Average Law School Debt

Report Highlights. The average law school graduate owes $160,000 in student loan debt. Meanwhile, law school enrollment is on a decline from its peak in 1986.

  • 74% of law school students graduate in debt.
  • $119,292 is the average amount students borrow just to attend law school.
  • $96,251 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

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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.

  • Student loan debt has now overtaken credit card debt in the U.S., at over $1.5 trillion. 
  • 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.
  • University of California Irvine law school graduates have the lowest salary-to-debt ratio out of law school of 1.46 to 1.
  • University of Southern California students borrow the most at an average of $128,073 per student. 
Snapshot: Law School Graduate Indebtedness
Institution Salary-to-debt ratio Average Amount Borrowed
University of California Irvine 146. to 1 $123,456
Washington and Lee University 1.47 to 1 $96,721
University of Missouri 1.48 to 1 $62,627
University of Southern California 1.48 to 1 $128,073
Indiana University Bloomington 1.5 to 1 $76,755
Rutgers University 1.53 to 1 $55,531
University of Minnesota 1.55 to 1 $90,393
University of Texas-Austin 1.59 to 1 $119,589
Washington University in St. Louis 1.65 to 1 $96,928
Boston University 1.65 $112,443

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Law School Debt Across Demographics

The burden of student loan debt is unevenly distributed among demographics such as age groups, race or ethnicity, sex or gender, and even from state to state.

  • Black or African American graduates’ loan debts are roughly 30% higher compared to white students. 
  • 15% of law school students and just 5% of practicing lawyers are Black or African American.
  • 13% of law school students and 5% of lawyers are Hispanic or Latino.
  • 62% of law school students and 86% of all practicing lawyers are non-Hispanic whites.
  • 10% of law school students and 2% of lawyers are Asian.
  • $96,442 is the average starting salary for female law school graduates while men start at $100,393.

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.

Law School Borrowers Unable to Reduce Debt After Graduation
Demographic Group Same Debt More Debt
Asian 11.4%* 13.6%
Black/African American 20.7% 43.7%
Hispanic or Latino 14.0% 19.8%
Indigenous 7.1% 17.9%
Two or More Races 11.7% 18.3%
White/Caucasian 15.5% 28.9%
Unreported 14.6% 26.8%
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.

  • Roughly 90% of students borrowed student loans to fund their law degree and prior education, with an average of about $100,000 in loans for the J.D., and around $130,000 of loan debt following graduation.
  • 78%-95% of law students are working full-time within a year of graduation.
  • 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, but indebted medical school graduates are more than twice as likely to consider their degree worth the debt.

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Federal Loans and Repayment

Students pursuing post-graduate education may use federal Grad PLUS loans, which carry 8.05% interest rate for the 2023-2024 academic year.

  • $52,000 is the median starting salary for a law school graduate working in the public sector.
  • $68,300 is the median starting salary for those in the private sector.
  • It is very difficult 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 $204,226; their median starting salary is $41,280, giving them the worst debt-to-income ratio among all law school graduates.
  • It will take about 10 years for the average FCSL graduate to pay off the amount borrowed, assuming ~60% of their income goes toward repayments.
  • In that time, they will pay $58,729 in interest; which is 25% of a grand total of $240,729.
  • Brigham Young University graduates get the best deal in terms of debt-to-income ratios; their median starting salaries are $65,457 while the average amount borrowed is $119,900.
$180K Law School Loan Repayment Timeline Assuming 8.05% APR
Median Salary % Income Monthly Payment Years to Zero Debt Total Cost
$56,900 10% $474 NA† NA†
$56,900 20% $948 25.9 $294,300
$56,900 36% $1,707 10.1 $207,000
$91,200 10% $760 50.2 $458,200
$91,200 20% $1,520 11.8 $215,700
$91,200 36% $2,736 5.7 $185,500

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 entity 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 $2,000 just to cover the interest on their loans, assuming a $120,000 loan was taken out. This would require over 7 years of monthly payments.
  • For an average law school graduate working in the public sector, that’s roughly 50% of their monthly income.
  • Their grand total payment would be over $184,1730; 87.5% of it would be in 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.
  • It would not be possible for an FCSL graduate to ever pay off an educational debt in private loans. 
$180,000 Law School Loan Repayment Timeline Assuming a 10% APR
Median Salary % Income Monthly Payment Years to Zero Debt Total Cost
$56,900 10% $474 NA NA
$56,900 20% $948 NA NA
$56,900 36% $1,707 15.3 $312,500
$91,200 10% $760 NA NA
$91,200 20% $1,520 21.1 $384,100
$91,200 36% $2,736 6.8 $220,300

This payment does not cover the loan’s accrued interest, making repayment an impossibility.

Law School Tuition and Fees

In 2015, the ABA launched a task force to deal with the national student debt burden, resulting in 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 $26,264 for in-state students; out-of-state students pay $39,612.
  • $78,278 is the annual tuition at Columbia University, making it the most expensive law school in the country.
  • Students at the University of Memphis pay $12,208, the lowest tuition of any law school nationwide.

The average law school tuition has increased by $34,956  over the past 35 years;  that’s an increase of 835%.

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Sources of Financing Among Law School Students Who Didn’t Use Student Loans for Law School‡
Source Usage
Support from family or friends 68.1%
Savings 58.9%
Scholarships and/or grants 58.4%
Employment while in school 34.1%
Employer 9.2%
Other 8.6%
Credit cards 7.6%

14% of law school students do not use student loans when earning their Juris Doctorate.


    1. U.S. News, 15 Law Schools Where You Can Pay Off Your Debt 
    2. CNBC, Only 23% of Law School Grads Say Their Education was Worth the Cost  
    3. Law School Transparency, Data Dashboard  
    4. Calculator.net, Financial Calculator  
    5. American Bar Association (ABA), Disparities in Student Loans  
    6. ABA, Profile of the Legal Profession  
    7. Gallup, Few MBA, Law Grads Say Their Degree Prepared Them Well  
    8. ABA, Student Debt: The Holistic Impact on Today’s Young Lawyer  
    9. How much money should be put aside for debt – CNBC  
    10. NALP – Gender Pay Gap for New Law Graduates  
    11. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator