Student Loan Debt

I’ve liked working in law and am taking the LSAT next month despite law school being mostly a really poor decision (especially for someone like me who doesn’t like debt).

– Meghan, a young American woman working at a boutique law firm in Istanbul, Turkey, discussing her plans for the future in an interview with Mike Dang of The Billfold. Meghan claims that if she doesn’t perform well on the LSAT, she won’t apply to law school.

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?

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As we mentioned in Non-Sequiturs last night, JPMorgan Chase is getting out of the student loan business. The bank will stop accepting new student loan applications this October.

A spokesperson for the bank said: “Students and their families are increasingly relying on government-backed loans rather than private student loans, and as a result the market has declined by 75% in the last five years.”

My friends, this is a bad sign. JPM is just a minor player in the student loan game, but the fact that they don’t think lending money to students for education is a good business anymore should make us worried. The fact that the federal government has crowded out this private lender is not good.

It means that we’re one step closer to the whole student loan bubble bursting…

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Student loans are a real bitch, and declaring bankruptcy won’t even save you from them — unless you can prove you’ve got undue hardship and a “certainty of hopelessness” about you, which most people have too much pride to admit. Without government payment plans like Income-Based Repayment, Pay As You Earn, and Public Service Forgiveness, a much larger portion of our population would be living in a van down by the river, still drowning in educational debts, but too far off the grid for the bill collectors to come a-knocking.

This is why people absolutely lost their minds when the Daily Currant, a satirical online newspaper, published a story about President Barack Obama’s supposed bid to forgive all student loans. Given the responses, it looks like the youth of America is still in need of some change they can believe in…

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You might remember Matt Taibbi from such hits as “F@$% Goldman Sachs” and “Wall Street Trades Soylent Green.” He is a blistering critic of… everything.

In an upcoming Rolling Stone article, Taibbi has turned his withering gaze to the student loan industry. He criticizes Democrats, Republicans, and President Obama. Taibbi points out Obama’s hypocrisy on the student loan issue, something that I’ve been doing since 2009, but on this issue, the more the merrier.

While Taibbi’s article focuses on the crisis as it applies to college students, he can’t help but include some examples from the legal industry. I think that’s because no matter how much colleges and universities take advantage of college kids, law schools are worse….

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There’s been a lot of talk recently about the value of a law degree, and whether or not it’s actually worth a million dollars, degrees from some law schools are obviously worth more than others. Let’s be real for a moment here: If you’re taking out six figures of debt just for the privilege of attending, your starting salary damn well better be somewhere near the same amount, otherwise you’re going to be underwater for most of, if not all of, your adult life after law school.

Living with debt is scary, and if you want to have a better chance of being able to comfortably do all of the things you thought you’d be able to after getting a law degree, things like owning a home and having a child, you need to choose your law school wisely. You can start evaluating your options — or giving yourself a pat on the back — by checking out the latest U.S. News rankings for the 10 law schools with the biggest return on investment.

Which schools made the list? Not all of them are in the T14, so you may be surprised…

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As mentioned in Non-Sequiturs last week, this story is why we can’t have nice things. Specifically, why lawyers make it so we can’t have nice things.

On Friday, the Washington Post reported that Georgetown Law had worked out how to bilk the federal government into fully paying for some its students’ tuition and managed to create a profit for itself on the side. This is caused a bit of a stir Friday afternoon, but unfortunately the practice is neither new nor limited to Georgetown.

Though some tactics Georgetown employs may go beyond what any other school has the gall to attempt….

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The ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education released a 34-page draft report today about its findings. Essentially, the document says, “Wow, the scam blogs were totally right, we suck.”

Just kidding. I mean, it does finally get to the point of identifying a problem with legal education that law school reformers have been screaming about for years. But, in the immortal words of Sam Seaborn, “Let’s forget the fact that you’re coming a little late to the party and embrace the fact that you showed up at all.”

The top-line findings of the ABA draft report hit on pretty much all of the problems with legal education. But it’s still an open question whether the ABA will actually do anything about this report. I’ll tell you what I find out while I’m at their annual meeting next week, assuming I make it back alive…

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Ed. note: We are having an Above the Law retreat this afternoon, so we may be less prolific than usual today. We will return to our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.

* “I think I am now the hardest-working justice. I wasn’t until David Souter left us.” Justice Ginsburg celebrates her twentieth year on the high bench in true diva style. [USA Today]

* Sorry, EA, the Ninth Circuit thought your First Amendment free expression defense to allegedly stealing college sports players’ likenesses was a load of hooey. [Wall Street Journal]

* “It’s a decision that clearly favors the merchants.” A federal judge gave the Fed a spanking in a ruling on its cap for debit card fees earned by banks after consumer swipes. [DealBook / New York Times]

* “What makes this discriminatory? I don’t think there’s anything in Title 7 that says an employer has to be consistent.” Ropes & Gray’s “token black associate” had his day in court. [National Law Journal]

* The firm that outed J.K. Rowling as author of “The Cuckoo’s Calling” will make a charitable donation as an apology — getting the book to the bestseller’s list wasn’t charitable enough. [New York Times]

* As the bar exam draws to a close today, here’s something to consider: 12,250 people signed up to take the test in New York alone. Are there jobs out there for them? Best of luck! [New York Law Journal]

* The feds want to make a better return on their investment on law student loans. Perhaps it’s time for those good old gainful employment regulations. [Student Loan Ranger / U.S. News & World Report]

* Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro is expected to speak at his sentencing hearing today, where a judge will decide if a term of life in prison plus 1,000 years is appropriate punishment for him. [CBS News]

To accompany Noam Scheiber’s big article on Biglaw — which I discussed yesterday, and Anonymous Partner analyzed this morning — the New Republic asked six prominent observers of the legal profession (including yours truly) for their ideas on how to fix law school. For all of the blame that Biglaw gets for the profession’s problems, some of the difficulties can be traced back to the legal academy and how it teaches and trains lawyers (or fails to do so).

Let’s check out the various reform proposals. Which ones do you agree with?

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