Pricing people out?

July 29, 2009
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To continue with the theme of law school tuition, I want to know if the astronomical amount people spend to become an attorney has hurt the profession.

Law school costs a lot of money. Students spend more than what the average worker at a minimum wage job would earn annually to go to law school for a year. When it’s all said and done, many students graduate thousands of dollars in debt. According to an April 2009 New York Times article, the average graduate leaves with more than $80,000 in debt.

Some students are lucky – they get scholarships, can work to help pay off their loans while still in school, or have a relative helping out.

Not everyone is so lucky, which brings me back to my original thought. With law school tuition being so high, are we pricing people out of the profession who may make great lawyers but just can’t afford the cost of law school?

Diversity is something law firms strive for. Not only diversity in race and gender, but also in people’s backgrounds and experiences. A white male who grew up attending private school and living in a 5-bedroom house may bring something different to the table than a white male who grew up on welfare.

The profession is making strides in being more diverse, but obviously, there is still more to be done. A co-worker told me she read a blog online that made the argument that law schools are becoming “too elitist” because they are pricing people out of school.

The high price of tuition may be hurting the diversity of the profession, but it also may cause graduates to forgo their idea of working as a public defender or at a legal services organization. If you’ve got $80,000 of law school debt, and your job as a public defender only pays half of that a year, but being a first year at a private firm pays $100,000, suddenly the private firm becomes more attractive. That same NYT article said two-thirds of students said debt prevented them from considering a non-private firm job.

There will always be people who want to be lawyers and people willing and able to pay for it. I do wonder that if law school was more affordable, whether the profession would look differently from a diversity perspective than it does today.
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  • The other important issue is if a private law school is worth it, when you can go to a state school for much cheaper.
  • Law schools are failing the justice system by graduating too many students. Med students pay much more for school because they know they\'ll earn back their investment in a reasonable time. The AMA regulates the number of seats to med students to fit the market. High prices won\'t scare away students if they know its worth it. For many law students, they incur $35,000 in debt for 3 years only to land a job that pays $40,000. The economics don\'t make sense. Slow down the flow of new lawyers. Thanks!
  • Nothing new about this at all. Increased use of student loans to get through law school started when I was in law school in the late Eighties. Combined with Indian\'s declining economy, law students wre going to firms and/or out of state. In the past twenty years, I think Anderson and Madison County has seen only maybe a half dozen new attorneys. Of the other counties I practice in most (Grant, Delaware, and Henry) I suspect the same is true but not so true in Howard and Hamilton Counties. Skip the public defender/firm comparison, we will see fewer (are seeing?) solos as people need to have salaries to pay their educational debt. I expect to see a lot of people unavailable to get legal services in the near future.

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