These days, when we speak about new lawyers, we tend to focus less on the mere accomplishment of graduating from law school, mainly because the only admissions requirement at some institutions is a pulse, and more on sobering topics like incredibly high student debt loads and rampant joblessness. This is the “new normal” for law school graduates, and it isn’t as appealing as deans would have you believe.
Given the fact that the market for legal employment dropped out from underneath those who graduated between 2009 and 2011 (and continues to falter to this day), servicing high amounts of law school debt is more difficult than ever before. Declaring bankruptcy isn’t a real option for many, and enrolling in income-based repayment is a temporary solution that has been called a ticking time bomb. You just can’t win.
Unwelcome debt situations usually go hand in hand with law degrees, and they can happen to the best of us — even those who were once lauded as geniuses, like Andrew Carmichael Post. In America, even if you graduate from college at 17, enroll in law school at 18, and pass one of the most difficult bar exams in the nation at 22, you’ll still be saddled with unmanageable debt — in this case, to the tune of $215,000.
How in the world will Post be able to shoulder such a heavy debt burden?
Post graduated in 2010, and his story should sound as a warning to those who are still considering enrolling in law school. With six figures of debt, and thanks to his minimum monthly loan payment of $2,756, Post can’t afford to live on his own. He’s been forced to move back into his childhood room at his parents’ home, and he relies on income from four different sources just to get by. “It’s like some sort of nightmare where someone gave me a bank mortgage but forgot to add the deed to the house,” Post says. Or perhaps a better analogy here would be that someone burned down the house altogether.
Post’s plight, as detailed by the Los Angeles Times, sounds like that experienced by many recent law school graduates. The jobs disappeared, and with them, the chance of being able to repay student debts:
In 2009, one year before Post would seek a full-time job, “141 employers had attended [on-campus interviews] at USC law school,” he said. “The following summer, I competed with 300 people in my year for the attention of only seven private employers and a handful of government agencies.”
Unable to secure full-time employment, Post put out his legal shingle. He took on small-business clients with limited budgets. He also fell back on his programming skills for other clients. The pay was difficult to predict.
“I was never really impoverished,” Post said, “just terribly inconvenienced by not being able to collect on a legal bill or a programming bill I’d sent out two months earlier. What little stable income I had wasn’t enough to get by on. There were times when I had to decide on whether to buy enough gas to get back to court or buy lunch.”
Post isn’t working full-time as a lawyer; instead, he’s working full-time as a computer programmer. He has to work four jobs, but his annual income is now between $80,000 and $96,000 — more than most recent law school graduates could even dream of, but still not enough to tackle his loans. It’s not even enough to accomplish some of his short-term goals, which include buying a new pair of shoes.
After meeting with a financial planner, Post found out that all he needed to do was live at home for the next six years until he turns 30, and his debt would be repaid. Oh really? That’s all? This sounds like a ridiculous proposition, but it’s become a way of life because we’re living during a time when higher education serves only as a financial death sentence for young adults. The best and brightest among us shouldn’t be forced to toil under the crushing weight of student debt for their entire lives.
Something’s got to change, and fast — be it the cost of tuition or the length of law school itself — because new members of this profession won’t be able to drag the ball and chain of debt for much longer.
Law school grad learns how to pay off a heavy debt [Los Angeles Times]