In yesterday’s Sunday Review section of the New York Times there was an editorial, “The Law School Debt Crisis”.
The editorial – which I’ll quote here at length – begins:
In 2013, the median LSAT score of students admitted to Florida Coastal School of Law was in the bottom quarter of all test-takers nationwide. According to the test’s administrators, students with scores this low are unlikely to ever pass the bar exam.
Despite this bleak outlook, Florida Coastal charges nearly $45,000 a year in tuition, which, with living expenses, can lead to crushing amounts of debt for its students. Ninety-three percent of the school’s 2014 graduating class of 484 had debts and the average was almost $163,000 — a higher average than all but three law schools in the country. In short, most of Florida Coastal’s students are leaving law school with a degree they can’t use, bought with a debt they can’t repay.
If this sounds like a scam, that’s because it is. Florida Coastal, in Jacksonville, is one of six for-profit law schools in the country that have been vacuuming up hordes of young people, charging them outrageously high tuition and, after many of the students fail to become lawyers, sticking taxpayers with the tab for their loan defaults.
The editorial also states that:
In 2006, Congress extended the federal Direct PLUS Loan program to allow a graduate or professional student to borrow the full amount of tuition, no matter how high, and living expenses.
The consequences of this free flow of federal loans have been entirely predictable: Law schools jacked up tuition and accepted more students, even after the legal job market stalled and shrank in the wake of the recession. For years, law schools were able to obscure the poor market by refusing to publish meaningful employment information about their graduates. But in response to pressure from skeptical lawmakers and unhappy graduates, the schools began sharing the data — and it wasn’t a pretty picture. Forty-three percent of all 2013 law school graduates did not have long-term full-time legal jobs nine months after graduation, and the numbers are only getting worse.
Much can be said about the editorial, which I would encourage you to read in full. My own thoughts turn to those who are considering applying to and attending law school.
If the editorial is correct, the government has made it easier for large numbers of students to accumulate more debt than they can handle. You might think that if you can get the loans, you must be ‘a good risk’; yet, the opposite may be true. Just because the loans are available isn’t a sign that it makes sense to take them.
If the editorial is correct, law schools have taken advantage by raising tuition fees, and by being less than forthcoming about what incoming students can expect once they graduate. It is understandable to think of educational institutions in only positive terms, but don’t romanticize them. Yes, they should (and hopefully do) provide knowledge and help lead to opportunities. But it would be naïve to think that their interests and yours are the same.
This isn’t to say that the government and/or law schools are ‘bad’; rather, it should impress upon you that you’ve got to think and look out for yourself.
It takes work, but you can do a lot beforehand to get a good sense of whether becoming a lawyer would be right for you or not. An important part of the equation is money, but the considerations go far beyond that.
As I wrote quite recently, if you’re interested in law school:
- carefully assess your current situation (financial and otherwise);
- examine your own feelings and attitudes realistically;
- learn about what practicing attorneys really do; and,
- conduct research, to the extent possible, as to what job opportunities are likely to be available upon graduating.
Learn everything you can to make the best decisions for yourself.