Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

WSJ: Law School Loses Luster As Debts Mount And Salaries Stagnate

Wall Street Journal, Law School Loses Luster as Debts Mount and Salaries Stagnate:

Law school was once considered a surefire ticket to a comfortable life. Years of tuition increases have made it a fast way to get buried in debt.

Recent graduates of the University of Miami School of Law who used federal loans borrowed a median of $163,000. Two years later, half were earning $59,000 or less. That’s the biggest gap between debt and earnings among the top 100 law schools as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, a Wall Street Journal analysis of federal data found.

Graduates from a host of other well-regarded law schools routinely leave with six-figure student loans, then fail to find high-paying jobs as lawyers, according to the Journal’s analysis of the latest federal data on earnings, for students who graduated in 2015 and 2016.

When Miami students asked for financial assistance, some graduates told the Journal, school officials often offered this solution: Take more loans.

“I had no work experience, life experience, anything like that before I signed on to this quarter-million-dollar loan,” said Dylan Boigris, a 2016 Miami Law graduate, who began his career making about $45,000 as a public defender. “I thought I would come out making much more than I did.”

A law professor at the university, Anthony Alfieri, said law schools “foster this kind of cruel optimism” in students, letting them think six-figure salaries are attainable, when in reality, those high-paying jobs are largely reserved for students at only the top-ranked law schools. “Law schools encourage a kind of magical thinking in order to keep the lights on,” he said. ...

Federal data suggest the value of a law degree from nonelite schools has diminished. Salaries haven’t kept pace with inflation over the past 20 years. Meanwhile, tuitions have soared. A three-year juris doctor program, including living expenses, now can cost more than $250,000 at private law schools.

Graduates who finished law school in 2019 earned a median $72,500 the following year, according to the National Association for Law Placement. That is about the same as graduates who finished school a decade earlier earned soon after graduating. ...

Just 15% of recent University of Miami Law graduates had begun repaying their student loans after two years—the lowest rate among law schools at elite private research universities, as defined by categories the Education Department uses.

At only 14 law schools with published repayment data were the majority of graduates repaying principal within two years. That is partly because many law-school graduates enroll in income-driven repayment plans. In those, recent graduates can tie loan payments to the prior year’s pay, which may not reflect a full year of work.

Update #1ABA Journal, This Law School Had the Widest Gap Between Student Debt and Graduate Earnings

Update #2:  Michael Simkovic (USC), Does The Wall Street Journal Have An Axe To Grind Against Law Schools?

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