We can write about how financially imprudent it is to go to law school until we’re blue in the… fingertips? I guess? But for some of you, it’s just not going to sink in until you see it in cold hard numbers. Enter this handy student loan calculator that allows the user to enter their planned indebtedness and it’ll spit back the salary you need to earn in order to justify your decision.
Spoiler: law school is rarely justified…
Recently, The Washington Post published a education loan payment calculator to assist students out there in figuring out exactly how much they will suffer for their education. And the answer for lawyers is “much more than they can afford.”
Try it out for yourself.
Let’s try an example. First off, let’s assume the student is carrying zero debt from undergrad. This is probably unrealistic, but maybe they played it smart and went to a state school before attending an elite law school (JoePa pats himself on the back). Or maybe they’re super rich. In any event, let’s judge the law school decision assuming this is the only student debt they’ll have.
Let’s also skip over cost of living. Not because cost of living isn’t important, but because this calculator demonstrates that law school is a bad investment for most students even before we consider cost of living.
For the fun of it, let’s take the JoePa path, heading to NYU Law with zero undergrad debt. To do this today, the JoePa clone would rack up $171,087 in debt per Law School Transparency. What would need to happen to pay off those loans….
To meet the magical $160K, the calculator requires a 15-year payback schedule of $238,111, including interest. Obviously, Biglaw attorneys have the advantage of annual salary increases that help stem the suffering. In most Biglaw firms, the associate will be making that $214K number — when you add in bonuses — by their 4th year. But then the prospective lawyer will need to consider the pyramid scheme of legal practice. It’s not all that valuable to earn $250K as a 5th year if you’ll be out on your ass as a 7th year.
There are ways to manage this situation. A disciplined attorney could kiss every bonus goodbye and make giant lump-sum payments to pay off principal and change the landscape. Or the student could go pass on NYU and get in-state tuition somewhere. But this is also fraught with risk because with lower tuition comes lower post-graduate opportunities. For example, in-state tuition at Ohio State lands a student $88,917 in the hole, but OSU boasts a 59.1 percent employment score compared to NYU’s 93.7 percent.
Once again, this is the overarching cancer of the law school industrial complex: it incentivizes big debt and Biglaw dependence. The next time you hear some do-gooder complain that the federal judiciary is too stacked with Biglaw refugees who lack hands-on experience representing the indigent, what they overlook is how the top-tier law schools all but guarantee that the pool of candidates for future judicial appointments are forced to work in Biglaw to make ends meet. If these people want to increase the diversity of experiences on the federal bench, they need to step back from criticizing judicial nominations and start reforming the law school process.
Source : http://abovethelaw.com/2014/10/student-loan-calculator-is-brutally-honest-about-law-school/