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Is law school worth the price of admission?

When U.S. News & World Report unveiled its 2012 law school rankings on Tuesday, the results weren’t exactly earth shattering. Despite efforts by the publication to put a premium on transparency in employment numbers, the list remained much the same as it has in years past. (But — can I get a “Hook ’em Horns?”)

The law blogs were all atwitter over the “new” rankings this week, but I’d been ignoring such stories until a Facebook post caught my eye. A former colleague wrote on her wall that graduates from two of the three law schools in San Diego have the highest debt load in the country, according to the same issue of U.S. News.

I’m not going to lie — my heart actually started racing. As a graduate of University of San Diego School of Law, I figured my odds at escaping the worst debt in the nation couldn’t be good. (Any statistics majors out there? How about bookies? I’m certainly not doing the math myself.)

But when I read that my alma mater was not the worst in the country for indebtedness, I wasn’t exactly relieved. As I scrolled through the listings, I found the statistics for USD: 88 percent of 2010 law school graduates left with debt to the tune of $119,331, on average.* Yup, that sounds about right.

Which brings me to a discussion I had this week with a woman (and administrative law judge) whose daughter-in-law is considering going to law school. I swear, I visibly cringed when she told me the news, but I followed up with the obligatory, “Well, I don’t regret for one minute that I went to law school.”

Brief silence.

“But I do regret paying for law school.”

Look, I’m not upset over all the time I put into calculating per stirpes distributions or wrapping my brain around the rule against perpetuities. I barely even care that my eyesight got worse and that I gained 10 pounds studying for the Bar (OK, maybe I care just a little). The process of learning, growing as a person and gaining the tools I’d need to make a difference in this world were rewarding.

But what is law school really worth?

I’ll tell you what it’s not worth — it’s not worth a monthly loan payment for the next 27 years that looks just like my rent check.

So, for all you law school hopefuls out there who think I’m just bitter or hung up on material wealth, and your experience will be completely different than mine (and that of many of my peers), I have two things to say: First, do the research. It’s not just about Bar passage rates or employment numbers that, in all likelihood, have been plumped up like a Perdue chicken. Look at the price of admission plus the cost of living without employment for nearly four years, compounded by decades of interest. I can assure you, that’s a much different number than you had in mind.

And second — for your sake, I sincerely hope you’re right.

*It looks like you locals made it off the hook a bit easier: The average indebtedness of a 2010 law grad at University of Baltimore was $94, 834, with 84 percent of students carrying debt. At University of Maryland, 81 percent of 2010 law grads are indebted at an average of $83,693.

2 comments

  1. Law school may be a significant financial burden, but it tripled my salary and provided me with an entirely new and employer valued skill set. I’m thankful that school loans were available since I paid for law school myself.

  2. All too often future law students look at the pros of attending law school and gloss over the negatives such as debt. The “go to the best law school you can get into” only furthers the problem as a student will not likely receive a scholarship to one of their stretch schools.