Will Your Law School Loans Be Cancelled?

Cancelled

They made misleading claims about how many of their students were likely to find a job, obscuring the grim reality of how few get employment in their field. They buried their graduates in piles of debt they could not reasonably repay, and admitted unqualified students in pursuit of tuition revenue. They often failed to educate their students well enough to pass the tests required to land a job. And the watchdog that oversees them is facing sanctions from the Education Department.

This might sound very much like the scandal-ridden world of for-profit colleges. But since the recession, it has also become an accurate way to describe some American law schools.

This is the opening paragraph to an article just published by BuzzFeed news called:

Law School Grads Could Be Next To Have Student Loans Cancelled

It’s an important article which, if true, could get a lot of your colleagues very upset. But not the way you might think.

Through the years there has been much conversation on social media about those who tried to sell their worthless diploma on craigslist and/or are chagrined about the investment they’ve made in their legal education because they have come up short on the employment side yet still bound to a lifetime of debt.  This hinders their ability to change careers, buy a car, get a mortgage, start a family.  They blame the schools, the false employment statistics, the ABA for accrediting new schools.  And those who have already run the gamut, paid off their loans and sacrificed to do so, cry ‘foul’, that these students shouldn’t expect to graduate with a six-figure job, that law school comes with no guarantees of gainful employment in the field.  Or, if money is going to be handed out, they want a refund from the government for the loans they paid back with interest through their own blood, sweat and tears.

It’s a very touchy subject.  I paid back all my student loans, but back then I was only in debt $60,000.  It was reasonable to expect to earn that annually in the days before technology started usurping jobs, before law schools started having fun with numbers at the law students’ expense, before the Legal Zooms of the world, and even as a solo right out of law school.  A strict cost-benefit analysis (not including one’s desire to be a lawyer) came up in favor of incurring the debt to go to law school and get the education because it was not unreasonable to believe the note could be paid back without giving up other aspirations I had for my life.

You’ve read enough to know that this isn’t the case today. Students are in debt nearly $200,000.  It’s not reasonable to expect to earn anywhere near that in the early years, not even in the midling years.  But it’s also not reasonable to expect the law schools to fudge numbers to induce law students to take on this debt nor have those same schools sanctioned because of  lack of oversight by the governing body who accredits schools.  Times are different.  An honest cost-benefit analysis is hard to come by because the numbers are dishonest, or negligent at best.  So, there are many young lawyers drowning and quite often through no fault of their own.  They had bad information for their own analysis.

But this doesn’t change the fact that we were all roughly the same age when we decided to incur a debt we knew we couldn’t discharge in anticipation of a career which would presumably pay for itself at the very least.  No, we weren’t guaranteed jobs but it was a reasonable assumption we could make a living armed with our degree.  All of these reasonable assumptions, however, have outlived their value but they continue to be used repeatedly to get more eager law students into law schools.  The law schools know exactly what they’ve done….and continue to do.

The question remains, though.  Should the notes be forgiven?  Or should the culpable schools be held responsible for paying back these notes?  And is it fair that both you and I did pay back our notes and sacrificed and still survived? Or are the circumstances today so different than when we went to law school that it is a serious inequity which must be resolved in the students’ favor?

How do you feel?

 

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5 comments on “Will Your Law School Loans Be Cancelled?

  • For the other side: What is the potential student’s obligation to investigate finances and the job market? I can’t predict three years out but, if the market isn’t great today, I might think twice about borrowing $200K for law school. Or I might consider going in-state. Would spending $200K on Harvard make me a better lawyer than if I went in-state? What are the odds of landing a job? What else could I do with this degree? “It teaches you how to think”. Maybe, but you need a job. From a “nontrad” point of view (e.g., I was as old as the profs), I saw that many of my classmates hadn’t honed in on what they wanted to do, let alone how they’d support themselves. They saw life in corporate law as the hazy general goal. In real life, we are much more discriminating and do much more research to spend $5K on a used car than we do entering law school. [Disclaimer for you lawyers: This is my opinion. I base it on information gleaned from brittle memory of three years in law school and conversations with my newly-graduated lawyer classmates and friends. Not one shred of empirical evidence was harmed in the making of this note..

  • CJ, I was a non-trad and school was much less expensive then, even percentage-wise to potential earnings, and I did a cost-benefit analysis much more precisely because I was older. But it still begs the question: your analysis is only as good as the data available from the schools and the ABA. If you’re working with faulty data (whether intentional or negligent), your analysis is going to be off, right?

  • As an incoming 1L, non-trad student, I do not expect my loans to be cancelled entirely. Same has the both of you, I did my research and thought long and hard about taking this leap of faith. I felt like I had a decent amount of data establishing a difficult job market for the legal profession compared to the unconscionable amount of debt I will accrue, and I still decided to attend because of the passion I have for the law. Because I chose to borrow the money and enroll, I don’t expect someone to pay off my debt. However, I DO expect the government to keep their word and forgive loans for those in the public service arena, after a certain time period and other factors.

  • As an new attorney one-year in, I don’t expect my loans to be forgiven in full. Honestly, I’m not sure I expect them to be forgiven at all. I won’t lie and say I wouldn’t be relieved if they were though.

    I guess it comes down to the cost. The government is just handing out loans according to what is needed to pay for school. The cost comes down to each school. I think that’s where the issue is and that the schools should be held more accountable for knowingly putting their students in so much debt. I have $260,000 in debt—$60,000 from undergrad. I’m paying back all of it on my own. I made that decision myself. My parents told me I could and should do what I want, but I was on my own. And I was fine with that.

    However, I’m one of the lucky ones that had a full-time job offer before first semester of 3L ended. But at $65,000 a year for my salary, I can only get so far in my payments. My monthly loan payments are around $1,700 a month. That is one of my two pay checks I get each month. That leaves me with half of my salary, after taxes, for the rest of my expanses. That’s about $21,000. It’s almost impossible to save money, put a decent amount in a 401(k), and the thought of a family seems terrifying now that I’m typing this all out. How am I supposed to pay back $200,000 worth of law school loans AND be able to have a savings account, contribute more than 6% into retirement, have a family, etc.? If I stick with my repayment plan, I’ll be paying for 20 years and pay back over $400,000 because of interest. All for 3 years of education.

    I’m not going to say law school wasn’t worth it. Because I like what I do. But I think it would surely help if the cost of the education was more realistic to the job and salary market and the economy. There has to be some sort of relief. I’m doing what I can to pay back these loans, but I’m not afraid to admit that I could use a little help.

  • The short answer is No. I do not think law school debt should be forgiven.

    It is no secret that when you decide to go to law school, you know that you will likely incur a tremendous amount of debt depending on where you go to school. Let’s not forget that law students have a choice in the matter when it comes to choosing a school. They also have a choice in where they will live and how they will live. It is possible to live modestly during law school to avoid incurring more debt than necessary, as well as after law school to ensure that you can afford your loan payments. It’s about knowing how to handle your finances and prioritizing your expenses.

    If you do your research, as Sheena did, law students should be aware of the fact that the job market for the legal field is not great. Schools also do not guarantee jobs upon graduation. It’s all about the effort that each student puts into interning and securing a job either pre or post-graduation.

    Everyone should be held responsible for their choices.

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