Freshly Minted Law School Debt Follows New Grads

Richard Shugrue
Richard Shugrue
The Daily Record

To those who passed the July bar exam, congratulations!

To those facing years of education debt, condolences.

September 20-24 was Student Debt Week when America was reminded that $1.7 trillion is owed by those leaving higher education and it will be years and years before most new lawyers will ever get out of hock.

You’ve all seen the numbers: The average person leaving law school owes somewhere between $145,000 and $160,000 for all those years of schooling. People who went to private law schools like Drake, Creighton, Denver and St.  Louis University are probably awash with far more debt.

St. Louis University is a Jesuit institution, and its law school charges $44,680 for tuition this year and estimates the total cost of a year of legal education is around $66,500.  Compare that with Creighton’s tuition of $45,000 and you’ll see why total debt can be so high. (A cynic might say the cost at CU or SLU is chicken feed compared with the $62,666 tuition at Washington University, also based in St. Louis).

Public law schools in the region typically cost a lot less: At Nebraska, an in-state student pays $16,810.  At South Dakota, it’s almost the same, and Iowa charges a little over $27,000.

Of course, the job market helps dictate a young lawyer’s ability to repay student debt.  Every year, attorneys keep an eye on the announcement by BigLaw what those huge firms will pay starting associates.  The number boggles the minds of the vast majority of typical lawyers around here working as public defenders, prosecutors or associates in two- or three-person practices.

This year the starting wage for BigLaw is $205,000 plus a signing bonus of $12,000.

You can look at a law school’s employment report to guess how many new grads are getting BigLaw jobs. The firms — with 500-plus attorneys hire about 13% of grads, according to a report by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst a few years ago. When you consider that the top-rated schools such as Yale and Harvard and NYU graduate more than 1,000 lawyers alone and there are many grads from other top schools (Georgetown alone graduated 691 in 2020), there aren’t many BigLaw jobs for good but not elite alums.

Nevertheless, both Nebraska and Creighton, according to their websites, have placed some grads in the 500-plus firms.

You new lawyers have achieved a place in a wonderful profession. Serve others well and may you have good luck paying off your debt!

• • •

A word about Mike Boyle who died earlier this month. He worked hard to get through law school, loving his family deeply and the community he served tirelessly. I am proud to have taught him and to call him “friend.”


Richard Shugrue is a professor emeritus at the Creighton University School of Law and a columnist for The Daily Record.


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