Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

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Kagord
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Kagord »

My daughter has been working as a paralegal, straight out of college, at a big law firm to save up (living at home) to, hopefully, go to a T14, and not take on debt. She's mentioned over 50% of the paralegals working there are doing that, the firm requests you plan on staying 2 years to make it worth their while for the training they provide (while keeping your billables up, of course).

Just saying that's another potential option, and might help with some experience as to what type of law you might be interested in, and how big law firms work.
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AnnetteLouisan
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by AnnetteLouisan »

I’m surprised no one has asked how much debt you plan to incur, since surely the number is relevant. I took on debt to attend a t14 thirty years ago, before student loans were not dischargeable in bankruptcy, and it was worth it, for me, in terms of subsequent earning capacity, although it was painful to repay at the time. In the rear view mirror, it seems like a blip. But tuition has soared since then.

My friendly suggestion is to pay it off between year 5 and 12 after graduating when you can do so relatively easily. Not in years 1-4 like I did (too much of a sacrifice given the stress of starting your career and associated expenses) or years 12-30 like some do (it will have ballooned too much).

I tend to think it’s easier to pay a lot when you earn a lot, not when you are a low earning paralegal, say. So I don’t recommend burdening yourself early on when you are competing for grades, prizes, law review etc that will be scrutinized throughout your career.
Last edited by AnnetteLouisan on Sat Feb 10, 2024 6:08 am, edited 7 times in total.
Jayhawk11
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Jayhawk11 »

Based on your update - I'd pick Kentucky and it's not particularly close...
jaMichael
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by jaMichael »

Jayhawk11 wrote: Sat Feb 10, 2024 5:52 am Based on your update - I'd pick Kentucky and it's not particularly close...
Based on OP’s update, I also think Kentucky is likely the better choice, despite my general advice to choose the higher ranked school. I would think a Kentucky law degree would be well received in TN and KY and graduating without $150k in debt could make a material difference for you over the next 15 to 20 years.
Tundrama
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Tundrama »

I’d recommend sitting down with Harvey, Michael, Rachel and Donna.

Above all however, some time spent with Louis will help you with such an important decision.

Good luck!
annied12
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by annied12 »

One last bit of advice - I went to a top twenty law school and a girl I met there was stunned that I did not know how to study. She was the most organized person that I ever met and taught me how to study. Neither of us were brilliant, just above-average kids that were in a very good law school. (I had done very well on the LSAT exam or else I definitely would not have gotten into the school.)

The reason why it is so important to know how to study is that whatever law school you go to, the top people get the good/great initial jobs. As you go down In the law school rankings, the people from lower percentages may also get jobs at the large law firms or elsewhere depending upon the school’s ranking. For example, I worked one summer at IBM for a young law school graduate from Columbia Law School (a top five school). He told me that he was barely in the top half of his class. Well, if he went to a lesser school, he would not have gotten the job at IBM.

Anyhow, she told me that you do not raise your hand to answer questions since that diverts your attention from listening to what the professor is saying. You write down everything the professor says. Yup, I am showing my age. We used pens thirty years ago. You emphasize in your notes what the professor emphasizes. To study for an exam, condense your notes over and over again until it fits on one page. You do that and you will end up with a good grade.
Last edited by annied12 on Sat Feb 10, 2024 11:17 am, edited 2 times in total.
astrolabe
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by astrolabe »

I am familiar with your dilemma (including the geography). I chose the state school with scholarship option. I'm embarrassed to say it, but part of me still regrets it. I am a partner a large law firm, but it wasn't easy to get in the door. And there are many days when I look out from my glassed-in perch and daydream about doing something different. (So, my regrets may extend beyond picking the UK option over the Vandy option.)

One thing to consider is that it's impossible to know how you'll fare in law school, particularly in that all-important first year. My background and numbers suggested I'd wind up top of the heap. My first-year marks were thoroughly mediocre (and it wasn't for lack of effort). Somehow I wound up graduating at the top of my class, but I'd be lying if I said I understood why I got the grades I did (both good and bad). I remain mystified by law school grading. The point is that it's a mistake to assume that you'll do well at a school based on your background (and it's therefore important to consider what life looks like for someone in the middle 75% of the curve).

As has been noted, the profession is prestige-obsessed. I didn't appreciate that fact when I went through the process decades ago. But it's worth considering that it's probably more true in "more prestigious" segments (large law firms, high-end boutiques, academia, the clerkship market, etc.). I don't know whether the same holds true in the smaller firm circle or outside of metropolitan statistical areas. Frankly though, a lot of lawyers are vapid, arrogant, or both, and place too much weight on pedigree. If you graduate from a well-regarded school, you will enjoy a presumption of competence, which of course is rebuttable and only as strong as the school.

Ultimately, I think the choice hinges on the accuracy of your prediction about what you will want to do on the other side of law school. If you wind up as a generalist in small town Kentucky, then UK is very likely the better choice. The marginal benefit of Vandy may be non-existent (you may find yourself explaining away or minimizing your decision to go to Vandy), and the added financial burden is real. If as you go through the process, you find yourself wanting to try life in a larger law firm or similar, then Vandy may be the better choice. You need to be around the top 10% of your class at UK to have a shot at large firms in the area out the gate. Top 33% or so at Vandy probably gives you similar options. As that crude estimate suggests though, it's still a gamble. Vandy isn't Harvard. Bottom 33% (and, in all likelihood, bottom half) would be scary when coupled with significant debt.

Best of luck.
Firemenot
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Firemenot »

I assume you are aware that the pay for lawyers is a bimodal distribution? Hardly anyone makes the average. There are a lot of low paid and some highly paid attorneys. Not much in the middle.
Bogle Learner
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Bogle Learner »

I think everything you need to hear has been said here, but if “voting” matters, here’s what I would say:

1. Only take on significant debt if you are going to a T14 and willing to grind in Biglaw for a good number of years to pay off that debt. Coming out of law school, you are not well trained to do much of anything and the real training happens on the job. There’s no place that pays as well and provides good training as Biglaw, but Biglaw is a real grind. You will have no control of your schedule and have many sleepless nights. And it’s hard to get into Biglaw with a non T14 degree.

2. If you are not wedded to Biglaw and can get a free ride at a lower tiered but well respected local school, I think it’s definitely an option. Folks with this profile tend to have pretty interesting/ non-trad career paths and can be highly successful. If you get a free ride, the only opportunity cost will be your time of 3 years.

3. I think the number of Biglaw jobs, especially in the junior ranks, will decrease in the future due to AI. A lot of work that juniors do is centered on man power and I think AI is ripe to displace those in a couple of years.
alfaspider
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by alfaspider »

Given that you are looking for more of a small town practice, and aren't interested in giving the LSAT another shot, I'd lean Kentucky as well. The opportunities Vanderbilt potentially opens up don't sound like the ones you want.
SeattleLaw
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by SeattleLaw »

Picasso wrote: Wed Feb 07, 2024 2:24 pm My 37 yo brother went to a T10 law school and now makes $3.5M per year as a big law partner in manhattan. It was certainly worth it for him.

My understanding is that those firm jobs are really only available to those graduating from a top school. Not necessarily the top of class at those schools, but from those schools.
What type of school you want to go to (and debt you want to incur) is definitely dependent on the field law you want to be in. No one cares about what school you went to unless you are looking for a job in big law. And big law is a very, very, very miserable way to make a living. You "may" make 3.5m a year, but you never have time to spend it. I've met very few big law lawyers who seem happy with their jobs.

Local/state schools are a lot cheaper and are really good if you don't want to practice in Manhattan or Chicago or LA. You have a huge alumni network and a lot of resources.

On the other end of the spectrum from big law, I know several personal injury lawyers who make as much or more than big law partners, but didn't go to a T10 school (not even close), saved a lot of money on student loans, and have excellent work-life balance. Sure, it's not as prestigious, but they seem a lot happier.
legalwriter1
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by legalwriter1 »

Lawyer here with 20 plus years of experience. I went to a state university law school and have not regrets. I have worked as in-house counsel, business law professor, and solo practitioner.

Being a solo in a small town doing estate planning and some criminal defense is a world of difference from being a litigator in a big city. If you want big city life as a biglaw associate working 80+ hours per week, go to a top 14 school. Biglaw can be soul crushing but it does open doors. When my wife and I got married right before I finished law school, my wife begged me not to get a job working so many hours.

Read the article "Big Law Killed My Husband: An Open Letter From a Sidley Partner's Widow." It's pretty eye opening.
LawProf
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by LawProf »

Based on the OP's update, definitely go to Kentucky. This is not a close decision, even setting aside the extra debt needed to attend Vandy. If you want to practice in a small town in Kentucky, you're going to want a lot of referral work and that comes from your contacts. Going to Kentucky will expose you to a heck of a lot more lawyers who will end up practicing in Kentucky than Vandy. Those connections will have a tremendous value all their own (e.g., maybe one day who will want to be a judge and those relationships could matter). You want to be known to your classmates all over the state as the guy to go to whenever something in that town comes up.

In basically every situation, if you want to practice in a small town in a state, you should go to the state's flagship law school. And if you and your wife decide to live in Tennessee, I would go to the University of Tennessee.
cabfranc
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by cabfranc »

I am not a lawyer but have some in my family. My one piece of advice would be if you take on debt to go the biglaw route, live frugally and stash and invest your cash. As noted here, it can be soul crushing and after a few years you may decide to go do something that pays much less money. You will be happy you built a nest egg.
Tirebiter
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Tirebiter »

Kagord wrote: Sat Feb 10, 2024 5:27 am My daughter has been working as a paralegal, straight out of college, at a big law firm to save up (living at home) to, hopefully, go to a T14, and not take on debt. She's mentioned over 50% of the paralegals working there are doing that, the firm requests you plan on staying 2 years to make it worth their while for the training they provide (while keeping your billables up, of course).

Just saying that's another potential option, and might help with some experience as to what type of law you might be interested in, and how big law firms work.
This is a fantastic approach and I think more people should do it. I think it's actually reckless for someone to take on massive loans for law school without putting in some work to learn what the day-to-day life at a law firm is like. Law school won't give you this perspective at all (it's typically a curriculum designed as if most students were going to be law professors and judges). That's probably why so many lawyers in Biglaw feel trapped and miserable. For those who have a good understanding of what they're taking on, it can be a good profession.
Tirebiter
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Re: Law School Debt: Is It Worth It?

Post by Tirebiter »

Firemenot wrote: Fri Feb 09, 2024 7:43 pm Based on your desire to live and work in a small town in KY or TN, going to a regional school and minimizing expense is the way to go. No one will hold UK against you in such a situation. Minimize cost.

Also, UK isn’t going to hold you back in any of the large towns in KY or TN. Lots of the partners will have gone there.
I have another vote for Kentucky.

Vanderbilt would only make sense if you were fairly certain you wanted to start your career in Biglaw, and Kentucky doesn't close that door if you could work your way to the top 10% of your class.
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