Law Student Loans Key Component of Next "Debt Bomb"
by Edward Poll
A spate of recent news stories suggests trouble for America's 200-plus accredited law schools. It's summed up in the title of the cover story in the January issue of the ABA Journal: "The Law School Bubble: How Long Will It Last if Law Grads Can't Pay Bills?"
Here are some sobering facts from a variety of stories:
I recently wrote to a law school dean that today's legal environment is quite different than it was only a few short years ago. For the first time, ROI on tuition is not assumed in making a decision on whether to go to law school. It is a discussion that includes the cost of education, the mental challenges and the economic benefits of enrolling.
The analysis includes whether one can likely find employment, either with a firm or as a solo, and whether the law school provides the preparation to succeed, both academically and economically. As these columns have said many times, too few law schools address the second aspect.
Facing the prospect of an unsupportable student debt, increasing numbers of potential law students and recent alumni are concluding that the law school is failing in its responsibility to educate the whole lawyer.
In interviews for a West LegalEdcenter program that I conduct monthly, several recent graduates from around the country were angry with their alma maters for not providing even a hint of the law practice management education they perceive would have enabled them to be successful. Each of these folks is now engaged in other, non-legal employment.
The result is the rising number of lawsuits filed against law schools by firms representing students who say the schools actively mislead them about the ROI on a J.D.
I fully agree that getting a law degree should not guarantee a good-paying law firm job to cover a student debt load. Not even senior partners are safe in their careers these days.
Yet who among us would have thought just a few years ago that lawyers would successfully represent people who simply walked away from an insupportable mortgage debt? Are student loans next?
© Copyright 2012. Edward Poll. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from Edward Poll.
Edward Poll principal of LawBiz Management Company, is a nationally recognized coach, law firm management consultant, and author who has coached and consulted with lawyers and law firms in strategic planning, profitability analysis, and practice development. Mr. Poll has practiced law on all sides of the table for 25 years-- as a corporate general counsel, government prosecutor, sole practitioner, partner, and law firm chief operating officer and been a consultant to small and large law firms for 20 years.
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