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The Student Loan Debt Fire Burning Around Us

ABA: “As young lawyers, I imagine you are well aware of this meme: a dog sitting and drinking a cup of coffee while the room burns around him, saying, “This is fine.” The capture from Gunsmoke evokes a sense of self-denial or acceptance in the face of a hopeless situation.Student debt feels a bit like that. I’m here to tell you some relief is on the way, and with a plan and advocacy from the American Bar Association, this can be fine. What the Student Debt Problem Looks Like – While as a lawyer in your first few years of lawyering, you’re likely working long hours to prove yourself and learn the nuances of your practice or learning how to work with clients, skills that were likely not taught to you in law school. You’re likely crunched by the rental market in your area, especially as rents have risen dramatically during the pandemic—11.3 percent by some counts. Throw student debt into the mix, and it can feel like the room is on fire. As you may have read before, a 2020 ABA survey found the average debt for law school graduates has increased to more than $150,000. This average isn’t an abstract number affecting only a few who take out loans to finance their degrees; the survey found that 95 percent of respondents borrowed money for their JD degrees. While working at Big Law is often touted in law school as the ultimate goal, most new lawyers work at lower-paying public sector jobs—at nonprofits serving disadvantaged individuals; in prosecutors’ and public defenders’ offices; and at local, state, and federal government agencies. A well-known “bimodal” salary curve is put out by the National Association for Law Placement each year, showing that only a small segment of new lawyers are working in big law, making $190,000 or more…”

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