Legal Charts

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I chose a job that qualifies for loan forgiveness instead of a job I really wanted.

  • Yes
  • No

I postponed or decided not to have children.

  • Yes
  • No

I chose a job that pays more money instead of a job I really wanted.

  • Yes
  • No

• • •

Postponed Due to Student Debt – Infogram tabbed chart

Postponed Due to Student Debt - WordPress bar chart

  • WHITE
  • BLACK
  • HISPANIC
  • ASIAN

LAW SCHOOL DEBT
How it affects new lawyers

Many new lawyers are postponing major life decisions like marriage, having children and buying houses – or rejecting them outright — because they are carrying heavy student loan debts. That’s the conclusion of a new survey by the ABA Young Lawyers Division and the ABA Media Relations and Strategic Communications Division.

The survey of nearly 1,100 new lawyers – most of them young people, but also many over the age of 40 – shows that student loan debt is forcing the newest generation of lawyers to make major financial, personal and career sacrifices.

The poll was conducted online from March 1 to March 31, 2020, among members of the ABA Young Lawyers Division and other relatively new lawyers. It was completed by 1,084 lawyers, including some who have recently graduated from law school and are not yet licensed to practice. The median age of those who completed the survey was 32, most were women (60%) and more than half were in private practice (58%).

Participants said heavy student loan debt is affecting virtually every aspect of their lives, including:

Having children: Nearly half (48%) said they have postponed or decided not to have children because of their debts.

Getting married: More than 1 in 4 (29%) said they have postponed or decided not to get married because of their debts.

Housing: More than half (56%) said they have postponed or decided not to buy a house because of their debts. One in 4 (27%) said they bought a less expensive house than they originally wanted. Some said they cannot afford rent and have moved in with their parents to save money.

Career: Roughly one-third (37%) said they chose a job that pays more instead of a job they really wanted. One in 6 (17%) said they chose a job that qualifies for loan forgiveness instead of a job they really wanted.

Transportation: Nearly half (46%) said they postponed or decided not to buy a car because of their debt. One-third (33%) said they got a less expensive car than they originally wanted.

Vacation: More than half (58%) said they postponed or decided not to take a vacation because of their debts.

The median cumulative debt at law school graduation among those who completed the survey – for law school, undergraduate and other education expenses – was $160,000. That is close to the national average of cumulative debt for all law school graduates of $145,500 in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Respondents reported a median current debt of $160,000. More than 40% reported that their current debt is actually higher than the debt they had when they graduated from law school.

Among those who completed the survey, 226 added open-ended comments. There was an underlying theme of unhappiness, frustration and fear stemming from loan burdens. Many mentioned issues with mental health, and some cited depression. Others mentioned an inability to save for the future or retirement, as well as difficult choices related to healthcare for themselves or their family.

Nationally, Black and Hispanic students are more likely to borrow money for graduate school than white students. The ABA survey shows that Black and Hispanic law school graduates generally take on more student loan debt than white students, which affects some of their most personal life choices. For example, new lawyers who are Black or Hispanic are more likely than new white lawyers to postpone or decide not to get married, and to postpone or decide not to buy a house. About two-thirds of Black respondents reported higher loan balances at the time of the survey than at graduation.

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