Student Debts

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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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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It’s impolite to criticize how other people spend their money. Some people value guns, other people want butter, and of course, there are always people willing to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars to pursue a useless education.

Debt financing your dreams is always a risky proposition, but it’s socially acceptable to do that if your dream is to be a doctor or a lawyer or a homeowner.

But what if you dream is to be a model? Is it appropriate and socially acceptable to debt finance aesthetic improvements in your body that you believe will take you to the next level modeling greatness?

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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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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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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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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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