Nearly half of 2011 law grads can't afford a house, law prof concludes

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Bleak employment numbers are one way to measure the misery of law graduates. Another way: Determine the percentage of grads who make so little money in relation to their law school debt that home ownership is out of the question.

University of St. Thomas law professor Jerry Organ has crunched the numbers. His finding: 53.5 percent of class of 2011 law grads have “less than marginal financial viability”—meaning they can’t afford to buy a modest home. The Wall Street Journal Law Blog covers the findings, contained in a paper by Organ to be published in the Washington University Journal of Law and Policy.

Organ used <a href=”” title= a formula”> a formula developed by University of Louisville law professor Jim Chen, who says that law grads need an annual salary equal to two-thirds of their law school debt to reach marginal financial viability. Organ’s analysis took into account scholarships, but not undergrad debt. He also assumed that the entire tuition, but not living costs, was financed with borrowing.

The statistics don’t take into account “an unfortunate reality,” Organ says. At many law schools, marginal students pay more in tuition to reduce tuition for those receiving scholarships, and for them the financial proposition may be worse. Nor do the statistics highlight regional differences. Legal education in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York is very expensive, relatively speaking, he says, while law school is fairly affordable in Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Tennessee.

In another section of his paper, Organ compared the average increase in law school resident tuition at public schools from 1985 to 2011 with the average increase in employed graduates’ salaries. His conclusion: Law school for these grads is now four times as expensive as it was in 1985. When he examined only salaries of grads in private practice, Organ found that tuition at these law schools today is nearly four times as expensive, and three times as expensive for grads practicing in BigLaw.

For employed grads of private law schools, tuition is nearly twice as expensive as it was in 1985. Tuition is 1⅔ times as expensive for private law school grads in all private practice settings, and 1½ times as expensive for grads with BigLaw jobs.

“This analysis demonstrates that generally speaking, legal education is significantly less affordable than it was in the mid-1980s for students across all types of law schools,” Organ writes. “But more specifically, the affordability of legal education depends significantly on where one chooses to go to law school and whether one has a scholarship.”

Hat tip to Above the Law.

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