Report Highlights. The average law school graduate owes $160,000 in student loan debt. Meanwhile, law school enrollment is at its lowest point since 1973.
- 74.1% of law school students graduate in debt.
- $118,400 is the average amount students borrow just to attend law school.
- $155,300 is the average amount borrowed to attend one of the top 10 law schools.
- Fewer than 1-in-4 new law school graduates say their legal education was worth the financial cost.
Related reports include Average Cost of College | Student Loan Debt Statistics | Average Time to Repay Student Loans | Student Loan Default Rate | Student Loan Forgiveness Statistics | Student Loan Refinancing
Average Law School Debt Statistics
In recent decades, the average law school debt has increased 4 times faster than the rate of inflation or about the same rate as tuition.
- 45% of law school students begin their post-secondary education in debt.
- 41.9% of indebted law school graduates say they owe as much or more than they did at graduation.
- 48% of indebted lawyers have postponed or decided not to have children due to their law school debt.
- 28.8% of new lawyers decided to postpone marriage or remain unwed as a result of their debts, and 55.6% have put off purchasing property.
- 17% of indebted law school graduates choose a job that will give them a better chance of loan forgiveness than the job they actually wanted.
- 100% of law school graduates from Florida A&M University are in debt.
- University of Detroit Mercy law school graduates are least likely to graduate in debt.
- Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles borrow the most at an average $201,967 each.
- $55,186 is the lowest average debt among new lawyers, owed by 74% of graduates from Rutgers.
|Institution||% Indebted Graduates||Average Amount Borrowed|
|Florida A&M University||100%||$61,500|
|Southwestern Law School||83%||$201,967|
|Yeshiva University (Cordozo)||62%||$118,304|
|University of Detroit Mercy||41%||$123,828|
Law School Debt Across Demographics
- Black or African American law school graduates loan debts are 97% higher on average than white law school graduates.
- 15% of law school students and just 5% of practicing lawyers are Black or African American.
- Hispanic or Latino graduates owe 49% more on average than their white peers.
- 13% of law school students and 5% of lawyers are Hispanic or Latino.
- On average, white law school graduates owe 17% less than the average law school student debt;
- 62% of law school students and 86% of all practicing lawyers are non-Hispanic whites.
- There is not enough data available to measure the average debt among Asian students;
- 10% of law school students and 2% of lawyers are Asian.
- $75,000 is the median starting salary for male law school graduates while women start at $70,000; this ultimately affects their repayment rates.
According to the American Bar Association (ABA), women and minority law school graduates bear an inordinate percentage of student debt, much of it due to income disparities. The ABA considers this an urgent problem and recommends law school students and practicing lawyers take the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which was developed at Harvard University as a method of gauging racial bias in test takers.
|Demographic Group||Same Debt||More Debt|
|Hispanic or Latinx||14.0%||19.8%|
|Two or More Races||11.7%||18.3%|
|All Law School Borrowers||15.0%||26.9%|
*Percent of all law school borrowers who have earned a Juris Doctorate in this demographic group.
Student Borrowing and Repayment
The amount a student borrows to attend school is never the amount they ultimately pay. While student loans generally don’t require payments until graduation, interest on those loans begins to accrue immediately.
- Some indebted students use 75% of their discretionary income to pay back student loans.
- 57% of students work while attending law school to pay tuition, fees, and debts.
- 78%-95% of law students are working full-time within a year of graduation.
- Most students grossly underestimate how much they’ll ultimately pay in student loan debt.
- Just 23% of indebted law school graduates say their degree was worth the financial cost.
- Degree satisfaction may or may not be linked to student debt; though the average medical school debt exceeds the average law school debt by 74%, indebted medical school graduates are more than twice as likely to consider their degree worth the debt.
Federal Loans and Repayment
Students pursuing post-graduate education may use federal Grad PLUS loans, which carry a 5.28% interest rate for the 2021-2022 academic year.
- $56,900 is the average starting salary for a law school graduate working in the public sector.
- $91,200 is the average starting salary for those in the private sector.
- 10% of one’s gross income is the ideal amount to put toward paying off debts according to guidelines issued by the U.S. Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB).
- It is impossible for the average lawyer working in the public sector to pay off federal student loans if they follow CFPB recommendations and guidelines.
- 26 years is how long it will take the average lawyer working in the public sector to pay off their loans if they use 20% of their income.
- 50 years is how long it will take a lawyer working in the private sector to pay off their loans following CFPB guidelines.
- A maximum of 36% of all income should go toward paying off debt, as federal guidelines recommend.
- Graduates of the Florida Coastal School of Law borrowed an average of $182,200; their median starting salary is $35,300, giving them the worst debt-to-income ratio of among all law school graduates.
- It will take 27 years for the average FCSL graduate to pay off their amount borrowed, assuming 36% of their income goes toward repayments.
- In that time, they will pay $160,600 in interest; that’s 47% of a grand total of $342,800.
- Stanford graduates get the best deal in terms of debt-to-income ratios; their median starting salaries are $156,700 while the average amount borrowed is $119,900.
|Median Salary||% Income||Monthly Payment||Years to Zero Debt||Total Cost|
†This payment does not cover the loan’s accrued interest, making repayment an impossibility.
Private Loans and Repayment
Private loan interest rates are generally much higher than those of federal loans. Some of them carry an APR of over 12%. There are very few statistics available regarding private loans because there is no centralized regulatory entitiy collecting data.
- If their total educational debt all came from private loans, no law school graduate could afford to repay that debt and follow CFOB recommendations and guidelines.
- An average graduate would owe a minimum payment of $986.66 just to cover the interest on their loans.
- If they they made regular monthly payments of $987, they could be debt free in 81 years.
- For an average law school graduate working in the public sector, that’s 33.6% of their income.
- Their grand total payment would be over $950,000; 87.5% of it would be interest.
- A Top 10 graduate would owe minimum monthly payments of $1,294.17 in order to be out of debt within 130 years.
- That’s 44% of their income if they work in the public sector, and they would ultimately pay over $1.8 million in interest alone.
- That would be 92.3% of their grand total payment of over $2 million.
- It would not possible for an FCSL graduate to ever pay off an educational debt in private loans.
|Median Salary||% Income||Monthly Payment||Years to Zero Debt||Total Cost|
Law School Tuition and Fees
In 2015, the ABA launched a task force to deal with the national student debt burden, resulting in some of the discount programs that have helped supplement student tuition level off the average financial burden in recent years.
- $63,000 is the average annual cost to attend a Top 10 law school.
- $50,000 is the average annual cost of attending a private law school.
- Public law schools charge an annual rate of $28,300 for in-state students; out-of-state students pay $41,700.
- $72,465 is the annual tuition at Columbia University, making it the most expensive law school in the country.
- Students at University of the District of Columbia (Clarke) pay $13,134, the lowest tuition of any law school nationwide.
- The average law school tuition has increased by $42,600 over the past 35 years; that’s an increase of 579%.
- Adjusting for inflation, the average law school tuition has increased by $32,279 over the past 35 years.
- That’s a 182% increase, with an annual growth rate of 0.6%.
- Before inflation, the annual growth rate was 16.6%; the annual growth rate of the U.S. dollar was 4.0%.
|Support from family or friends||68.1%|
|Scholarships and/or grants||58.4%|
|Employment while in school||34.1%|
‡14% of law school students do not use student loans when earning their Juris Doctorate.
- U.S. News, Which Law School Graduates Have the Most Debt?
- CNBC, Only 23% of Law School Grads Say Their Education was Worth the Cost
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator
- U.S. News, See the Price, Payoff of Law School Before Enrolling
- University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, The Crisis of the American Law School
- Law School Transparency, Data Dashboard
- U.S. Department of Education (ED) Office of Federal Student Aid (OFSA), Understand How Interest is Calculated and What Fees are Associated with Your Federal Student Loan
- Calculator.net, Financial Calculator
- U.S. Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), Debt-to-Income Calculator
- ED OFSA, Direct PLUS Loans are Federal Loans that Graduate or Professional Students Can Use to Help Pay for College or Career School
- New York State Higher Education Services Corporation, Private Student Loan Comparison Tool
- American Bar Association (ABA), Disparities in Student Loans
- ABA, Profile of the Legal Profession
- Gallup, Few MBA, Law Grads Say Their Degree Prepared Them Well
- AccessLex Legal Education Data Deck
- ABA, Student Debt: The Holistic Impact on Today’s Young Lawyer