Law Schools

Law Grads 'Indentured Servants' to Loans, Law Prof Says; Law School Crisis a Symptom of Weak Economy

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The student debt crisis, which could see this fall’s law school entrants hold an average of $150,000 in educational loans by graduation, is a symptom of large-scale social and economic turmoil across the U.S., one law school professor says.

Paul Campos, professor of law at University of Colorado at Boulder School of Law, says that although law school applications have dropped 25 percent from last year, the fact that schools haven’t seen a larger drop— despite skyrocketing tuition and the deteriorating value of legal degrees—speaks volumes about the bleak career and economic outlooks for American youth.

“We have a large class, a whole generation of highly educated young people who have nothing that they can do that really justifies either the cost or the effort they have put into in acquiring higher education,” Campos, author of the law blog Inside the Law School Scam and a contributor to Lawyers, Gun$ and Money said in a video interview with Bloomberg Law. “That is a recipe for social turmoil.”

The challenges facing legal education have yet to penetrate traditional beliefs that law school is a low-risk option for risk-averse liberal arts graduates. And even those who grasp the issues and accept the quadrupled costs over the course of the last generation still view law school as one of the best alternatives available, Campos said. For many college grads, law school becomes “an act of almost desperation.” For those who take on the enormous cost of acquiring a J.D., only 20 to 25 percent are getting jobs that justify the debt levels that they’ve incurred, he adds.

“What we are creating is a class of indentured servants to the United States treasury—since these are all now pretty much federal loans—who have no realistic way of paying this money off,” Campos told Bloomberg Law’s Lee Pacchia, calling the trend a generational disaster. “We need to be producing about half as many law school graduates as we are right now at about half the price.”

Reforming the U.S. Bankruptcy Code to make student loans dischargeable, holding law schools accountable for tuition rates and re-evaluating government policy that allows nearly anyone admitted to law school to borrow money to cover attendance, regardless of the amount, are all necessary steps to build a sustainable model for legal education, Campos said.

Related coverage:

ABA Journal: “The Law School Bubble: How Long Will It Last if Law Grads Can’t Pay Bills?”

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