Average Law School Debt

Report Highlights. The average law school graduate owes $180,000 in student loan debt. Meanwhile, law school enrollment is on a decline from its peak in 2010.

  • 71% of law school students graduate in debt.
  • $118,100 is the average amount students borrow just to attend law school.
  • $158,610 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.

  • 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.
  • 39% of indebted lawyers have postponed or decided not to have children due to their law school debt.
  • 26.7% of new lawyers decided to postpone marriage or remain unwed as a result of their debts, and 51.8% have put off purchasing property.
  • 25.9% 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 Western New England University are in debt.
  • University of Detroit Mercy law school graduates are least likely to graduate in debt.
  • Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles law school graduates borrow the most at an average of $188,160 each.
  • $46,010 is the lowest average debt among new lawyers, owed by 64% of graduates from Brigham Young University.
Snapshot: Law School Graduate Indebtedness
Institution % Indebted Graduates Average Amount Borrowed
Southwestern Law School 89% $188,160
Florida A&M University 83% $61,500
Rutgers, SUNJ 70% $55,530
Yale University 70% $143,440
Boston College 69% $135,710
Duke University 63% $138,380
Georgetown University 63% $172,010
Cornell University 62% $162,830
Columbia University 62% $168,490
Yeshiva University (Cordozo) 60% $118,800
University of Detroit Mercy 46% $121,780

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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 law school graduates loan debts are 97% higher on average than white law school graduates.
  • 8% of first-year 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 first-year 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 first-year 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;
  • 6% of first-year law school students and 2% of lawyers are Asian.
  • $77,000 is the median starting salary for male law school graduates while women start at $73,000; 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.

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 Latinx 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.

  • 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.
  • 94% 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 69%, 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 a 7.54% interest rate for the 2022-2023 academic year.

  • $60,000 is the average starting salary for a law school graduate working in the public sector.
  • $68,300 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 or private sector to pay off federal student loans if they follow CFPB recommendations and guidelines.
  • A lawyer working in the public sector using 20% of their income will pay off their loans in 38 years and will pay $367,150 in interest alone.
  • 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 $145,245; their median starting salary is $41,280, giving them the worst debt-to-income ratio among all law school graduates.
  • It will take 18 years for the average FCSL graduate to pay off the amount borrowed, assuming 36% of their income goes toward repayments.
  • In that time, they will pay $118,900 in interest; that’s 45% of a grand total of $264,110.
  • 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 $49,710.
$180K Law School Loan Repayment Timeline Assuming a 7.54% APR
Median Salary % Income Monthly Payment Years to Zero Debt Total Cost
$60,000 10% $600 NA† NA†
$60,000 20% $1,200 38 $547,150
$60,000 36% $2,160 9.9 $255,700
$68,300 10% $683 NA† NA†
$68,300 20% $1,366 23.4 $383,850
$68,300 36% $2,459 8.3 $241,850

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.
  • Assuming an interest rate of 10%, It would be impossible for a lawyer working in the public or private sector to pay off their loans if they used 20% of their monthly income
  • Lawyers would need to make monthly payments of about 30% of their income to pay off their loans. 
  • A lawyer working in the public sector making a monthly payment of $2,160 dollars could pay off their loans in 11.9 years
  • In that time, they will pay $128,600 in interest for a total of $308,590.
  • A lawyer working in the private sector making a monthly payment of $2,459 dollars could pay off their loans in 9.5 years
  • In that time, they will pay $100,010 in interest for a total of $280,010.
  • An FCSL graduate making monthly payments using 36% of their monthly income would pay off their loans in 38.3 years.
  • In that time, they will pay $422,010 in interest for a total of $567,260. 
$180,000 Law School Loan Repayment Timeline Assuming a 10% APR
Median Salary % Income Monthly Payment Years to Zero Debt Total Cost
$60,000 10% $600 NA NA
$60,000 20% $1,200 NA NA
$60,000 36% $2,160 11.9 $308,590
$68,300 10% $683 NA NA
$68,300 20% $1,366 NA NA
$68,300 36% $2,459 9.5 $280,010

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.

  • $71,000 is the average annual cost to attend a Top 10 law school.
  • $50,640 is the average annual cost of attending a private law school.
  • Public law schools charge an annual rate of $30,920 for in-state students; out-of-state students pay $46,630.
  • $72,360 is the annual tuition at Columbia University, making it the most expensive law school in the country.
  • Students at Northern Illinois University pay $22,170, the lowest tuition of any law school nationwide.
  • The average private law school tuition has increased by $41,790 over the past 35 years; that’s an increase of 655%.
  • Adjusting for inflation, the average law school tuition has increased by $31,440 over the past 35 years.
  • That’s a 176% increase, with an annual growth rate of 0.5%.
  • Before inflation, the annual growth rate was 18.7%; the annual growth rate of the U.S. dollar was 4.0%.

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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.

Sources

  1. U.S. News, Which Law School Graduates Have the Most Debt?
  2. CNBC, Only 23% of Law School Grads Say Their Education was Worth the Cost
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator
  4. U.S. News, See the Price, Payoff of Law School Before Enrolling
  5. University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, The Crisis of the American Law School
  6. Law School Transparency, Data Dashboard
  7. 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
  8. Calculator.net, Financial Calculator
  9. U.S. Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), Debt-to-Income Calculator
  10. ED OFSA, Direct PLUS Loans are Federal Loans that Graduate or Professional Students Can Use to Help Pay for College or Career School
  11. New York State Higher Education Services Corporation, Private Student Loan Comparison Tool
  12. American Bar Association (ABA), Disparities in Student Loans
  13. ABA, Profile of the Legal Profession
  14. Gallup, Few MBA, Law Grads Say Their Degree Prepared Them Well
  15. AccessLex Legal Education Data Deck
  16. ABA, Student Debt: The Holistic Impact on Today’s Young Lawyer
  17. NALP: Class of 2020 National Summary Report