Law School, Debt, and Discrimination
Law Review Article
student loan debt, law school diversity, race and ethnicity
Law school is more than a professional training ground. Our graduates play a special and privileged role in the nation’s politics and culture. They know—or should know—the language of the law, the vehicle broadly capable of moving society from where it is to where it aspires to be, and ideally aimed at achieving justice in the case of individuals wronged by the state, a neighbor, or simple bad luck. This special role for lawyers adds significance to questions of who goes to law school and what law students do after they graduate. Law graduates’ career decisions have practical effects on access to justice; for example, new lawyers may choose to serve, or not to serve, poor, historically subordinated communities.
Decisions about careers also link access to justice to student financing of law school. The more law students must borrow to pay for their education, the more pressure they are under to pursue higher-paying jobs to manage repayment. While empirical evidence of the impact of indebtedness on decision-making is scarce, the data we do have suggests that more borrowing for law school correlates with a lower likelihood of seeking a career devoted to the public interest. The correlation makes sense, because public interest careers tend to pay less. The more students must pay for law school, the more likely it is that they will seek more lucrative careers.