How Much Does Law School Cost?

Are you preparing for the LSATs and wondering, How Much Does Law School Cost?

How much does law school cost? Here are 8 Money Facts for Aspiring Lawyers

I grew up watching television shows like Perry Mason, Law and Order, and The Practice. Boston Legal, which was a spin-off of The Practice, ended up being my all time favorite series. James Spader is one of my favorite actors. He was entertaining with William Shatner.

Hollywood does an amazing job at glorifying the role of a lawyer. They wear fine clothes, drink expensive scotch, smoke cigars, and drive nice cars. But, this isn’t an accurate lifestyle for most lawyers. Real life for most lawyers is working around the clock to have the money to pay their next loan payment.

Before you make the financial commitment of your lifetime, check out these 8 Money Facts for Aspiring Lawyers.

 

1. Undergraduate Program Costs

Your journey to becoming a lawyer starts with a four-year undergraduate program. A four-year in-state public college can cost $25,000 per year. That can total $100,000 if you graduate on time, which most students don’t. Private colleges can cost $50,000 per year. That’s $200,000 without financial aid.

How are parents paying for college today?

A third of college today is being paid for by the institutions themselves. This can come in the form of scholarships, grants and work-study. Private colleges tend to award more financial aid than public schools. It may take some work, but preparing for the financial cost of college can save you tens of thousands of dollars.

If you want to learn more about costs involved in getting an undergraduate degree, check out “How Much Does College Cost?”

If you’re preparing for college, make sure to register for our next College Done Right webinar.

 

2. The Cost of Law School

Law schools are competitive to gain acceptance. Aspiring lawyers will need to study and prepare for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). It’s a daunting test and can take a full year to study for. And getting accepted into school is the least of your worries. Your next hurdle is figuring out how to pay for law school.

If you’re wondering how much law school costs, here’s what each year of law school costs.

  • Lowest private school: Brigham Young University, $23,940

  • Average private school: $45,467

  • Highest private school: Columbia University, $62,700

  • Lowest public in-state school: University of North Dakota, $11,161

  • Average public in-state school: $25,890

  • Highest public in-state school: University of Virginia, $54,000

  • Lowest public out-of-state school: University of the District of Columbia, $22,402

  • Average public out-of-state school: $38,885

  • Highest public out-of-state school: University of Connecticut, $57,852

Now multiply that x3 — because law school is 3 years.

 

3. Average Debt at Graduation for Lawyers

Law schools report that the average student loan debt can soar as high as $170,000 (with scholarships). It’s consistent with what I see from working with attorneys. It can be tempting to think that you’ll pay off this debt once you’re earning a lawyer’s salary. But many newly minted attorneys find it hard just to make ends meet.

I’ve seen student loan balances continue to soar after 5 years of making payments. I recommend reviewing your student loan strategy every year. Situations like getting married, having children, and increases in income can affect your re

TIP #1: Don’t take out more in student loans than what you expect to make right out of law school. This is a good rule of thumb to have your loans paid off in your thirties.

 

4. Lawyer Salaries

The financial payoff can be significant if you’re working for a large corporate firm. However, these coveted jobs are hard to get without having attended a law firm feeder school.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income for an attorney in the U.S. is $115,820 for 2015. The best paid lawyers earned more than $187,200, while the lowest-paid made less than $55,870.

The highest paid in the lawyer profession work in the metro areas of California, New York and the DC area. Most large corporate firms where you’ll find salaries like this require 1,900 to 2,000 billable hours. This is not the total number of hours worked. It’s the total number of actual work hours that you can bill to a client.

For everyone else, the median private sector salary was $68,300. And the median public sector salary was $52,000. And while a salary of $68,300 can sound amazing to 24-year-old, it’s important to note that you don’t keep it all. There are taxes, deductions, contributions to your 401(k), and insurance to pay. This is all on top of your daily living expenses like rent, utilities, groceries, car payments, and so on.

Here’s what a pay stub could look like:

 

How Much Does Law School Cost? Lawyer's Paystub
 

After taxes and deductions, your net pay on a salary of $68,300 is a $1,671.09 paid out bi-weekly. If you have $180,000 in student loans, you could be looking at a monthly payment of $2,071.45. That’s on a 10-year standard repayment plan with 6.8 percent interest.

 

5. Average Debt at Graduation for Lawyers

Law schools report that the average student loan debt can soar as high as $170,000. But that’s while you’re in school. A few years later and that number can creep close to $200,000, depending on the repayment plan you selected.

Our clients reach out to us about 5 years after that. By then, that number looks more like $190,000. After five years of payments, the balance continues to increase!

What!? Where’s my money going?

Most of your money is going towards interest. If you want to know how much is going towards interest, you can review your payment history. See how much is going towards interest and how much is going towards your principal balance.

According to FinAid.org’s Loan Calculator, your payment should be around $1,956.37. That’s using today’s interest rate of 6.8% on a standard 10 year plan. 

It’s tempting to think that you’ll pay off this debt once you’re earning a lawyer’s salary. But that’s not likely. Most attorneys can’t afford that on a normal basis, let alone right after law school.

They need to use an alternate repayment plan. They’ll choose an income-based repayment, graduated repayment or extended repayment. They stretch out the payments over 30 years, tripling the amount of interest they’ll pay.

Extended Payment would cut this monthly payment by $848.10 (43.4%) by increasing the loan term to 30 years. But this would also increase the total interest paid over the life of the loan by $164,213.44 (253.6%).

TOMMY’S TIP #2: To make sure your student loans don’t take all the joy out of your life, use the ten percent rule. For every $1,000 you take out in student loans, you’ll have to pay $100 per month in repayment.

Always choose the shortest loan terms you can afford. Don’t be the person that’s paying back their student loans while sending their own kids to college.

 

6. Loan Forgiveness for Lawyers

The best kinds of student loans are ones that you don’t have to pay back. Programs like loan forgiveness can help you do just that. Here are some ways to earn forgiveness:

Public Service Loan Forgiveness for Lawyers:

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program will do just that. The program will “forgive” your remaining federal loans after:

1. Working full-time for a qualified employer, while;

2. Making 120 qualifying payments;

3. On a qualifying repayment plan;

4. And proving it.

I haven’t met one person, to date, that’s doing all that right and pursuing PSLF. Many have been making years of large payments each month, only to have none of them credited towards PSLF.

You can check the number of qualifying payments you’ve made on a recent billing statement. Every year, submit another Employment Certification form. It’s your way of documenting a new period for qualifying employment.

Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program (ASLRP)

This program is open to Department of Justice (DOJ) employees. It’s a great initiative to recruit and retain lawyers in the field. Eligible candidates can receive up to $6,000 per calendar year ($60,000 max) in assistance. ASLRP requires a three-year commitment to service.

John R. Justice (JRJ) Student Loan Repayment Program

If you’re looking for work in the public sector, working as a public defender can help you score assistance. Eligible candidates can receive up to $10,000 per year, with a ($60,000 max) in assistance (6 years). Like the ASLRP, you need to commit to a three-year service as a public defender.

The Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program

This is a lottery system for qualified attorneys. You need to have at least $75,000 in student loan debt and work for one of the program’s grantees.

In Connecticut, that’s Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut, Inc. The Herbert S. Garten LRAP awards up to $5,600 to, roughly, 70 attorneys each year.

 

7. Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) by school

Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) provide financial aid to law school graduates. To qualify, you need to work in the public interest sector, government or other low-paying legal fields.

These programs generally have salary requirements. Some may require earning less than $75,000 or less per year.

The amount you receive as part of your assistance can vary. It varies by school and your financials. To apply, you have to fill out a LRAP application and submit copies of you and your spouse’s financial. They’ll need a copy of you and your spouse’s federal and state income taxes, W-2s, as well as a list of your assets.

Here are some schools of interest on the list:

Surprisingly, University of Connecticut isn’t on this list. However, Quinnipiac University is. That could steer your direction. You can search to see if your school is on the list here.

 

8. Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) by state

You can also find LRAPs at the state level. There are 26 statewide loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs) providing assistance:
  • Arizona
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nebraska (two programs)
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • New York (two programs)
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Virginia

 

My thoughts

Law school is extremely expensive and unlike other graduate programs, working in your first year is discouraged. The American Bar Association (ABA) has strict rules for accreditation that focus on limiting employment. If you don’t have savings — of if your family aren’t footing the bill — you have very little choice but to take out loans. Lots of loans.

Avoid a financial stroke. Don’t take out more in student loans than what you expect to make the first your out of law school. If you’re only expecting a starting salary of $75,000 out of school, then don’t take out more than that in loans. This will ensure that you can pay back those loans in full by your mid-thirties. Don’t be the person paying back their student loans while sending their own kids off to college.

It’s your turn.

Tell me a little bit about your story. Are you going to law school? Did you graduate? Tell us what your experience has been and how your family paid for everything. Student loans have become increasing complicated over the years. If you need helping figuring your loans out and what to do, schedule a free consult.

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