Student Loans

This takes balls. Not courage, but balls.

I’m using the term “balls” as a synonym for gall. I’m invoking the connotation of “stubbornness.” A law professor who can look at the current legal job market and the financial ruin suffered by so many law graduates, and fix his mouth to suggest that law school should take longer (and thereby cost more), really has balls. It’d be like Orson Scott Card thanking the producers of Ender’s Game for not casting “a little gay kid” in the title role.

I’m reluctant to even write this post and give this professor a wider circulation for his crackpot views, but I want the internet record to be complete, lest some person who hasn’t been paying attention happens upon the professor’s article and stupidly thinks, “This makes sense to me….”

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When law deans and other law school defenders talk about the high cost of legal education, they try to justify the price in economic terms. They cite ridiculous and largely unsupported figures about the value of a law degree. They point out the cost of the faculty. Explicitly or not, they don’t see a problem with charging the absolute maximum that the market will bear. They feel no shame for enticing young people to invest in law school by any means necessary, fair or unfair.

But the unreasonable cost of law school doesn’t just play out in purely economic terms. Students who graduate with a mountain of debt pay the human costs of hopelessness, deferred dreams, and often the burden of having to rely on parents long past the point when they had hoped to be self-sufficient.

We tend to focus on the plight of unemployed law graduates, but it’s always important to remember that “winning” and landing one of the few Biglaw jobs out there that even gives you a shot to pay off your debts can be pretty awful too. The high debt makes many law graduates feel like indentured servants, forced to work jobs they don’t want, in order to service their loans.

I think there are a lot of people who will empathize with this law graduate from a top school with a Biglaw job who feels like even death isn’t a suitable way around his law school loans…

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Unemployed (and underemployed) lawyers are a common theme around here. We talk about layoffs, bogus firings, and always the pain caused by carrying crushing debt without the means to pay it off. We even boast regular coverage of contract attorney problems.

All of these topics combine to form the rich tapestry of sadness that is scraping and struggling as an out-of-work attorney in a market that hates you. However, you have to read a number of ATL stories to see all sides of the unemployment problem. There just isn’t “one stop shopping” for how much it sucks.

But then this came along and summed up the whole experience of unemployed lawyers perfectly….

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Would that law school was affordable so that all one had to do was sell off childhood memories. Alas, stories like this one are not about students piecing together law school tuition in creative and interesting ways. Instead, this is another story about a law school graduate who learned, too late, that getting a law degree doesn’t have anything to do with getting a job that allows you to afford the degree.

It’s funny, collecting toy cars is a harmless hobby. Collecting post-graduate degrees is the dangerous perversion…

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Despite calls for change from the highest of authorities, law school tuition is still too damn high. In fact, for most recent law school graduates (myself included), it’s financially crippling.

Sure, class sizes have gotten smaller — whether due to law schools’ attempts to rightsize or due to lack of interest from prospective students — but tuition hasn’t. Some schools have managed to keep it flat (albeit at too high of a level), but others have had the nerve to dramatically increase tuition in these trying times for legal education.

Given how resistant the old and gray occupants of the ivory tower are to change, perhaps some frightening predictions about the future of law school tuition will help them open their eyes. If you think you’re hurting for students to fill the seats now, just wait until it costs $78,000 a year to attend…

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Law school tuition goes up. That’s just what it does. It goes up during boom times, it went up during the recession. It goes up when lots of people apply to law school, it goes up when applications are at historic lows. If they could distill law school tuition into a pill, it would replace Viagra.

Law schools seem very good at estimating how much law school should cost. But are they as good at telling you how much you’ll need to spend while you’re in school besides tuition? Room and board, living expenses and transportation costs, these things go up too. But some students argue that when it comes time to estimating these costs — costs that are the basis for the federal loans that students take out in order to shelter themselves and eat while they’re in school — law schools set the bar unreasonably low. From the law school’s perspective, student expenses are relatively flat… it’s only the tuition that needs to go up.

Tipsters pointed out one school for a case study of this phenomenon….

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Earlier this week, we asked readers to submit possible captions for this photo:

On Thursday, you voted on the finalists, and now it’s time to announce the winner of our caption contest…

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Earlier this week, we asked readers to submit possible captions for this photo:

Let’s have a look at what our readers came up with, and vote on the finalists…

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You’ve graduated from law school. Congratulations! There’s just one small problem: you’ve now got six figures of debt attached to your name, and you have absolutely no idea how to pay it all off. You’re determined to do it, though, come hell or high water.

Having a modest income, you signed yourself up for income-based repayment. You thought (perhaps mistakenly) that it would be the best option for you. You want to get all of your financial ducks in a row so that you’ll be able to make the most of your future.

Alas, your Mint account just told you that you’re doomed…

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Earlier this month, the National Jurist released its first-ever ranking of the private law schools with the “best value.” We found it odd, of course, that the “best value” designation was awarded to schools where less than half of students (and in some cases, less than a third of students) are able to retain their merit scholarships, but we tried to give the magazine the benefit of the doubt. After all, this is the same publication that used incorrect indebtedness figures to crown at least three schools as offering the “best value” in the nation, as recently as last year.

We thought that maybe things would be better when National Jurist rolled out its seventh annual Best Value rankings, for both public and private law schools. The Best Value ranking system takes into account a law school’s tuition (25% of study), students’ cost of living expenses (10%), students’ average indebtedness upon graduation (15%), the percentage of graduates who got a job after graduation (35%), and bar passage rates (15%). As in years past, National Jurist ranked only the top 20 schools, and gave letter grades to the rest of the schools on the list, ranging from A- to F.

So were this year’s Best Value rankings as fraught with error as last year’s? Continue reading to find out…

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