Financing a Legal Education

The Average Cost of a Law Degree

Law school tuition keeps rising with each passing year. Many will simply attribute this to a normal state of affairs which sees the cost of living steadily rising, and thus the increasing cost of a legal education follows the pack, so to speak. Nevertheless, this has led to law school graduates commencing their professional career with a greater level debt than at any other prior time.

This trend has certainly contributed to the higher default rate for professionals today than in the past. Furthermore, lawyers have a higher default rate than any other professionals,including doctors,engineers and M.B.A.'s, according to the article by Ann Davis (Ann Davis, "Heaviest Debt Burdens for Lawyers Least Able to Pay," The National Law Journal, 15 January 1996: 1; See also: Ben Wildavsky, "Is That The Real Price?", U.S. News and World Report, 6 September 1999, 70.)

This situation has drastically changed from what it was only a decade or so ago, when loans to students in professional schools were considered as among the securest of loans.

In general, law schools are well aware of the indebtedness situation and will often discuss the matter with entering (first year) class students. What must often be dispelled for new students, is the notion that every new lawyer will earn an extravagant salary in his first job out of law school and, therefore, the level of indebtedness is of no consequence. While there is no arguing that over the long run, a practicing attorney (or those who apply their legal education to related careers) will financially derive greater benefits than most other professions (according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics), the reality is that most newly minted J.D.s and attorneys will not start with exorbitant salaries.

The starting salary depends on a variety of factors including the school one attends, the individual's academic standing, etc. Obviously what one can earn immediately upon graduation should be a factor to consider, but overall this should not be the governing factor in one opting, or not, for a career in law.

Setting the concerns about earning potential aside for the moment and getting back to the matter of how much does a legal education actually cost, the actual dollar amount can vary significantly by whether one is attending a private school as opposed to a state institution, is a full-time versus a part-time student, needs housing near the law school as opposed to commuting from home, is receiving (or not) financial support from parents, scholarships, etc.

Generally speaking, however, law school tuition ranges from (in thousands of dollars) the mid-teens at the law end, i.e. mostly tuition that state sponsored schools charge, to the low 30s at the high end of the spectrum. When housing expenses and costs of books are added to the equation, the cost can easily surpass $50,000 annually. Multiplied by three years, and the cost of a legal education at an upper-end institution revolves and/or exceeds the $150,000 mark.

Financing My Law School Education

There are various sources for securing funds to pay for a law school education, excluding one's own or family resources. One of the first sources to consider is the governmental funds that are made available to graduate and professional school students. These loans generally tend to offer a lower rate of interest and better overall terms. However, other organizations also offer very attractive terms and rates of interests, particularly of late as the interest rates have been lower than they have in over four decades.

Sources of Funds