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Ask Dave

Law School Without Debt?

Ethan is about to start his senior year of college. Now he's considering law school. He won't have enough money to cover that, so what recommendation would Dave have for avoiding student loans?

QUESTION: Ethan in Nashville is 21 and about to start his senior year of college. He won’t have any debt when he graduates, but now he’s considering law school. He won’t have enough money to cover that, so what recommendation would Dave have for pursuing that while avoiding student loans?

ANSWER: I had a couple in here the other day, and both of them graduated from law school with no college debt—no student loan debt at all from law school. One of them went through the military. That’s how he did it. His wife—I asked how they did it, and he said, “We just worked our tails off, and we lived on nothing.” Now I don’t know where she got her law degree. Law schools are much like colleges in that there’s a huge difference in price from one to another. Depending on what kind of law you’re going to practice, where you graduate from may matter a lot or may not matter a lot.

I’ve hired a bunch of different lawyers over the years for different things. I don’t recall ever asking one where he went to school. Maybe I should. Maybe there are some law schools that are inept, but the last time I checked, you all take the same bar. There are people that graduate from every law school who flunk the bar, so I know it’s tough.

I think the trick is to learn the law to be able to A) practice and be competent and B) to be able to pass the bar. I think you consider what you’re paying to go to a particular school and talk with them and see what kind of deals they’ve got, what kind of scholarships they’ve got, what kind of programs they’ve got and try to work your way through that process.

Twenty thousand dollars is a pretty good start. That’s better than starting from zero. Law school is usually three years. I think not only just trying to get accepted to law school somewhere, but I would also—as I’m doing that—I would look at their prices and say, “I’m trying to get through here, and I have no desire to come out with $200,000 in debt and be a lawyer making … A junior guy working 80 hours a week making $45,000 or $50,000 a year trying to make partner someday maybe sorta kinda.”

That’s what it sounds like for the first year or two coming out. If you make it through that gauntlet in the first year or two, you oftentimes—in a big firm—will get up into the hundreds pretty quick—six figures—and can go in and repay. But as you know, everyone doesn’t graduate from law school, and everyone that graduates doesn’t pass the bar. And 100% of them that take out student loans have student loans. It’s really bad to get stuck with student loans and not end up with the six-figure lawyer income, in other words.

I’m going to fight around the edges of this thing and see if I can’t figure out a way to do it without the loans because I think it can be done. I don’t have a magic answer for you, though, that’s solid that’s the absolute thing that’s this, this, and this. But I would use my $20,000. I would pick my school carefully. That’s two big things, and then the third thing is I would work every one of those for scholarships. You could look at and consider what the military is doing right now. That has issues with it, obviously, but it’s a possibility. It just depends on what you’re doing and what your overall goals are.