Monday, January 26, 2009

Divorcing Law Grads . . .
Victims of ‘Education Hoax’?

For those of you who follow the ABA Journal online, a great source of legal news, you know that readers are permitted to post comments at the end of each article. Most of the time, you might find three or four comments, maybe five, for each article. On a rare occasion, however, an article hits such a nerve that dozens upon dozens of comments are forthcoming. The following is one of those articles.

Today, on an issue which is sweeping across the legal community and within law school educational circles, an article in the ABA Journal, written by Debra Cassens Weiss, touches upon the financial value of a law school education. Ms. Weiss writes about an article in Forbes magazine entitled The Great College Hoax, written by Kathy Kristoff. Ms. Weiss' article, Divorcing Law Grads, Stressed Over $190K in Debt, Victims of ‘Education Hoax’, discusses the difficulties law graduates can have with student debt payments.

A portion of the article follows:

Some time after he graduated from California Western law school in 1995, Joel Kellum married his law school sweetheart. The couple had $190,000 in student debt.

Kellum and his wife made $145,000 in loan payments, but they paid off only $21,000 in principal, Forbes magazine reports. The variable-interest rate debt, which leapt as high as 12 percent, was a major source of stress in their marriage, according to the couple, and they divorced last year. "Two people with this much debt just shouldn't be together," Kellum told Forbes.

The magazine uses the couple to support the thesis of its article. It calls the lawyers “victims of an unfolding education hoax on the middle class”—the myth that college and advanced degrees translate to a life of economic privilege.

The average law grad has $100,000 in student debt, according to the magazine. . . . Schools [may] also “goose employment statistics by temporarily hiring new grads and spotlighting kids who land top-paying jobs, while glossing over far-lower average incomes,” the story says.

"There are a lot of aspects of selling education that are tinged with consumer fraud," [UCLA law professor Richard] Sander told the magazine. "There is a definite conspiracy to lead students down a primrose path."

* * *

One law school dean, Richard Matasar of New York Law School, says law schools are "exploiting" students who don't succeed in life, according to an account of his remarks at a recent program by TaxProf Blog.

Matasar said registrations for the law school admissions test are flat or below the norm for this year. “That's never happened in a downturn in the economy before,” he said. “They're catching on. Maybe this thing they are doing is not so valuable. Maybe the chance at being in the top 10 percent [helpful in landing a good job] is not a good enough lottery shot in order to effectively spend $120,000 and see it blow up at the end of three years of law school.”

To read the rest of Ms. Weiss' article, go here.

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