Credit: Jeff Kubina

In a lengthy seven-part article, the New York Times asks, “Is Law School a Losing Game?” Answer: yes. Why is it a losing game? Student loans, of course. Lots of them.

This article comes as no surprise to law students and recent graduates. Law schools publish deceptive employment statistics, and prospective students, in reliance on those numbers, take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans to attend. Many law students who graduate with a six-figure debt burden are subsequently unable to find high paying jobs (or even moderately paying jobs) sufficient to justify their debts. This happens year in and year out.

But all lawyers make a lot of money, right? Wrong. A graph of starting salaries for entry level attorneys shows a bi-modal distribution: very few attorneys start a $160,000;  the vast majority earn less than half that. Even worse–the recession has hit law firms hard, resulting in mass layoffs of attorneys at every point on the salary distribution graph. And then there are the attorneys who earn nothing because they can’t find jobs. The graph fails to take into account these graduates.

2009 Bi-modal salary distribution graph

Distribution of Reported Full-Time Salaries for the Class of 2009

But recent graduates can just start their own law firms, right? Wrong. Law school doesn’t fully prepare people to become lawyers. In fact, it doesn’t even prepare recent grads to take the bar, much less become a functioning attorney.

But isn’t the problem of too much debt isolated to a few students who made bad decisions to take out student loans to attend crappy law schools? Wrong again. The NYT article names a few students and their student debt situations. The reality is that tens of thousands of recent law school grads are in the same boat. They are hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and they have no realistic likelihood of paying off those debts.

Take a look at Above the Law’s Elie Mystal, for example. Mystal graduated from Harvard Law School eight years ago, worked at a top law firm, yet he’s terminally delinquent on his law student loans: “Every six to eight months, I call up the debt collection agencies that have been hounding me, and do a gut-wrenching dance where I try to give them a little more money towards debts that I’ll need to hit the lottery to ever pay off, while they ask for dollar amounts I simply don’t have. At the end of the day, I’m judgment proof. There’s only so much blood you can get out of a rock.” Another Harvard Law School graduate cried through the article.

So the question is this: what will happen to these graduates whose debt continues to compound and increase? There’s no discharge of student loans in bankruptcy, no prospect for a wealth of high paying legal jobs in the future, no foreseeable bailout, and no forgiveness plan for non-government employees.

Will these graduates continue forever with a mountain of debt and poor credit? I guess we’ll find out.

Elsewhere:

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