With the rapid rise of law school tuition over the last several decades, annual tuition at American Bar Association-approved private law schools averaged nearly $50,000 in 2019, according to Law School Transparency, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making entry into the legal profession more transparent, fair and affordable.
Over the coming years, more law schools are likely to exceed $70,000 in annual tuition.
While such figures can be shocking, they represent nominal tuition, or sticker price. Many students pay less out-of-pocket due to scholarships and student loans with generous terms. Many law students receive some form of financial aid that can reduce costs considerably, but that may be little comfort to students already in law school.
Spendthrift law students can find ways to cut costs. Here are six suggestions:
— Work part time.
— Find paid summer employment.
— Buy used books and supplies.
— Work for a bar prep company.
— Consider loan forgiveness programs.
— Budget realistically.
Work Part Time
Working during law school has both benefits and drawbacks. However, the rise of remote work and online freelance jobs has created a wealth of opportunities for law students without much room in their schedule to take on regular jobs. Many law students find part-time work editing, tutoring, translating documents, doing clerical work, or teaching or facilitating online classes.
For example, in my first semester of law school, I taught LSAT preparation classes at a nearby college. I enjoyed the work but found the hourlong commute too hard to manage. Nowadays, there are many online LSAT classes that would have accommodated my schedule much better.
Find Paid Summer Employment
While summer positions for law students do not pay as well as full-time legal work, they can be quite lucrative. After all, law firms can’t attract top talent by being stingy.
So before taking a summer position, be sure to confirm the salary and dates of employment. Many law students earn enough during the summer to pay for the cost of living during the year, and they may even save enough to partially offset the cost of tuition.
Buy Used Books and Supplies
Online resale marketplaces have made it easier than ever to find used textbooks, laptop computers, furniture, clothes, briefcases and other expenses that eat up a law student’s budget. Look for good deals on law books and study materials by asking former students if they are open to selling materials from their past classes. University bookstores often carry used books, as well.
Look online or in consignment shops for discounted professional clothes to look sharp at a job interview without spending a fortune. While fashion trends may move swiftly, suits and other office standbys rarely go out of style.
Work for a Bar Prep Compan
Law students have to budget carefully for the cost of preparing for the bar examination after graduation. It can be tough for recent graduates who are not yet employed to juggle the cost of preparation, fees, travel and housing while they are preoccupied with studying. While some employers help offset those costs, not everyone has a job lined up before taking the exam.
However, the companies that offer bar preparation classes often offer discounts or bonuses like free classes for law students who act as campus sales representatives, recruiting new students or even just disseminating information and answering questions.
Consider Loan Forgiveness Programs
Public Service Loan Forgiveness, of PSLF, is a federal program that forgives the remaining balance on federal direct student loans for lawyers who work in certain public service jobs and make at least 10 years of qualifying payments. Although the program’s onerous rules have bedeviled many applicants, reforms are underway to widen eligibility.
Additionally, some law schools have their own loan repayment plans to encourage alumni to work in the public sector.
Law school brings together a wide range of people, many of whom come from very different financial situations. Not every law student shares the same financial goals or job prospects.
Thus, it is a fool’s errand to adjust your spending in law school based on your perceptions of others’ lifestyles. Instead, make conscious decisions about your own budget. Monitor your spending, savings and financial goals.
Cultivating thoughtful financial habits in law school will serve you well throughout your career. Managing debt and other obligations will give you the leeway you need to pursue your dream career.
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