How Scared Should You Be of Law School Debt?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on August 25, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

On a scale of 1 to 166,634, how scared of law school debt should you be?

If you are doing the math, $166,634 is the average amount of law school debt for graduating law students as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. It's based on the top ten schools by debt ranking.

If you are superstitious, that number includes a hidden "666." Are you scared now?

Good News

Actually, there is no good news when it comes to debt. That would be like looking for a silver lining in a mushroom cloud. If you are borrowing money, payback is coming.

There is another side of the coin, however. Law school debt may actually be declining. According to some studies, the average student debt is lower than three years ago and tuition has dropped at some schools.

Derek T. Muller, a Pepperdine Law School professor, said two thirds of the ranked law schools showed lower student debt between 2013 and 2016. Paul F. Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, said tuition at private universities declined by 10 percent between 2011 and 2015.

Like law school enrollments, the average law school debt may be going down. But in the confused economy of legal education, it is still a risky debt to incur.

Bad News

Whittier Law School graduates, for example, saw their debt increase 20.7 percent from 2015 to 2016. In 2017, the law school is closing.

Out of the top 25 schools in the debt ranking, only six reported lower student debt during the same period. Graduates at other schools, like Golden Gate, Elon, Ave Maria and Williamette, saw their debts increase at least 10 percent in one year.

That's worse than the interest on a home loan or a car loan. And for $166,634, you could buy a condo and a car.

Of course, you would still have to pay for it and you can't get a law job without paying your dues. But that's another story.

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