Student Loans

Three of your Above the Law editors — David Lat, Elie Mystal, and Joe Patrice — met up in the ATL offices earlier this week to discuss whether going to business school is a better financial decision than going to law school.

Spoiler alert: Elie thinks law schools cost too much.

The gang weighs in, after the jump….

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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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* Will adjudicate for food? With a little more than one week until the end of the fiscal year, the federal judiciary is facing down a “worst-case scenario” with respect to its budget. [National Law Journal (sub. req.)]

* An unremarkable percentage of firms are led by women lawyers, but Kim Koopersmith of Akin Gump awaits a day when being a first woman in law won’t be “newsworthy.” [Capital Business / Washington Post]

* Law firm merger mania, Heartland edition: Stinson Morrison Hecker did the do-si-do with Leonard Street & Deinard and will promenade home as Stinson Leonard Street in January. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* Hearts are breaking on either side of the nationwide same-sex marriage debate, and county clerks are bearing the brunt of all the complaints. When will all states “bit[e] the bullet” and legalize it? [Reuters]

* “The last time I went into court, I was wearing something that I got at Goodwill.” It turns out even geniuses are stupid enough to rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in law school debt. [Los Angeles Times]

Andrew Kravis, recent Columbia Law School grad and new millionaire.

Congratulations to Andrew Kravis. He graduated from Columbia Law School this past May, but he’s already earned enough money to pay off all his student loans.

And no, he doesn’t work at a hedge fund or private equity firm. He doesn’t even work in Biglaw. He’s a public interest lawyer, about to start a fellowship at Lambda Legal, the nation’s oldest and largest legal organization working for LGBT civil rights. He was honored upon graduating from CLS as one of two students “who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in the furtherance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.”

So how did this outstanding do-gooder also do so well? How did he earn enough money to pay off all his student loans, and then some — a cool $2.6 million, to be exact?

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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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Our readers love nothing better than law school rankings, so it was kind of the National Jurist to roll out its first-ever list of the Best Value private law schools. This new ranking comes in addition to its regular ranking of Best Value schools (which is usually dominated by public institutions of learning). These lists are usually released in alphabetical order, but this time, National Jurist assigned letter grades to each school due to a post-publication error. We’re off to a great start already.

The Best Value ranking typically takes into account the following criteria: tuition, cost of living, average student debt, the percentage of graduates employed nine months after graduation, and bar passage rates.

When the National Jurist created the Best Value rankings to “honor schools that took the cost of legal education seriously,” why choose to highlight private law schools at a time when tuition is higher than ever?

We’ll explore possible answers to that question, as well as reveal the rankings, after the jump…

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* “The situation is an absolute mess.” Last summer’s SCOTUS decision on mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders has created a “legal limbo” for inmates. We hope they find suitable dance partners. [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]

* Even after you retire, you apparently still have to deal with the Cebullsh*t from your life on the bench. Former Chief District Judge Richard Cebull’s misconduct review is likely heading to Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. [Great Falls Tribune]

* Woe unto them that call unpaid work fair: the Second Circuit quickly granted Fox Searchlight an appeal in the Black Swan unpaid intern case in the hope of offering some “much-needed guidance.” [Deadline]

* Which private law schools offer students the best value? Some unlikely contenders are named on this list, and some T14 schools even make appearances. We’ll have more on this later today. [National Jurist]

* GW wasn’t the only school that grew the size of its entering class (although it was the largest increase). William & Mary and Missouri-KC saw big gains, too. Yay, more lawyers! [National Law Journal (sub. req.)]

* If you’re considering applying to law school, think about schools that have lowered their standards and are offering scholarship money like candy. Otherwise, here are some helpful hints. [Huffington Post]

* Henry Putzel Jr., former reporter of decisions at the Supreme Court, RIP. [Washington Post]

With nothing else to rank at the moment, U.S. News decided to try its hand at “news” and put out an article analyzing the expected fallout from the new mortgage lending rules coming down from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The new rules are intended to stem the tide of future foreclosures by clamping down on profligate lending.

But all clampdowns leave people out in the cold.

To put this more directly: if you thought being a lawyer with good credit would put you in a position to buy your own home, you’re probably wrong….

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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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