Average law school tuition for 2012 has risen more than double the rate of inflation. Not coincidentally, the number of applicants to law schools has fallen dramatically in recent years. This is strange because usually when the demand for a commodity falls, the price drops as well. So why is the price still going up? Why aren’t law schools responding to these fairly basic principles of supply and demand? And why are these schools continuing to raise tuition? According to the experts, it’s because they can.
In his book Failing Law Schools, Brian Tamanaha explores the answer to these questions. Tomanaha is a professor of law at the Washington University in St. Louis Law School, putting him in a perfect position to investigate the question. It seems that law schools are making enough money to justify tuition hikes despite the drop in applications; there are still plenty of students filling up these schools. The problem, as Tomanaha has found, is that students are forced to take out enormous student loans, the size of which is matched only by the ease with which they may be obtained.
Law students are willing to immerse themselves in such substantial debt because many of them are under the false impression that there will be jobs available to them out in the world once they graduate, enabling them to repay their loans with relative ease. Tomanaha estimates that in order to be able to repay their student loans, law school graduates have two options: either get a job working at one the country’s top 250 corporate firms or find work in the government or non profit sector, being sure to meet the requirements for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Both options are highly competitive. Tomanaha believes there are enough of these jobs available to accommodate graduates of the top 10 law schools in the country as well as student from other schools who earn the best grades.
It’s important that prospective law students be aware of what they’re getting into. That way they can be sure to apply to law school knowing what they’ll need to do to avoid getting stuck with a massive amount of debt and no idea as to how to pay it. Students are advised to make a plan for debt management before they find themselves buried in debt. Those who already have large outstanding debts need to know that all is not lost; just because that debt seems unwieldy and impossible to deal with now, doesn’t mean there aren’t solutions available. The trick is to get proactive about it; find an organization equipped to help you consolidate and optimize your debt. If you can get organized and get the right help, there’s no reason for student debt to feel unmanageable.