Student Debt

Last night, we published the second annual Above the Law: Law School Rankings. Please enjoy them. But use them responsibly.

I’m the official “rankings hater” around here, and that hate extends even to rankings that I helped design. There is some useful consumer information in the Above the Law rankings — but it’s also important that consumers understand what is not here, what we didn’t do, and what our rankings can’t tell you.

Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about what’s wrong with our rankings…

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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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Raise your hand if you’re tired of the debate over the value of a legal education. Yeah, me too.

Well, sorry to disappoint you, but the debate rolls on. A prominent law school dean and one of his colleagues took to the pages of the New York Times to once again defend the law school ivory tower from its critics.

Who are we talking about, and what are their arguments?

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Back from the big NALP conference, back from Seattle, happy to be back in New York City. The five boroughs came up a lot at the conference thanks to the big move by Brooklyn Law School to cut tuition by 15% next year.

If I may summarize the reactions from other schools about Brooklyn’s cut (I’m paraphrasing):

  • F**k those motherf**kers. It’s still super-expensive. Go STATE!
  • Actually my school did something very similar. [Elie explains why their school is not similar.] Well, that’s just your opinion, man.
  • Can somebody wake me up when Yale does it?

I expected that other schools would be a little annoyed with Brooklyn. Schools are already facing a financial crunch given the sharp drop in new law students; not many want to take on the additional financial burden of across the board rate reductions. I recently appeared on CNBC with Brooklyn Law Dean Nick Allard, and he explained that Brooklyn Law sold off some of its capital assets to afford this. I noted that not every school is in the position to do that.

But I didn’t expect some prospective Brooklyn Law students to also bitch about the reduction. I guess when you expect dumber people to subsidize your education, having that taken away from you is jarring…

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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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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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Some of the study’s more eye-popping statistics pertained to law school students, whose job prospects are famously declining. The level of indebtedness for this group rose by more than $50,000 from 200[4] to 2012, with the typical law student now owing $140,000, the study found — a jump that’s unprecedented in any other field, including medicine.

Molly Hensley-Clancy of BuzzFeed, discussing a recent report by the New America Foundation about the student debt crisis.

Whenever the government gets involved with “helping” students suffering under crushing debt obligations, I wonder if “the government” even partially understands how students think.

There is a new proposal in the budget that would bring significant changes to the student loan forgiveness program. Specifically, the “Public Sector Loan Forgiveness” program. Currently, students with massive amounts of debt can sign up for income-based repayment of their student loans. Their payments are capped at 10% of “discretionary” income. If they work in the public sector or for a designated non-profit, the government forgives the rest of their loans after ten years. For those playing along at home, that means that taxpayers pick up the rest of the bill.

Critics on both sides of the aisle (including me) argue that the current system encourages schools to charge whatever they want for tuition, while discouraging students from making cost-conscious choices about their debt. It’s far from ideal, and this new proposal seeks to do something about it.

But since Congress is involved, the thing they want to do to “fix it” is stupid and will ultimately hurt student borrowers even more….

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Senator Marco Rubio (R – Fla.) has often said publicly that he personally still owed more than $100,000 in student loans when he joined the U.S. Senate in 2011. He only paid off his nearly $150,000 in debt after law school with the proceeds of his autobiography in December of 2012. Rubio and fellow senator (and law school graduate) Mike Lee (R – Utah) are young enough to be personally aware of the miasma surrounding higher ed — and especially higher ed funding — in the United States. It makes sense that they would lead the way toward reform. Apparently, they are.

In the past few days, the lawmakers have been popping up in public, touting efforts to reform higher education. Let’s take a look at the reforms they suggest….

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* Kentucky joins all those other liberal bastions in recognizing gay marriages. [The Courier-Journal (Louisville)]

* Brilliant… especially the last line. [The Onion]

* Legal luminaries at last night’s White House State Dinner included Justice Elena Kagan, Secretary Jeh Johnson, and ATL’s reigning Lawyer of the Year, Roberta Kaplan. [White House]

* An EMT-trained judge came to the rescue of a criminal defendant critically injured in a car accident. She was assisted by several other criminal defendants due to appear before her that day. When they finally made it to court, she sentenced him to death row. Just kidding, but admit it, that would have been the better ending. [Albuquerque Journal]

* A tipster asks if this guy is the most embarrassing HLS grad. Isn’t Ted Cruz still around? [Associated Press via ABC15]

* Judge Victor Marerro is none too pleased to have to do this whole MF Global case. [Dealbreaker]

* The winter weather in Minnesota is continuing to make lawyers crazy. This time the bug allegedly bit Frank Schulte, who is accused of freaking out at the “mere sight of a car parked too far from the curb for his liking,” battering the car, punching the driver, and hurling racial epithets. Just as warm and fuzzy as the Mary Tyler Moore show made it seem. [CityPages]

* What courts could learn from AA meetings. [Law and More]

* A few events coming up for sports law fans in New York. This Friday, Fordham is hosting its 18th Annual Sports Law Symposium covering issues from the Redskins to Jay-Z. Then a week later, New York Law School is hosting an event on doping, the NCAA, and getting into the sports business on February 21. [Sports Agent Blog]

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