Law Students

Almost 1/3 of Law Students Expect to Graduate with $120K Debt

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The percentage of law students expecting to graduate with more than $120,000 in student debt is continuing its upward climb.

Twenty-nine percent of law students surveyed said they expect to owe more than $120,000 at graduation, up from 23 percent in 2008, 19 percent in 2007 and 18 percent in 2006. The findings come from the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (PDF), which garnered responses from 26,641 law students at 82 law schools in spring 2009.

Yet the huge debt load isn’t having much of an effect on career choices, the survey found. Of those 3Ls who expected to owe more than $120,000, 32 percent planned to enter public interest law jobs, compared to 27 percent of students who expected to graduate with no student debt. Similarly, 49 percent of those with the highest expected debt load planned to work at private law firms, compared to 52 percent of those with no expected debt.

Overall, the percentage of law students who expected to work at private law firms has fallen slightly. Only half of law students surveyed last year said they expected to work at private law firms after graduation, down from 58 percent from 2006 to 2008. Meanwhile, the percentage of students expecting careers in public interest law rose to 33 percent in 2009, up from about 29 percent in the prior three years.

“Students may be adjusting their career expectations to better suit the current professional landscape,” according to the results summary. “It seems certain that fewer new lawyers will land high-paying jobs with private firms in coming years.”

Other survey findings:

• Only half of all students report that they frequently receive prompt feedback from professors. Sixty-one percent of male students say they frequently receive oral feedback during class, but only 52 percent of female students report the same. Thirty percent of male students say they receive feedback outside of class, compared to 24 percent of female students. The study says there is a significant correlation between student feedback and student gains, and suggests examining the reasons for the difference.

• Eighty-one percent of 1Ls spend more than 20 hours a week reading and preparing for class. Only 54 percent of 3Ls report the same. And 27 percent of 3Ls report that they frequently come to class without completing the readings.

• Four out of five law students say they would probably or definitely choose the same law school again.

• Sixty-one percent say their legal education substantially contributes to their acquisition of job or work-related knowledge or skills.

• While 78 percent of nontransfer students report positive relationships with their classmates, only 60 percent of transfer students report the same.

Hat tip to Inside Higher Ed.

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