Law School Debt: Another Blow to Lawyers' Mental Health

By Camila Laval, J.D. on October 11, 2021 | Last updated on January 07, 2022

If you are a lawyer or a law student, you may not be surprised by the dismal mental health statistics in the legal profession:

  • 20% of attorneys have problematic drinking habits, compared to only 14% for the general population.
  • Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than the general population.
  • While 18.1% of the general population reported mild to severe anxiety in the past year, 37% of attorneys reported the same.

The usual explanations for such numbers are: that lawyers tend to be perfectionists; that most attorneys work long hours; and that the core of the legal profession is solving other people's problems.

But there is another culprit for the state of attorneys' mental health that is not often mentioned: student loan debt.

Young Attorneys Hit Hard by Student Debt

A recent ABA survey of 1,300 attorneys under the age of 36 revealed the impact student loans have on young attorneys' mental health. Of those surveyed, 90% had taken out loans to finance their J.D. or undergraduate degree. Their average total debt balance upon law school graduation was $130,000.

The survey revealed that:

  • 65% of attorneys reported high or overwhelming stress over their finances.
  • More than half of the attorneys had concerns about meeting their living expenses, were unable to afford activities they enjoy, or were living paycheck to paycheck.
  • 52% of the attorneys felt regret or guilt because of their debt.

Race Matters

The study also suggested that race may be affecting both the loan balance and the debt-management behavior of the attorneys surveyed.

With respect to the amount borrowed, Black attorneys were more likely to have a debt balance of over $200,000 upon completion of their J.D. Hispanic/Latino and Indigenous respondents, on the other hand, tended to borrow less for their law degree than respondents of other races and ethnicities. Asian and White students were least likely to have undergraduate debt balances when they graduated from law school.

Furthermore, compared to other racial groups, Hispanic/Latino and Indigenous attorneys were less likely to discuss their debt with friends and family members, but more likely to discuss it with a loan servicer.

No Regrets

Despite the emotional hardships caused by student loans, 61% of attorneys stated that they did not regret going to law school, and 55% stated that, given the chance for a do-over, they would attend the same law school. Those who stated that they would not attend the same law school said that they would have instead opted for a school with a heftier scholarship.

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