Law students dream of big starting salaries – but will high salaries be enough for a comfortable lifestyle with law school loans? This post intends to find out.
Law school is billed as a “safe” bet but I’m telling you – don’t go to law school without a financial plan! When I looked at law school tuition prices recently, I was shocked. Prices have doubled since I went to school 10 years ago. And even when I was in school, the tuition prices and student loan loads were burdensome. Meanwhile, BigLaw salaries (the highest salaries a law graduate can expect when she graduates) have only increased slightly.
The rising cost of law school tuition should give any potential law student pause. My last post touched on how the rising cost of college should encourage more students to think critically before attending – and the same is true for law school.
What I hope you’ll find by the end of this post, is that even if you end up with a high salary, attending law school is a risky investment. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, but you must go in with open eyes and a financial plan.
Most articles addressing whether college is worth the cost inexplicably conclude “of course!” But this doesn’t make sense based on basic economic facts.
Average costs for four years in college are between $44,000-165,000 (public to private schools) JUST FOR TUITION. Adding minimum living costs, this could easily balloon to $84,000-$205,000 at 5% interest. The median entry-level salary for a college graduate is $48,000. Even entry-level salaries at the high end are $71,000 (pre-tax).
The best case scenario (assuming no financial aid) is spending $84,000 and four years of hard work on college, likely not learning relevant job skills, in order to qualify for, apply for, and get hired to work 40+ hours a week for 52 weeks in order to earn $50,000 after taxes to pay off your loans (and you might not even like this job). The worst case scenario is that you spend $200k in loans to attend college and end up at a job you could have gotten straight out of high school.
Am I missing something or are the numbers not adding up on this investment?
Step one to pay off law school debt, is to reduce law school debt. That is, take out fewer loans. Though it doesn’t seem like you can do much to improve your debt while you’re in school and not working, but there you’re wrong. There are lots of strategies to decrease the loans you take out, and thus decrease your debt burden when you graduate. Here are the seven strategies I used to reduce my debt by tens of thousands of dollars while attending school.
I managed to save $65k over two years for law school, but I did so in a dodgy way. I utilized tax savings and retirement accounts to up my savings. Did I miss out on huge growth?
Paying for higher education is a huge obstacle these days – and graduate school is the worst. Graduate education typically does not have the scholarships or need-based aid given in undergrad. This leads to graduate students typically borrow three times what undergraduates do. I knew I was on my own saving for law school. Thus, I worked after college and saved $65,000 to pay for law school. However, my method of saving was a bit dodgy/controversial. Read on to see if you think this was the right approach.
I was fortunate enough to graduate from college debt free. Then I had to go and attend law school where I racked up $112,000 in student loan and credit card debt. So you can add this to the unremitting list of “student loan debt payoff” stories. I will admit that my story is more boring than most:
My secret is that there is no secret: I got paid a salary that made it possible to pay off the debt while living a reasonable lifestyle. There are no magical tricks herein. My story is completely mathematically realistic.
Personal finance is different for each person, and that’s especially true for women lawyers. Factors like giant student loan debt, no work life balance, lack of financial confidence, the glass ceiling – are just a few things that make navigating finances as a woman attorney different from others.
Female lawyers face their own unique personal finance challenges. They call it personal finance because the principles are not universal. If you’re a lawyer, you will likely accrue a lot of debt and no earnings while attending law school. It might still be a good decision because you are pursuing the career you want and are potentially setting yourself up for higher earnings. If you take a pay cut so that you can care for your family, that also might be the right financial decision for you, even though you are not saving.
Personal finance looks different for each individual depending on their circumstances and the stages in their lives. You might ask why this site focuses on women lawyers and it’s because female lawyers have different financial circumstances than male lawyers or women in other professions, due to a variety of systemic problems and societal norms. These differences are not necessarily night and day from other people’s experiences, but it’s different enough to warrant different advice. Below I explain some of these differences.