do. Your student loan was likely way under the $100K mark. I’m sure you paid that off in no time. Nowadays, however, the 7% interest on $125K accrues at an alarming rate, especially for the unfortunate masses who don’t fall into a high paying job right after they take, and of course pass the BAR exam. Of course based on your “purely economic theory” you blindly assume all of this happens. Yet, until that dejected student can finally pass the BAR, find a job, and work long hours and hard enough to make just enough money to tip the scales in their favor (by affording to make a loan payments to cover both the interest AND the principal), while also paying taxes, and living expenses – how can you possibly claim that law school is worth the money? Perhaps you need to revisit the issue, and not view it “Looking purely at the economics…” based on whatever un-referenced statistics you concocted in your article.
Your article is a misrepresentation, and reflective of the same misrepresentations that were made to myself and so many other students in the class of 2009, who are now struggling to keep their head above water, after receiving an education that you champion as being “worth the money.” I strongly disagree with you.