Student Debt

For the past few weeks, I’ve been writing about law school hoping that it would help would-be law students make an informed decision. I exposed some misperceptions about law school that no one discussed. I also suggested some cost-effective and possibly lucrative alternatives to a legal education. And I wrote about some last-minute things to consider before going to law school.

But some of you will still go to law school for the wrong reasons and pay rip-off prices. Ego, familial expectations, and peer pressure may play a role in your decision. So I want to finish the law-school-themed posts by issuing a warning to students and their parents about the consequences of graduating without a meaningful job and with six figure, nearly nondischargeable student loan debt….

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Ed note: Cedar Ed Private Student Loan Consolidation products enable recent graduates to lower their private student loan rates and monthly expenses into one manageable payment. See more here.

The average debt load of law school graduates is well over $140,000. That’s roughly the cost of purchasing a Maserati, or 88% of your first-year Biglaw salary. Couple that with a notoriously grim employment outlook and law school grads often find themselves tethered to mortgage-sized repayment plans, minus the actual house.

One thing law school doesn’t teach you is the variety of loans that are available and the advantages and disadvantages of each loan type. With a little foresight, law school students can select the proper loan and create a repayment plan that is best aligned to their career and lifestyle post-graduation.

Let’s start by breaking down each type of loan to better understand consolidation after graduation…

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A prominent Canadian magazine, Maclean’s, ranks our Canadian law schools every year. Here are the categories it uses:

1. Trees per campus acre (15%)
2. Square footage of the law library (30%)
3. Number of left-handed professors (20%)
4. Proximity to Toronto (40%)
5. Supreme Court of Canada clerkships (2%)

Some call Maclean’s methodology suspect. But my law school, Queen’s, ranks third in the country, so who am I to argue? It’s not my fault Queen’s has a huge law library on a leafy campus just up the highway from Toronto in a region with the highest concentration of left-handed people in the country. We didn’t do so well on SCC clerks, but I am told that Queen’s is working diligently to improve in that area.

Anyway, Maclean’s says these are the top 5 law schools in Canada:

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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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Elie here. Everybody wants a deal. Everybody wants to “beat the market,” and the internet makes us think that we can. If a baby with an e-Trade app can make money, why can’t you? Buy low, sell high: I’m sure I read that on a bumper sticker somewhere, or maybe in the New Yorker.

Increasingly, the internet thinks it’s identified just the right undervalued asset to snap up at a discount: legal education. The decline in law school applications has been sharp and truly shocking to some. It doesn’t make sense that a law degree would suddenly be much less valuable now than it was 5 or 10 or 20 years ago. The value should rebound. The world still needs lawyers. And if you haven’t noticed, or just disregarded, long-term structural changes in the market for legal services, the fact that every law dean will tell you that the market rebound is right around the corner gives you more confidence in your logical assessment. It’s not like every law dean in the country would lie about the value of their product, right?

We can and will continue to debate the likely future value of a legal education. But can we dispense with the notion that purchasing full-price legal education right now involves “buying low”? You are not buying low, you are buying at historically unprecedented heights. Nobody would put “Buy high, hope to sell at fair market price in three years” on a bumper sticker.

And nobody should be putting that on the internet either….

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I shouldn’t laugh at this. A recent law school graduate got completely screwed by her own father and I shouldn’t find it so funny.

But I do. I find it goddamn hilarious. The student actually got a clue halfway through law school and decided to drop out. But her father convinced her to stick it out by promising to pay her tuition. She finished, she graduated, and when it came time to pay the bills, Daddy said, “Sorry, I lied.”

Ha. Hahahahaha. When will law students learn that EVERYBODY IS LYING. You know, except me. EVERYBODY ELSE IS LYING…

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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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One thing I’ve learned as I get older is that most people are incapable of learning from other people’s mistakes. It’s just not something humans are good at, I guess. If you see somebody jump off his roof and impale himself on a fence post, the human reaction seems to be “Wow, what a stupid place to put a fence post,” not, “I’M NEVER GOING TO JUMP OFF A ROOF.”

Everybody thinks that they can do it better. That impulse probably helped us go from stone tools to weapons of mass destruction, but it’s also what helps unaccredited law schools stay in business. Whatever, it all ends in radiation poisoning.

Which brings me to the story of a former student loan debt collector who heard countless stories from people drowning in debt with degrees that turned out to be useless. Armed with that information, she turned around and took out $40K to go to an unaccredited, online law school in California. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills…

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Justice Antonin Scalia

[I]f law school is to remain three years, costs have to be cut; the system is not sustainable in its present form. The graduation into a shrunken legal sector of students with hundreds of thousands of dollars of student debt, nondischargeable in bankruptcy, cannot continue. Perhaps — just perhaps — the more prestigious law schools (and I include William and Mary among them) can continue the way they are, though that is not certain. But the vast majority of law schools will have to lower tuition.

– Justice Antonin Scalia, in his commencement speech at William & Mary School of Law. More highlights from Justice Scalia’s remarks, after the jump.

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* When people tell you that you can do anything with a law degree, they’re wrong. Sounds like… everything Elie writes. [Slate]

* Student debt is dragging down the economy. Is today “every news outlet catches up with Elie Day”? [New York Times]

* Everyone’s also talking about the law student turned prostitute. What about the law professor who was a gigolo? [The Nota Bene]

* Baker Hostetler lawyer leaving the law to start a gym. With any luck he’ll have a championship dodgeball team in no time. [Crain's Cleveland Business]

* Just a reminder, there isn’t a “telling a university everything you’ve done for an oral history” privilege. [BBC]

* An argument for Republicans to get serious about loosening the reins on technological innovation like the Republican Party of old. But that might require saying no to some billionaire donor, so that’s off the table. [The American Conservative]

* Professor Will Baude pointed us to a fun new law professor blog from Professor Richard Re, soon to be of UCLA Law, with an even more fun title. Here he compares Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in Schuette to Quidditch. [Re's Judicata]

* A new show about law school. It’s supposedly about criminal law, but the trailer looks more like a professional responsibility fact pattern. [YouTube]

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