Friday, August 20, 2010

The real cost of the high cost of a legal education

Since I just got canned, I have had plenty of time to worry about all the money I owe to the people who funded my legal education.

I owe various robber barons, Northwestern University, and Uncle Samantha about a quarter of a million dollars. I often tell people that I have a mortgage but no house.  When I say this, I am not joking.  Well I am, but it's one of those sad ironic jokes, not an absurd one.

The most unpleasant chunk of this debt is on a ten-year clock, and can't be put on any other track.  Some of the other loans, like the ones now held by the feds, offer more attractive options.  Still, all of this boils down to me having to pay out about 2300 dollars a month.

Here, I should note that Northwestern gives me 13,000 dollars a year to help me pay off my debt.  A bit of basic math will tell you that this only helps me meet about half of my debt burden, but it helps.  In fact, I'm sure it made all this luxury I see around me possible.

My primary reason for writing this is that I want your sympathy, love, and spare cash.  But, failing that, I want people to understand why this is something bothersome.

When I went to law school, we were always having events sponsored by major corporate law firms.  Those law firms all recruited on campus, in our classrooms, at the behest of our administration, the same administration that encourages people to pursue careers in corporate law, that shakes its alumni down for donations all the time, that cares a great deal about a US News ranking that incorporates employment levels and starting salaries into its evaluation.  These are the same people who set law school tuition.

Now, I tend to wretch at the "best and the brightest" rhetoric pumped by "elite" law schools at their charges.  But the people who go to these schools, by and large, are pretty sharp.  And a decent chunk of them don't want to chase paper.  But they will, if they can't see another path.  Our law schools owe us better, they owe the people better, they owe the profession better.

Because, as much as I sometimes make fun of it, and although I'm not sure I'll continue in it, law is a noble profession.  When they kick out your front door, a lawyer is often the only one who stands in the breach between you and incarceration, or eviction, or not getting the few bucks in SSI you need to keep eating.  I understand not everyone wants to do that work, but more people would if it wouldn't put them one pink slip away from poverty.

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