January 2012 Issue
For Andrea, a past decision to ensure her future in law has left her in a stressed and distressful present. Concerned over how it might affect her job prospects, she would not allow use of her real name. And there is reason for concern: She’s been laid off twice since her 2009 law school graduation, including from a position where she earned $20 an hour at a small firm practicing as a licensed attorney. For the 29-year-old, who’s supported herself since college, the financial repercussions of law school may amount to the worst investment of her life, despite a degree from a second-tier school and a resumé that boasts a position on law review and coveted summer associate positions.
“I deferred my loans because of economic hardship the first time,” says Andrea, who borrowed nearly $110,000 to finance her education. “After that,” she falters, “they might be in forbearance ... accruing interest ... I just don’t know.”
Andrea’s situation is far from unique. In 2010, 85 percent of law graduates from ABA-accredited schools boasted an average debt load of $98,500, according to data collected from law schools by U.S. News & World Report. At 29 schools, that amount exceeded $120,000. In contrast, only 68 percent of those grads reported employment in positions that require a JD nine months after commencement. Less than 51 percent found employment in private law firms.
The influx of so many law school graduates—44,258 in 2010 alone, according to the ABA—into a declining job market creates serious repercussions that will reverberate for decades to come.