Tuesday, September 4, 2012
National Law Journal: Law School: Still a Good Investment for African-Americans, by Carla D. Pratt (Associate Dean, Penn State):
With the recent barrage of media articles lambasting legal education and asserting that a law degree may no longer be the good investment it once was, many prospective students who may have been considering the study of law may now be asking themselves if law school is a good investment. The prospect of attending law school may be even more disquieting for African-Americans since, according to a recent Pew study, the typical black household has around $5,700 in assets whereas the typical white household has around $113,000. It is understandable that those with fewer assets may view law school as a risky investment.
As only 4% of lawyers in the United States are black, while nearly 13% of the U.S. population is black, African-Americans are already underrepresented in the legal profession. The recent contraction in the number of applicants to law school is likely to yield even fewer black law students this year, which ultimately means that the number of African-American lawyers is at risk of shrinking to less than 4 percent of total lawyers. With this potential decline on the horizon, it is important for law schools to be mindful of diversity when awarding student financial aid, and it is equally important for prospective law students to understand the market for legal education. ...
African-Americans who are considering law as a career should not ignore [the] data on law school tuition, student debt load and job placement. Because African-Americans as a group have less wealth than whites to finance law school, the cost of attending law school and the ability to repay that cost while earning a living should be a serious consideration for this group of prospective students.
However, African-Americans should not be dissuaded from attending law school by published law school tuition rates. What prospective students should know is that many students with solid academic credentials or financial need actually do not pay full freight to attend law school. Many law schools award financial aid to students based on their LSAT score and undergraduate grade-point average. This type of aid is called "merit"-based aid, and black applicants with solid academic credentials should seek it once they are admitted to a law school.
Some law schools also award need-based financial aid. This financial assistance is awarded to students whose financial profile indicates that they have few (if any) economic resources to draw on to finance law study. Need-based awards are especially appropriate when a student lacks a credit history or credit-worthy co-signer that would enable the student to obtain many of the private loans that are used to finance legal education. Accordingly, African-Americans with little or no economic resources of their own should seek out law schools that provide need-based aid rather than opt out of legal education altogether. Moreover, law schools that have shifted scholarship dollars away from need-based aid in order to fund "merit" scholarships to aid recruitment of highly credentialed students should understand that this practice has a negative impact on their ability to recruit students with financial need, a disproportionate number of whom are African-American. ...
[T]he most important consideration for prospective law students is whether law school is worth the investment of time and money. Law school is a very challenging academic endeavor. Students who are not willing to approach law study as they would a full-time job that requires overtime work every week may not be good candidates for this investment. In law, perhaps more than any other profession, academic achievement determines career opportunities. So to determine whether law school is a good investment, each prospective student must determine for herself whether she will make the necessary sacrifices to position herself financially and academically for success.
If the answer to the question is yes, law school will likely be a sound investment that pays dividends for years to come, not only for the individual student, but for the black community as well. I chose a law school that was willing to make a financial investment in me, and prospective law students should consider doing the same. As a black lawyer, I can honestly say that law school has been the best investment that I have ever made.