Why is Law School So Expensive?

Why is Law School So Expensive?

When one thinks about careers that earn the big bucks and carry a lot of prestige, often they think of lawyers. Spending long days in the office at the firm, and long nights in the study seem like an easy tradeoff for a life of riches and honor. While some lawyers may be able to reel in a high income, many lawyers find themselves trapped under the weight of school costs. According to U.S.News, the average cost of law school is around $85,000 dollars, but why is law school so expensive? 

Law school is expensive due to a number of factors such as the cost of resources and tools that schools provide, lack of subsidies and federal help for schools to function, and schools themselves taking advantage of students’ easy access to loans, and more. 

Is Law School Really Expensive? 

To put it bluntly, yes! Law school is expensive. The U.S. News reported in 2020, that the average yearly cost to attend a public law school is $28,264 for an in-state school and $41,726 for an out of state school. Think that’s bad? Let’s keep going! The average cost annually for a private law school is $49,548! 

These costs include tuition and other related costs for schooling. Going off these averages, the least expensive route, by attending a public, in-state law school will cost a student on average $84,792. This is on top of their undergraduate loans as well. 

When evaluating and analyzing the cost of law school it is important to note that there is no one overarching factor that is responsible. Instead there are many different factors and circumstances that many law schools face that drive them to charge such a high premium for law students. 

Below are some of the factors and reasons for the high costs of law schooling. 

Costs of Schooling

Law schools like other schools are run somewhat like businesses. They receive income and use said income to pay for needs and expenses. Law schools have to pay the salaries of teachers, along with other expenses. 

Additionally because law schools take in so much income, some universities and schools use some of the revenue from law school tuition to pay for less financially successful programs. Because of this, law schools will charge even greater fees because they know that some of their money will be taken, so they increase prices to make sure they get their required income as some is taken away by schools. 

Another big cost is due to the extra year law schools require. Traditional graduate school programs in a wide variety of fields only require two years of postgraduate school. Law school however requires three. As stated above, each individual year in law school is already expensive on it’s own. One more year on top of the normal two years is enough to put a deep financial burden on most students. 

Expensive Resources

As an institution to help students learn and develop, law schools need the right tools at their disposal. While these tools are helpful for the development of students, they come at a hefty price. The biggest resources for students are: 

  • Libraries: Law schools must invest a great amount of funds into their libraries as the training and practice of law is studious and inquisitive. Inside these libraries contain hundreds if not thousands of books both softcover and hardcover(which tend to be more expensive) as well as computers, and much more.
  • Due to the fact that law’s change and become updated as well as new laws coming into effect these libraries will constantly need to have new material and books. Making an unending cost for the school and an expensive one for students.
  • Facilities: Law schools are known to carry prestige and “honor”. This belief is held by the standards and essence of a law program and its physical location. Many law schools are built to be aesthetically pleasing with state of the art construction and renovations. 

All of these building costs along with upkeep costs pile on to the large amount of expenses schools will require of students.  

Taking Advantage of High Demand 

There is a constant and thriving demand of students willing to pay high prices to law schools. This is due to two big reasons: 

  1. Easy loans disbursed by the government: over time it has become easier and easier to receive financial aid from the government. Students now have access to much more money in federal loans and schools are aware of this. Many schools and institutions that teach law have jacked their prices up to take advantage of this excess giving to students. Law schools do not generally charge what students are able to pay, but are priced on what they believe students should pay. For this, that means charging as much as they can to more than meet their costs and squeeze every bit that the loan servicers will allow students to borrow.
  2. Many students attend law school to gain a high salary: the field of law and jobs associated with it hold a high prestige. Many students believe that if they can get a great job post graduation from law school that it will be better for them in the long run, even if it costs them a lot up front. It’s basically an investment for most students. Take on large debt for undergrad and law school and then afterward make a lot of money to eventually pay off debts and enjoy other things as they please. Whether or not this investment is healthy and working is up for debate, but make no mistake there are countless students betting big on law school and as a result dishing out top dollar.
  3. Constant demand to be met: Lawyers have always been and most likely will always be a service in demand. Many students see being a lawyer, or work in the legal field as a safe and sure option. 

No Government Subsidies 

The government gives out loans and grants to private and public institutions for them to develop and foster productivity and economic growth for the greater good. This financial aid is called a subsidy. Many universities and schools receive subsidies from the government that help certain programs and departments gain funding. 

Normally if a school’s program is receiving a generous subsidy then the costs will decrease for students, taking a burden off them. Other times when subsidies are scarce for school the inverse happens, and the cost for students rises to account for costs of the school. 

For many universities, colleges, and schools the government is known to favor STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs over liberal arts and humanities programs such as law. Due to many schools being without generous government aid, they have had to raise their costs accordingly. 

Not Much Aid Is Given to Students  

Compared to undergraduate schooling, law schools tend to give out fewer scholarships and grants to help students financially. Add on top the fact that law school is extremely competitive and there is a giant pool of students with only a few scholarships for aid. 

The few scholarships given out for law schools tend to be merit based, or based on academic performance in areas such as student LSAT scores and GPA. 

Even for those who do receive financial aid in the form of scholarships, the cost of law school is still so high that at most, only a dent is made. Many big scholarships are in the $5,000-$10,000 dollar range. But if the average cost of law school is $85,000 then there is still a huge hill to climb. 

Not only does few scholarships cause law school to be expensive, but the often low, relative, amount of the scholarships do as well. 

Is There An Effect of Law School Being Expensive? 

Some legal analysts and observers argue that expensive law school costs can create harm for our society. This is due to many students having large debt from school choosing certain jobs that pay higher salaries. This may sound completely normal and very reasonable but experts argue there is more than meets the eye here. 

These high paying jobs that students seek out after law school are found in private law firms. Due to a large number of students chasing private law firms to pay off debt, a huge gap/need is left at the public and non-profit sector. Now, individuals in the public sector who need court appointed lawyers, or causes/non-profits that want to work to change the world in a positive way become crippled by students looking for the biggest paycheck to get rid of their debt. 

Some argue that students’ first obligation is to their debt and not to any service private or public, and some argue if this concept in general is even true. 

Many Blocks Make Up the High Wall of Expenses

Law school is expensive no doubt. When evaluating the cause of law school expenses there is no one single factor but a wide variety of them. Due to a mix of required resources, lack of government funding, and much more, there are many factors at play that make law school expensive for many students.

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