Some time ago I wrote a post entitled Ten Reasons Not to Go to Law School. Go here to read it. Number 7 cited the cost of legal education:
The cost of a legal education has become frighteningly high. Being a newly minted attorney, earning $40,000.00 a year and having 100k of debt, is not a good situation. I graduated with $7,000.00 of debt by comparison in 82, and I thought that was frighteningly high at the time.
Paul Caron at Tax Prof Blog notes an article from National Jurist that law school faculties are 40% larger than just a decade ago:
The average law school increased its faculty size by 40% over the past 10 years, according to a study by The National Jurist to be released in late March. This increase in staffing accounts for 48% of the tuition increase from 1998 to 2008, the study shows. Tuition increased by 74% at private schools and 102% at public institutions from 1998 to 2008. …
Well we all know who gets to pay for all those extra law profs don’t we? The comments to the article are scathing:
“I have a son who despite nearly hysterical objections from me took on $150,000 in debt to gt a JD. (“What do you know, Dad?”)
He is working, but who knows for how long. The law school that helped put him so much in debt was Northeastern. The administration of that school never acknowledged any moral responsibility for assisting an immature young man to get so deeply into debt. When I talked to Dean Emily Spieler and said she had to take in fewer students or lower tuition, she said, more less, “But I’d have to lay off administrators to do that.”
In other words, “Protecting youngsters might cost our institution something, so it’s out of the question.”
My anger about this is intense. Some day someone will write a play about this kind of situation. I envision a very angry Al Pacino or someone playing the father enraged that his child has been led astray and into a lifetime of debt by self-centered law school administration vacuosities.”
“Hyperinflation. That’s the answer to everything that ails us: high consumer debt, student loan debt, the national debt, the real estate crash, how to “fix” social security and entitlements (“hey you old greedy lazy socialist bastards, here’s you $10 a month in 2005 dollars, just like we promised!”).
I never thought, when I reached thirty, I’d never thought I’d be watching the collapse of the American socio-economic-political system. Let alone cheering for it to happen.”
“I borrowed $90k for law school in the mid-to-late 90s. My bad for poor financial planning, because I thought I would come out owing about $50k but I didn’t count on my tuition being jumped 60% over the 3 years I was there, and I didn’t know interest was being capitalized from the moment the loan issued, even though I wouldn’t be in a position to start paying on it for 3+ years. I own those errors.
What still rankles me is that when I graduated to that $35k per year job, I tried to do the right thing to avoid non-payment, so I consolidated all my loans into one 9% (I envy the Dude’s 8%) 30 year Sallie Mae Loan, that had the interest so front loaded that 10 years later I had paid back more than I borrowed yet still owed more than I borrowed. And from what I hear from young associates, they are even more hosed.
I take ownership of my mistakes here, but honestly, if it wasn’t for a wife and kids, I probably would have skipped the country myself.”
“Last summer, I found out that I qualified for a program to discharge my law school student loans based simply on a form completed by my doctor stating that I was disabled (which in my case is true.) You don’t have to be on Social Security Disability to qualify. The paperwork is only a page or two, signed off by your doctor and mailed in. A month or two later, you get a conditional discharge notice, and three years after that if you are still earning less than some amount ($15,000? $18,000?) you get a final discharge.
I made payments on my student loans during law school, and for years after law school while I was employed, but ended up with medical problems as well as underemployment and unemployment, and the loans that started off at $30,000 ballooned up to $120,000+, after deferments, etc., ran out., even though I paid tens of thousands of dollars toward their repayment. My life is still filled with problems, but it is a huge relief to be able to open the mailbox and know that there will NOT be any collection letters from Sallie Mae & Friends.
I’ll give credit where credit is due: somebody at Sallie Mae told me that my issues were probably serious enough for me to qualify for the program, and she even sent me the paperwork when I was unable to download the form off the internet.
If my law school hadn’t kept jacking up the tuition each year that I attended, I would have graduated with less than $15,000 in debt, which I would have been able to pay off completely before my life fell apart. Legal training should be a combination of genius law professors on DVDs plus practical supervised real-life experience for a couple of years. If I had had to work in a real law office for six months before starting law school, I doubt that I would have gone to law school at all, because a law office is an incredibly unpleasant and stressful work environment.”
You know, the truly sad part about this is, at least in my case, virtually all my skills as an attorney I acquired in on the job training. Law school is great at forcing you to read quite a bit of case law, but actually learning how to draft documents, win a jury trial, get a lesser sentence for a client in a criminal case, do a bankruptcy case, do a foreclosure, and almost all the other daily tasks I perform as a lawyer, I learned after law school. What law school taught me I could have picked up in one year and through non-law school legal reading and research. We attorneys pay a high sum to get a law degree, and then our early clients pay us as we learn how to actually do something with it. The old apprenticeship system a la Abraham Lincoln was far more rational and produced lawyers just as talented, or talentless, as we have today.
My proposal: BA or BS followed by one year of law school, followed by two years of apprenticeship with a licensed attorney. Certification by three attorneys and a local judge that you have completed the two years and have not made too big a fool of yourself during that time period. Then the bar exam and the license upon passage. The current system is too expensive for the quality of the product at the end: a completely untrained attorney.