2020 Law School Student Loan Debt: Survey Report
law students, financial status and behavior, student loan debt, law school diversity
An ABA report titled Lifting the Burden: Law Student Debt as a Barrier to Public Service cited some statistics its authors must have found alarming. “The amount borrowed by many law students exceeds $80,000.” It went on to point out that in the last 10 years, “the cost of living in the U.S. has risen 28%, while the cost of tuition for public law schools has risen 134% (for residents) and 100% (for non-residents) and private law school tuition has increased 76%.”
That report was nearly two decades ago - 2003.
The ABA Young Lawyers Division believes it is time for this association to reexamine the issues at the heart of the student loan crisis and to swiftly develop and implement a plan that will effectively help address this crisis. So, we launched a new survey in the Spring of 2020, the results of which are the basis for this new report. Since the 2003 report, dozens of commissions, committees, and task forces across different organizations, including this one, have set out to study issues of law school cost and debt. There are countless surveys, reports, proposals, white papers, political platforms, and recommendations that propose solutions to the student loan debt problem. And yet, more than 15 years after that report, here we are.
Tuition and law school debt, generally, have risen at higher rates than other indicators like wages. So why have we been so ineffective at slowing and stopping the rise in student loan debt in the long-term? Perhaps presenting the issue as a numbers problem has numbed us to the problem.
After all, the people behind those large numbers are what matter. Our goal with this survey and report was to understand better the personal impact of debt on people, and the profession as a whole. As we analyzed the results, it was quite affecting for us. We believe the results underscore the profound and personal impact that numbers alone have failed to capture. We found that those who are most affected are often the most vulnerable - people of color, people with disabilities, people with mental health issues. We were reminded that there are children, spouses, and families who, in turn, are impacted by that debt. And, of course, the problem mostly affects the newest generation of lawyers. Simply put, student loans affect our colleagues who, by and large, have the least influence and voice. The time has come for institutions like ours to take affirmative steps that address the legal profession’s student loan crisis.