Societal Impact of the High Cost of Law School

Recently, legal blogs and the media have written about the impact on society of the increasing cost of attending law school. In yesterday’s Balkinization, Brian Tamanaha writes about “the implications of the astronomically high and ever-increasing costs of attending law school, combined with stagnating pay for all legal positions outside of corporate law”. The post addresses the financial implications of attending law school which few prospective students fully analyze (e.g. how much money will be borrowed, the expected amount of monthly loan payments upon graduation, and expected income upon graduation).

More important is what the high cost of law school means for social justice. The cost barrier is becoming increasingly burdensome so that people from low income backgrounds are less willing to assume the huge debt that comes from attending law school. This may result in a return to the past when lawyers came mostly from wealthy backgrounds.

Tamanaha writes: “Another implication relates to the provision of legal services. Students who enter law school with the desire to work in public service positions often instead go on to become associates at corporate law firms owing to concern about the hefty loan they must repay.”

An entry in yesterday’s Washington Post by Ian Shapira discusses this last point in greater detail. According to this article: “About 56 percent of law school graduates immediately enter private practice, 14 percent go into business, 22 percent enter government, and 5 percent work for a public interest organization or an advocacy practice such as Legal Aid.”

Earlier this month, Scott Moss in FindLaw discussed how high law school tuition may backfire on law schools unless they start self-imposing limits. He wrote that it is possible that market forces may respond to address the issue. It is possible that there will be a decline in law school applications resulting in declining student quality. High law school costs may result in increased drop out rates. If a large enough percentage of a law school’s students drop out, and only half of graduates pass bar exams, the school faces a loss of ABA accreditation.