The plan shared by so many law students seemed straight-forward enough: take out student loans, graduate from law school, get a high-paying job at a good law firm, and start chipping away at the debt. Unfortunately, as many recent graduates are learning, that plan is becoming more and more difficult to execute, as the legal job market continues to shrink. These days, newly minted lawyers find themselves taking jobs that don’t require a law license just so they can continue to cover the expenses of bills, rent, and of course student loan payments.
This drought of legal jobs has been especially hard on the graduating class of 2010, who received their degrees only two years after the Global Financial Crisis. According to Law School Transparency, public law school graduates of 2010 found themselves owing an average of $77,364 in student loans. The same year, graduates of private law schools owed even more, with their debt averaging out to $112,007.
This outstanding debt would not be so daunting to these graduates had they been able to find the well-paid legal jobs that their new degree qualified them for. However, due in large part to the financial crisis of 2008, corporations began tightening the purse strings on legal services spending, and subsequently law firms began hiring fewer employees and even laying off existing ones. Now, for the class of 2010, the legal jobs for which they took on so much debt for, are becoming scarce.
“Job outcomes for the Class of 2010 have improved only marginally since their first year after graduation,” writes Deborah J. Merritt in a study she published entitled What Happened to the Class of 2010? Empirical Evidence of Structural Changes in the Legal Profession. A professor at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio ate University, Merritt goes on to write that “more than a tenth of the employed graduates were working part-time, and more than a fifth held jobs that did not require a law license.”
Even if a law graduate is able to find employment in their field, their compensation isn’t always enough to cover their loan payments. In an effort to keep up with payments, some graduates find themselves working a second, or even third part-time job on the side. Others have resorted to working for non-profits or in the public sector in the hopes of having their loans forgiven by the federal government, a process which can take ten years. Still others have gone into business for themselves, opening their own practices, but like taking out student loans, this too can be a financially uncertain course of action.
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