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ABA Young Lawyers Study: Student Debt Crushing Young Lawyers

The ABA’s Young Lawyers Division has released its 2020 Law School Student Debt Survey Report which contains some dramatic findings about the effect of student debt on law students and young lawyers. The Division published a summary of the report. The ABA Journal and the Legal Intelligencer have provided coverage on the report.

The survey found that more than 75% of respondents had at least $100,000 in student loans at graduation; over half had more than $150,000; and more than a quarter had $200,000 or more. In 2019, law graduates owed an average $145,000 when they left campus compared with about $80,000 in 2003.

The heavy debt load has led young lawyers to make many difficult decisions in life, such as choosing jobs that pay well over those they would prefer to do, or deferring marriage, parenthood, and homeownership. About half of those surveyed reported postponing or not having children at all, and about 29% reported postponing marriage because of student debt. 58% said they postponed or decided not to take a vacation; more than 55% postponed or decided not to buy a house; and about 46% postponed or decided not to buy a car.

Many of the respondents found student debt growing after graduation due to their inability to pay down the principal faster than interest accrued. Many respondents reported that the debt load caused mental health issues. The report also found that student loans take a disproportionate toll on lawyers of color.

The report provides a number of recommendations that the ABA and other bar associations could take on, including:

  • a greater advocacy role in reducing lawyer debt;
  • supporting efforts to ease the student loan burden;
  • helping reduce the initial cost of a legal education;
  • working to eliminate the stigma that surrounds discussing educational loan debt;
  • addressing the high costs of legal education;
  • encouraging alternative loan servicing models;
  • exploring the impact of debt on career trajectory and job satisfaction; and
  • researching the impact of debt on mental health.

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