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Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be…Lawyers?

Myself a law grad with crippling student loan debt, I was particularly excited to discover the new-ish blog, Big Debt, Small Law.  The blog is written by a graduate of Seton Hall University School of Law who is, to put it mildly, extremely angry about the career/salary prospects for law school graduates from non-top-ranked schools in comparison to tuition costs.  From the About page:

Today’s law school deans are the modern day “Wizards of Oz.” They know full well (perhaps better than anyone) the gruesome market and long-shot odds that their grads will soon face, yet allow personal greed to trump all tenets of honesty and fair disclosure. And no, you can’t get away with blaming the “recession” for the struggles of your grads. Not here. We graduated in 2005, at the zenith of American economic hegemony, and faced a market not significantly different from what exists today. The truth is this: Small firms in most US markets pay south of 50 K, offer minimal (if any) health benefits, and provide baptism by fire “training” at the expense of clients who can ill afford it.

While I disagree with some of what BDSL says (I actually know a law school dean personally who is scrupulously honest about providing accurate employment/salary figures, and, no, he/she is not from a top-tier program with no reason to lie), the core point is true:  law school is often hailed as a panacea for indecisive liberal arts grads, offering the promise of a stable and lucrative career, when, in reality, the legal market can be extremely tough to break into, especially in a down economy.  The lower-ranked the school, the worse it usually is, but the cost of tuition doesn’t reflect this.  For example, according to top-law-schools.com, graduates of Appalachian School of Law, which is ranked in the 4th-tier, have a median starting salary of between $42,250 and $45,000 while tuition plus other costs amount to nearly $47,000 per year.  Additionally, only 64.8% of graduates report being employed nine months after graduation. 

In fact, a new paper entitled “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be…Lawyers,” argues that, for most, law school is generally not a wise investment.  As the New York Times points out, this is bad news for the growing number of people who are choosing law school as both a way to hide out from the recession and a sure-fire strategy for securing a job once they are finished with their very expensive, extremely demanding 3-year “vacation.”

While I certainly don’t think this means that all, or even most, law school graduates are doomed to a life of poverty, I do think this is another example of how changing economic realities have not been reflected in student loan policy.  I simply cannot understand how, given the current state of the economy, student loans remain undischargeable in bankruptcy.

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