More Debt, Less Income: The Law, It Is A-Changin'

By Robyn Hagan Cain on January 22, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There's a common refrain among lawyers that law students -- and aspiring law students -- dread: "When I was in law school..."

Some of the tales that follow that refrain are useful. If the professor who is older than death itself is still teaching, the students of yesteryear can offer grading insight. But when it comes to the cost of law school in the golden olden days ... Well, things have changed.

According to a WorldWideLearn infographic, it's not your parents' law school anymore.

To start, tuition is higher. Much higher.

In 1985, the median yearly tuition and fees for out-of-state residents at public law schools ran less than $5,000. In 2010, the total was over $37,000.

Let's put those numbers in perspective. The 1985 median -- $4,786 -- is the equivalent of $9,699 in 2010. Even adjusting for inflation, that means that law school tuition almost quadrupled to reach the 2010 median -- $37,385.

Law school debt news is similarly discouraging.

The average amount the law students at public law school borrowed in the 2006-2007 school year was just over $50,000. By the 2010-2011 school year, the average law school debt had increased to approximately $75,000. Students are private law school saw loan amounts increase from $80,000 to $120,000 over the same time frame.

But while expenses and debt are skyrocketing, salaries are dropping. Between 2009 and 2011, median salaries for law firm employees dropped from $130,000 to $85,000. Median salaries for non-firm employees fared better, dropping from $72,000 to $60,000.

For students just getting started with law school, income based repayment seems more probable than ever.

When I was in law school, I told law school wannabes to save themselves avoid law school entirely. After graduation, I hedged: Go to law school if you really want to be a lawyer. Now, I tell people to only consider law school if it's free, or if they can cope with paying off loans for the next 25 years.

Numbers -- much like hips -- don't lie. In light of the depressing financial statistics, would you choose law school again if you were making the decision today? Would you recommend a legal career to someone else? Let us know on Facebook or Google+.

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