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A conversation on law school debt

by Joe Kaczrowski | Jun 09, 2015

Hennepin County Bar Association, through its New Lawyers Section, recently released a video discussing the realities and ramifications of law school debt. The stated goal of the video is to summarize the results of a 2015 member survey but also to start a conversation about how the cost of law school is affecting this generation of lawyers and the legal profession in general.

The ABA reports the average law school debt for recent graduates at $84,000 for public law schools and $122,158 for private schools, much of this debt incurred via private loans, which have fewer options for loan forgiveness and repayment terms. 

percent of law school grads employed

type of law school grad employment

Changes in the legal industry and the economy have led to increased pressure on the other end as well. As recently as 2007, ninety-two percent of law school graduates were employed, with roughly eighty-five percent in positions requiring bar admission or JD-preferred roles. In 2013, the employment rate dropped to under eighty-five percent, with just over sixty-four percent in positions requiring bar admission.

Forty-two percent of starting salaries in 2007 were between $40,000 and $60,000. In 2013, roughly half of reported salaries for law school graduates were between $40,000 and $65,000. According to NALP, law school graduate starting salaries have a bimodal distribution (two peaks), whereas as recently as 1999 the distribution of starting salaries had a more traditional bell curve.

The median starting salary for 2013 Minnesota law school graduates is under $60,000. Fifty percent of UST graduates had starting salaries between $43,000 and $61,000. For William Mitchell, fifty percent of the starting salaries were between $45,000 and $63,000. For Hamline, fifty percent were between $45,000 and $65,000. The middle fifty percent for the U of M ranged from $49,000 to $106,000.

One metric used to evaluate law schools is the salary-to-debt ratio. A "top-rated" school like Yale or Stanford with an average starting salary of $160,000 has a fairly high ratio (1.4+) whereas a school like Florida Coastal has a ratio of 0.3.

In 2013, U of M law graduates reported average loan distributions of $98,410, and St. Thomas graduates reported average distributions of $109,445; the salary-to-debt ratios for 2013 were .60 and .48 respectively.