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Continued: In light of shrinking enrollments, Twin Cities law schools tighten their belts

  • Article by: LYDIA COUTRE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: August 10, 2013 - 10:05 PM

“There’s no one magic money-saving technique that we’ve had, but we’re just being a little more careful across the board,” Janus said.

For law students, steady tuition increases and low entry-level salaries have changed the cost-benefit analysis.

Neal Busdicker, 29, graduated from Hamline Law this spring with about $100,000 in debt. Once he passes the bar exam, his job will be looking for a job. Even though law school has been worth it to him, he recommends that prospective students think long and hard about going.

“I would not suggest going to law school if anybody is ... on the fence,” he said. “It is a significant financial burden to shoulder.”

Law school tuition has increased roughly twice as fast as income since 1985, according to a research paper by Jerry Organ, professor of law at St. Thomas.

“Now [students have] to put more money on the table even though the likelihood of a job has shrunk and the income hasn’t gone up as much as the money they’re having to put on the table,” Organ said.

Without financial aid, the cost of three years of law school in the Twin Cities at this year’s tuition rates ranges from $108,198 to $135,936. Hamline, the U and William Mitchell increased tuition this year.

But fewer students are paying the sticker price, Lewis noted. He said now is the right time to go to law school.

Applicant pool shrinks

“Because of the declining applicant pool, law schools are going out of their way to attract students, and they’re discounting their tuition,” Lewis said.

Law schools are recruiting from a group of prospective students increasingly aware of the profession’s job prospects.

The employment rate for law school graduates has fallen for five years in a row to 84.7 percent for the Class of 2012, according to NALP. While more 2012 graduates found jobs, a larger class size hurt the overall rate. Only 64.4 percent obtained a job that requires bar passage — the lowest percentage the National Association for Law Placement has ever measured.

All four Twin Cities law schools report higher overall job placement numbers, ranging from 85.5 to 93.5 percent, according to the American Bar Association.

The report had some bright sides. The median starting salary increased slightly to $61,245 from $60,000 the year before — still far below the $72,000 reported for the class of 2009. The percentage of part-time jobs is down to 9.8 percent compared to 11 percent for the previous class.

“I think it’s fair to say it’s still a tough job market,” Leipold said. “So I think for potential law students they just have to do a better job than they’ve done in the past about cost-benefit analysis.”

Although some have said the problem is too many lawyers, Leipold said that is not the case — plenty of people who need legal help don’t get it.

The business model is broken, he said.

“It costs too much money to go to law school for law school graduates to be able to take jobs that would pay $40,000 a year or $50,000 a year to do law practice … where you could really help people who are above the poverty line but still can’t afford to hire a lawyer,” Leipold said.

  • U.S. law schools

    • In 2004, 100,000 applied to U.S. law schools; this year there are likely to be 54,000, for more than 40,000 spots. Graduates will compete for about 25,000 jobs.

    • Just more than half the class of 2012 has long-term, full-time work requiring a law degree.

    • There is one lawyer for every 265 Americans, more than twice the rate in 1970.

    • Starting lawyers from class of 2012 had median starting salary of $61,245, down 17 percent from 2009.

    • In 2001, average tuition for private law school was $23,000; in 2012 it was $40,500 (public law schools: $8,500 and $23,600).

    • Among private law school graduates, average debt in 2001 was $70,000; in 2011 it was $125,000.

    Bloomberg, New York Times

    Average debt of 2012 law school graduates who borrowed

    William Mitchell College of Law: $116,575

    Hamline University School of Law: $104,647

    University of Minnesota Law School: $100,699

    University of St. Thomas School of Law: $96,659

    Source: U.S. News and World Report

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