Law School Debts

Law school can ruin your life if you are not careful. It’s very expensive and the rewards are far from guaranteed. And even if you reap those rewards, you might not like what you’ve become.

But if you do everything wrong, law school becomes just a tragicomic microcosm of poor planning and bad luck.

Forbes has an article up about a woman who is $350,000 in debt and living at the poverty line. Oh, but she has a law degree, and people who haven’t been paying attention are surprised by that…

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In the legal profession’s “new normal,” it’s not uncommon for recent law school graduates to have hundreds of thousands of dollars in educational debt, all for a piece of paper that grants them the right to try to become practicing attorneys. With the employment landscape being less than desirable, the high debt that comes with a law degree can seem all but insurmountable, and at times, completely soul-crushing. Living paycheck to paycheck to pay down loans with what little money you earn is unbearable, and doing normal adult things like getting married, buying a home, and having children are nigh impossible — the albatross of law school debt will always be hanging around your neck.

How can you possibly survive in this world with six figures of law school debt? Well, it helps if you’ve got a generous friend who’s willing to pay off your loans in full — under the cover of secrecy, of course.

With six figures of law school debt of my own, I can’t help but be incredibly envious…

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Between 2008 and 2012, the median debt burden for newly minted JDs increased by 54 percent, from $83,000 to $128,000. (That compares with a 22 percent increase in medical student debt.) It is the responsibility of every aspiring law student to understand the implications of taking on such a financial commitment. For law grads who have already accumulated the debt, there may be options for you to better manage repayment. Thanks to our friends at DRB, today’s infographic takes a look at law student debt, including the possible benefits of refinance or consolidation. Click here for more details.

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Back in March, we brought you news on the law schools with the most heavily indebted graduates. It was quite shocking to witness the depths to which these poor souls went to finance their legal educations. Take, for example, the average graduate from Thomas Jefferson School of Law, who has $180,665 in debt — and also has a 29 percent chance of working as an attorney nine months after graduation. That’s absolutely terrifying.

But in a world where the average class of 2013 law school graduate carries a debt load of $108,815 (up from an average of $108,293 for the class of 2012), there must be a few schools out there that won’t destroy a would-be lawyer’s financial footprint forever.

Which law school graduates have the least debt of all? U.S. News has a ranking for that…

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As we mentioned in Morning Docket, one New York law school just decided to cut its yearly tuition by a whole lot — 15 percent, actually. That’s right: a top 100 law school is reducing its tuition, across the board, in a move that will take it from being the second-most expensive private law school in New York City to being the cheapest of its kind.

Of course, by “cheapest,” what we really mean is “still prohibitively expensive,” but at least it’s a step in the right direction. Perhaps this is a trend in the making for the rest of New York City’s law schools.

So, which law school is helping its students take on a little less debt?

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Jordan Graham and Cody Johnson

* Scared of an audit, were we? With the unsealing of the case against Dewey’s former finance director comes greater insight into what was really going on behind the scenes at the failed firm. [DealBook / New York Times]

* The American Bar Association is willing pay up to $15,000 to organizations that match unemployed law grads with jobs to serve the legal needs of the poor. So, how much do the poor law grads get paid? [National Law Journal]

* Tenure may be “under fire,” but law professors are fighting back — and hard — because law school deans seem unwilling to speak up on their behalf. Let’s face facts though, tenure isn’t going anywhere. [Forbes]

* It figures one of the faces of America’s $1 trillion of outstanding student loan debt is a lawyer. Hey, heavily indebted lawyers make great headlines and even better first paragraphs. [Big Story / Associated Press]

* Jordan Graham, the newlywed who pushed her husband of eight days off a cliff, was sentenced to serve 30 years in prison. Protip: an annulment would’ve been a better option than second-degree murder. [CNN]

Yesterday, we brought our readers some “startling” statistics about law student debt levels. It seems that average indebtedness for law graduates increased by more than $50,000 between 2004 and 2012, with a typical law student saddled by about $140,000 in loans.

In fairness, those statistics probably weren’t all that startling to our readers — many of them are heavily indebted themselves. In fact, we know that many of them are carrying debt loads that surpass even that six-figure number.

Which law school graduates have the most debt of all? U.S. News has a ranking for that…

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Ed note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Ann K. Levine, a law school admission consultant and owner of LawSchoolExpert.com, offers helpful tips for law school applicants.

Law schools have been increasing their scholarship opportunities in order to lure applicants. Why? Because law school applicants are in demand. Applications are down yet again, and law schools are scrambling to fill their seats. (See TaxProf Blog for exact numbers and trends, year over year.)

As law schools compete for qualified applicants with better scholarships, it may be easier to consider criteria like debt alongside rank and prestige when choosing a law school. As part of this new trend, law schools are adding on scholarship programs to make attending law school more affordable. Villanova Law recently announced an initiative to add 50 full-tuition scholarships for three years, and in-state students at Penn State are being offered $20,000 per year as part of a new scholarship program.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Sunny Choi of Ms. JD suggests five New Year’s Resolutions for every associate’s wallet.

Being financially conscious requires a disciplined mind and willpower similar to what you would need to succeed at losing weight. You’re not going to lose those 10 pounds by carving out an exception, for say, your daily caramel latte from Starbucks. No ifs, ands. or buts when it comes to meeting financial goals. If you’re ready for the challenge, here are some ideas for New Year’s resolutions that you can tailor to your personal financial needs.

1. Aim for quarterly progress in paying down your law school loans.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

Some guy on Twitter was complaining that Above the Law focuses too much on the negative side of going to law school. Apparently this person mistakes us for a law school admissions office — people who ignore facts when they don’t fit their happy-clappy narrative. We do bring you some law school success stories when we hear of good ones. Do you know why those stories are “news”? Because law schools are so effective at leading people down a path of career frustration and financial ruin that when somebody beats the odds, it’s mildly noteworthy.

Law school is a good investment for some, and a terrible one for many. We say that all the time. The problem is that law schools do not give people enough information to assess whether or not they should go. The problem is that some law schools actively mislead people who are trying to make a sound decision. The problem is that even when law school “works out,” the tuition charged often vastly outstrips the value of the degree.

Sure, some people will succeed despite the high cost, misleading information, and weak job market. Law schools want you to think that those successful people are the norm, but really they are the outliers. (And, given the events of today, I guess I have to say that the folks who contemplate suicide are also outliers.)

This guy who recently bared his underachieving soul to Business Insider is the norm. This guy making $45,000 while carrying $200,000 of law school debt has the kind of life law students should prepare themselves for, regardless of what the admissions brochures and the guy on Twitter who made everything work out will tell you….

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