While you’re busy contemplating your place in a profession where legal precedent means nothing, here are some startling statistics about law student debt levels. According to a recent survey by the American Bar Association, more than 95% of students take on loans to attend law school, and the average law student owe about $165,000 in educational debt upon graduating,
In fairness, those statistics probably weren’t all that startling to our readers — many of them are heavily indebted themselves. In fact, we know that many of them are carrying debt loads that surpass even that six-figure number.
Which law school graduates have the most debt of all?
U.S. News has a ranking for that, of course. Here are the law schools whose 2021 graduates had the highest average indebtedness:
- Southwestern Law School: $188,164 (89% of grads have debt)
- University of Chicago: $184,119 (61% of grads have debt)
- California Western School of Law: $181,273 (86% of grads have debt)
- Santa Clara University: $181,198 (69% of grads have debt)
- Howard University: $174,122 (96% of grads have debt)
- New York University: $172,122 (58% of grads have debt)
- Georgetown University: $172,012 (63% of grads have debt)
- University of San Francisco: $170,633 (77% of grads have debt)
- WMU Thomas M. Cooley Law School: $170,485 (89% of grads have debt)
- Harvard University: $169,187 (71% of grads have debt)
Now these numbers are startling. Even more startling is the fact that these six-figure sums don’t include any debt that might have been accumulated during the would-be lawyers’ undergraduate educations.
It’s worth noting that several of these law schools — Southwestern, California Western, San Francisco, and Cooley — are in the “second tier” of the U.S. News rankings, meaning that their numerical ranks are not published for public consumption. The rest of the schools’ ranks range from #4 to #133. That said, let’s take a look at some employment statistics to see if all of that debt is really worth it. All employment data, including those working as solo practitioners, is from the class of 2021, unless otherwise noted. For the sake of ease, we’ll examine Harvard Law versus Cooley Law.
- Harvard: 85.9% employed in full-time, long-term jobs with bar passage required
- Cooley: 43.8% employed in full-time, long-term jobs with bar passage required
As you can see, the differences between having high debt from a T14 law school and high debt from a second-tier law school are quite stark in terms of employment outlooks. The odds aren’t exactly on your side when you’ve got more than $170K in student debt and a less than 50 percent chance of securing employment as a lawyer.
Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.
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