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Law Schools Oversell Their Value, Leading to Underemployed Grads with Enormous Student Loan Burdens - NY Times

As an attorney, I, of course, went to law school; in my case SUNY Buffalo, and I greatly enjoyed the experience. But the New York Times ran a long article January 8 (Author David Segal), question ng the value of a law school education, at least if the student piles up loan debt. 

As a bankruptcy attorney, I see, unfortunately, many young people, and not-so-young people, who have staggering student loan debts. Anything over $50,000 and the loan is the equivalent to a mortgage, only at a much higher interest rate and you will be carrying around the house for your whole life. Student loans are impossible to get rid of in bankruptcy, absent permanent disability (see my Dec. 3, 2009 blog on the Supreme Court and student loans, under the category of "Supreme Court Bankruptcy Cases"). Since 2005, even purely private student loans, not guaranteed by the government, are not discharged in bankruptcy.

The essence of the New York Times article is that law school placement figures are often fictitious, that the job market for attorneys is grim, especially at high-paying big firms, and a student who loads up with excess debt is taking an extremely risky bet that they will get a good enough job to service the debt.

I liked law school and I would not discourage others from attending. I would not go to law school, however, unless it can be accomplished with without excessive debt (keep it under $30,000.)

2 Comments

It was a great article and a strong warning to young people. I would tell any interested young person that they should only consider law school if they had no undergraduate student loans and were in the top 10% of their class, were willing to live in a big city, or could walk into a relative's law firm. Otherwise, considering the time and expense, the investment could be better placed almost anywhere else.

Good advise, John. I don't have access to the tax returns of my fellow practitioners, but I am assuming that the majority of experienced attorneys in Western New York earn somewhere in the $40k to $80k range. If someone was intending to go to law school, they should calculate whether they could repay whatever student loans they got, including undergrad, on that level of income. One of the things that made SUNY Buffalo such a pleasant experience was that it was a very solid law school but, as the only law school in the SUNY system, it was relatively inexpensive - as was Buffalo itself (I actually bought a little house in the Ken-Baily neighborhood, paid the carrying cost by renting rooms to other students for three years, and sold it at a modest profit.) I also spent a year before law school saving money like crazy and that helped a lot as well.

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