Cost of Legal Education

By Andrew Brockman

“The average debt taken on by a law school graduate was $84,000 if … [attending] public schools and $122,158 if [attending] private schools.”

Within the United States, there is no doubt that cost of education is one the most debated issues. It is a political issue that has both sides of isle arguing. Whether it be Bernie Sanders requesting free college education, or Betsy DeVos promoting charter school, education is on the forefront of our democracy.

The ironic thing about education costs in America is that the better you educate yourself, the more it costs. This is dramatically true when looking at students who choose to gain a legal education.

In the United States, the average cost of law school is $34,000 a year.[1] If a student is fortunate enough to attend a top ten law school, the cost raises $43,000.[2] Michigan State University College of Law, as a private school only affiliated with Michigan State University, charges $43,260 per year.[3]

This is not the way it is in all places though. By looking at Canada and Scotland, a potential law student can see that other countries do not gouge students attending law school.

For example, Toronto is one of the most populated cities in Canada. Students that attend the University’s law school are going to pay a semester fee of $17,392.[4] This makes the total cost per year at $34,734.82.[5] American readers will immediate think this is similar to the United States because of the same symbol for the dollar; however, there is a big difference.

Currently, the exchange rate between Canada and the US is 1:0.76. This makes the total cost of legal education in a year at University of Toronto $26,418.71 American dollars. Compared to the average school in the US, tuition at the University of Toronto is 22% cheaper.

 If researching tuition rates across the Atlantic Ocean, Scotland is a good spot to look as it is another common law legal system. Located about a half hour away from Edinburgh, Glasgow, and St. Andrews, Stirling University is a mid-size school in the heart of Scotland. For 2017/2018, students that are from Scotland or the European Union only pay £5,950 per semester.[6] One must also remember how much cheaper undergraduate programs in the United Kingdom are as well.

At £11,900 per year, students at Stirling are not given the same amount of crippling debt that students in the United States are given. Each Pound is worth $1.25, so the total cost for a year of law school at Stirling University is $14,902. Working from the average number from above, Stirling’s tuition rates are 44% cheaper than the average US school. 4 year students at Stirling only pay £1,820 a year, which comes out to $2,276.51.[7] Very few, if any 4 year American Universities at all, are willing to charge so little.

Toronto and Stirling are not charging huge amounts of money to gain a law degree, which is a major contrast from the United States. Students considering law school are tempted by scholarships for the top ten percent of law school classes; however, the top ten percent is just that.

All law students believe that they will be in the top 10%, but the new surrounding of people just as smart and hardworking, combined with the dreaded 1L curve, makes for a rude awaking just in time for Christmas for most of the class. The bottom 90% are forced to seek out other scholarships, work study programs, or family generosity if they are lucky. Usually, the remainder of students take out loans to pay tuition.

According to the American Bar Association, “the average debt taken on by a law school graduate was $84,000 if … [attending] public schools and $122,158 if [attending] private schools.[8]”the scary part is that the jobs are not there at graduation.[9] That looming debt is huge. It could potentially stop a recent law graduate from obtaining a mortgage or car loan. Further, it does not even take into account the amount of debt a student may bring with them from their undergraduate program.

The prospect of huge salaries is making students in the US take out large loans; however, the salaries are rarely rewarded after graduation. This leaves students with meager salaries to pay off loans worthy of a home mortgage. This inevitable outcome definitely played a role in the American Bar Association publishing The Value Proposition of Attending Law School, a paper which essentially warned college students to reconsider their options if planning on attending law school.[10]

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[1] Lynn O’Shaughnessy, 5 Reasons Not to Get a Law Degree, CBS News, (Jan. 13, 2011)

[2] Id.

[3] Tuition & Fees, Michigan State University College of Law, (Spring 2017)

[4] JD Program Fees, University of Toronto Faculty of Law, (July 21, 2016)

[5] Id.

[6] Fees and Costs, Stirling University, (2016)

[7] Id.

[8] Robert Farrington, Law School and Student Loan Debt: Be Carefule, Forbes, (Dec. 18, 2014)

[9] Id.

[10] The Value Proposition of Attending Law School, American Bar Association, (Nov. 2009)