Law school tuition has exceeded inflation for decades.Private and public law school tuition is 2.8 and 5.9 times as expensive as it was in 1985—after accounting for inflation. In 2019, tuition topped out at $72,360. The average tuition at top-performing law schools is much higher than the rest. But prices do not scale with job outcomes. The average tuition at the lowest-performing schools is similar to the average for mid-range schools.While law schools typically discount the sticker tuition price for a portion of the class, 25% of J.D. students paid full price in 2018-19. Students who pay full price or close to it are more likely to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds or be underrepresented racial minorities. Their tuition dollars subsidize the scholarships that their more advantaged classmates receive.
These disparities enhance persistent inequity in law practice.1Students borrow to pay these high prices. Three in four graduates borrow for law school at high interest rates. Among borrowers, the average 2018 graduate borrowed $115,481. This person is likely to have roughly $130,000 in debt from law school alone when they start repayment six months after graduation because interest accrues immediately on law school loans. As with scholarships, underrepresented racial minorities—not to mention women—borrow more on average for law school.2When factoring in graduate salaries, students borrow excessively for law school.
One common-sense rule in student lending provides that students should not borrow more than they expect to earn after their first year. At 94% of law schools, the median amount borrowed exceeds the median earnings in the first full year after graduation. The median debt-to-income ratio is 1.86. One in six law schools have a ratio of 3.0 or higher, which means that the median amount borrowed exceeds the median earnings by 200%.