Financing a Legal Education
Law school is an important investment in your future. Costs can exceed $150,000 for tuition and all expenses. Approximately 80-90% of law students borrow to finance their legal education. Unlike undergraduate school, need-based scholarships (money that does not have to be repaid) are rare. Most financial assistance is likely to be awarded in the form of a loan. On average, amounts borrowed are more than $80,000 at a private school and more than $50,000 at a public school. Consider the financial aid process as seriously as you do the law school application process.
Nationwide, only 60% of law school graduates from the Class of 2013 found long-term, full-time jobs that required bar passage (meaning jobs where they would be able to practice law). James Leipold, Executive Director of NALP, the Association for Legal Career Professionals, Northeast Association of Prelaw Advisors Annual Conference, June 20, 2014.
For the Class of 2011, although salaries of more than $75,000 accounted for 34% of salaries reported, they were considerably outnumbered by salaries of $55,000 or less which accounted for 41% of salaries reported. Outside of private practice, most salaries were $75,000 or less. http://www.nalp.org/starting_salaries_class_of_2011
This information is not meant to discourage you from becoming a lawyer: it is to give you the information you need to make the best-informed decisions when it comes to selecting a law school and choosing a financing option that makes sense for your goals and needs.
Take some time to familiarize yourself with ACTUAL starting salaries lawyers in your preferred geographic and practice areas can expect, as well as employment data available on sites such as Law School Transparency.
HERE are some helpful resources to get you started:
“Financing Your Legal Education” is an excellent publication by Access Group, a non-profit organization. Some copies are available at BCDC. www.accessgroup.org has some excellent resources on its website, including a loan repayment calculator which demonstrates your monthly payments based on the amount and terms of your loans and a Financial Aid Award Analyzer which allows you to calculate and compare financial aid awards from graduate schools you are considering.
You should also be aware of two student debt relief programs included in the federal government’s College Cost Reduction and Access Act. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program allows qualifying government and public interest employees to earn loan forgiveness. The Income Based Repayment Program helps qualified borrowers keep their loan payments affordable based on their income and family size and may include forgiveness of remaining debt after 25 years of qualifying payments. For more information, visit www.equaljusticeworks.org and select either the Pre-Law or Law Student tab. Then click on the “Student Debt Relief” link.
Most students typically finance their legal education through a combination of public and private loans. Scholarships, grants and fellowships are less available, but they do exist. Work-study may also be possible. The best way to finance your legal education depends upon the school which you attend. Therefore, your best bet is to contact the financial aid office at each school to which you apply.
For more comprehensive financial aid information, please see the section on “Financing Law School” in the Bates Pre-Law Guide, available in pdf format on the pre-law home page, or the Law School Admission Council’s website on and click on Financing Law School.
Apply early for financial aid. Check each law school’s website to learn financial aid deadlines. Some schools have priority dates for submitting financial aid information; students who apply earlier have a better opportunity to obtain limited grant money.
Financial Aid Resources
- lsac.org – Visit their section on Financing Law School in “Services for Prospective JD Students”
- fafsa.ed.gov – Standardized financial information about federal financial assistance
- studentaid.ed.gov – More information on federal student aid
- AnnualCreditReport.com – Free annual credit report
- www.accessgroup.org – Personal finance and other financial aid information
- www.equaljusticeworks.org – Information on public interest law programs and law school loan repayment assistance programs (LRAP)
- fastweb.com – Financial aid search engine