Law Student Employment Expectations and Law Student Debt

Given the relationship between employment and the ability to make student loan payments, we were curious of any associations between expected debt and expected employment setting.  As a general proposition, jobs in large law firms tend to pay more than jobs in government and non-profit and in small firm or solo practice.  Therefore, job expectations, which are by no means perfect predictors of jobs opportunities, could nonetheless have implications on the ability of students to manage their debt.

In 2011 and 2015, respondents who expected more than $80,000 in debt were least likely to expect to work in large law firms—the highest paying sector.  Conversely, respondents who expected no debt or less than $40,000 in debt were most likely to expect large law firm jobs.   Expectations of jobs in government and non-profit sectors were more balanced, but respondents expecting no debt were noticeably less likely to expect to work in these sectors.  No definitive conclusions can be drawn from these trends alone.  But they provide useful insights into student expectations and possibly can help portend job trends.  [i]

[i]. Employment Expectations by Expected Debt Level

2006

Gov’t/Non-profit Firm-Large Firm-Medium Firm-Small Solo
0 27% 19% 22% 15% 3%
$1-$40K 30% 18% 22% 16% 2%
$40,001-$80K 31% 15% 23% 17% 2%
$80,001-$120K 29% 15% 25% 19% 2%
> $120K 28% 19% 25% 17% 2%

 

2011

Gov’t/Non-profit Firm-Large Firm-Medium Firm-Small Solo
0 28% 15% 18% 17% 3%
$1-$40K 33% 13% 19% 17% 2%
$40,001-$80K 34% 11% 20% 18% 3%
$80,001-$120K 35% 9% 19% 18% 3%
> $120K 35% 9% 17% 19% 3%

 

2015

Gov’t/Non-profit Firm-Large Firm-Medium Firm-Small Solo
0 29% 17% 20% 16% 3%
$1-$40K 34% 15% 18% 17% 4%
$40,001-$80K 35% 12% 18% 18% 4%
$80,001-$120K 34% 10% 19% 20% 4%
> $120K 35% 12% 17% 19% 5%

 

 


Law Student Employment Expectations--Before and After the Great Recession

Employment aspirations can influence different aspects of a student’s law school experience and, therefore, can influence student engagement and satisfaction.  Students often select courses and co-curricular activities based on the type of job or area of law in which they aspire to work after graduation.  The following question on the LSSSE Survey asks respondents about their employment aspirations and expectations:

Which setting(s) best describe(s) (1) your PREFERRED work environment, and (2) your EXPECTED work environment once you graduate from law school?   (Mark only one in each column.)

The question captures both aspirations (“preferred”) and realities (“expected”)—important perspectives, both on their own and relative to each other.  The analyses below will focus on responses to the expected work environment aspect of the question.

In answering the question, respondents are given fifteen specific settings from which to choose (and one open-ended choice, labeled “Other”).  The specific choices capture major work settings in the private, public, and non-profit sectors.  In analyzing the responses for this Report, we tracked trends using the following categories:

  • Private firm – large (more than 50 attorneys)
  • Private firm – medium (10-50 attorneys)
  • Private firm – small (fewer than 10 attorneys)
  • Solo practice
  • Public/Non-profit sectors:
    • Academic (professor, education agency)
    • Government agency
    • Judicial clerkship
    • Legislative office
    • Military
    • Prosecutor’s office
    • Public defender’s office
    • Public interest group

The “Public/Non-profit sectors” category is one we constructed using responses from eight specific choices that appear on the survey.  Each of these choices falls in either the public or non-profit sector, and they encompass the traditional practice of law as well as “non-traditional” careers.  Some of the choices elicited few responses.  For example, only about 1% of respondents in 2015 expected to work in academic, legislative, or military settings.  “Government agency” was the most common expectation within the constructed category, accounting for about 30% of those responses.

The private firm and solo practice categories appear on the survey in the form they are listed above; therefore, the data below reflect the proportions of respondents who identified either as the setting in which they expected to work.  Each of these settings resides within the private sector; but they are very different in terms of size, scope, and the types of students who tend to expect to work in these settings.  A student who expects to work in a large law firm is probably different from a student who expects to work in a small firm or solo practice.  These differences encompass a range of student characteristics, including, notably, race and ethnicity (white and Asian respondents are more likely to expect to work in large law firms).

Over the three survey years, employment expectations among LSSSE respondents seem to align with larger trends.  The proportion of respondents who expected to work in large law firms declined from 17% in 2006 to 12% in 2015.  Similarly, proportions relating to medium-size firm declined from 24% in 2006 to 18% in 2015.  These trends align, albeit roughly, with the declines in law firm hiring in the aftermath of the Great Recession.  Proportions of respondents who expected to work in solo practice were small in each survey year; but interestingly, the proportion doubled between 2006 and 2015—from 2% to 4%.[i]

Expectations relating to small law firm employment were stable—17% in 2006 and 18% in both 2011 and 2015.  Expectations of employment within the public/non-profit sectors increased from 29% in 2006 and 34% in 2011 and 2015.   It is difficult to identify the factors underlying the latter trend.  Declines in job expectations in medium and large law firms likely explain at least part of the increase.  Broader awareness of income-based student loan repayment programs, particularly the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, may be contributing as well.

[i].

Settings_06_11_15


LSSSE Annual Results: Lower LSAT Score, Higher Debt

This is the fourth installment in a series of posts centered around data from the 2015 LSSSE Survey administration and the 2015 Annual Report, which provides a retrospective glimpse into law student debt trends over a 10-year period, 2006 to 2015, with 2011 as a midpoint. This post discusses student debt trends through the lens of LSAT scores.

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) looms large in the law school admissions process. Applicants with high scores tend to have the best chances of being offered both admission and lucrative scholarships. The latter trend has potential implications on student debt trends. The more that a student’s costs of attendance are discounted, the less that student has to borrow. And across the entire system of legal education, it seems logical that student debt trends would share some relationship with trends pertaining to the awarding of scholarships and grants.

For each LSAT grouping, the proportion of respondents who expected to owe more than $120,000 was higher in 2015 than in 2006.  But the intensity of these increases was greater for respondents with LSAT scores of 155 or below.  In 2006, the proportion of these “lower-LSAT” respondents who expected to owe more than $120,000 was 16%–the same proportion as their “higher-LSAT” peers.  By 2015, however, the proportion for the lower-LSAT group was 37%, almost double the 20% proportion of the higher-LSAT group.  The trends were even starker for respondents with LSAT scores of 145 or below. In 2006, 15% of these respondents expected to owe more than $120,000; in 2015, that proportion was 52%. [i]

At the other end, in each survey year, respondents in the higher-LSAT groupings were more likely to expect no debt than other respondents; but these trends became more apparent in 2015.  In 2006, 12% of respondents with LSAT scores of 156 or above expected no debt, compared to 10% of respondents with lower scores.  In 2015, the proportion of no-debt expectations within the higher-LSAT group increased to 20%, while the proportion within the lower-median group remained at 10%.

[i]. Proportion of expected debt, by LSAT Scores

Debt LSAT

 


LSSSE Annual Results: Black and Latino Respondents Expected The Most Debt

This is the third installment in a series of posts centered around data from the 2015 LSSSE Survey administration and the 2015 Annual Report, which provides a retrospective glimpse into law student debt trends over a 10-year period, 2006 to 2015, with 2011 as a midpoint. This post discusses student debt trends based on race and ethnicity. For sake of clearer explication of trends, this post focuses on respondents who identified as Asian, Black, Hispanic/Latino, or White.

Reliance on student loans is largely a reflection of wealth and access to alternative sources of funds. Students from less affluent backgrounds tend to rely on student loans to greater extents than their more affluent peers. This means that the large racial and ethnic wealth disparities in the U.S. have broad implications on student debt trends.

In each of the survey years, white and Asian respondents were more likely than black and Latino respondents to expect no debt.  Regarding high debt, a telling trend was observed.  In 2006, there were only marginal racial and ethnic differences in expectations of more than $100,000 in debt.  By 2011, however, clear disparities emerged, with black and Latino respondents more likely to expect debt at this level.  By 2015, the disparities became more intense, with 61% of black respondents and 56% of Latino respondents expecting debt at this level, compared to about 40% of white and Asian respondents.  That year, 43% of black respondents expected to owe more than $120,000—the first time a racial or ethnic group crossed the 40% threshold on any LSSSE debt category.[i]

[i]. Proportion of expected debt at various levels, by race

debt by race


LSSSE Annual Results: Large Tuition Increases at Public Law Schools

This is the second installment in a series of posts centered around data from the 2015 LSSSE Survey administration and the 2015 Annual Report, which provides a retrospective glimpse into law student debt trends over a 10-year period, 2006 to 2015, with 2011 as a midpoint. This post discusses student debt trends based on institutional sector—i.e. whether the law school is public or private.

In each of the three survey years we studied—2006, 2011 and 2015—higher proportions of respondents attending private law schools expected debt above $120,000, compared to their peers at public schools. Throughout higher education, private school tuition tends to be higher than those at public schools—a reflection of the relative absence of public subsidies to private schools. In both realms, the proportions of respondents who expected debt above $120,000 increased between 2006 and 2015.

In 2006, 38% of private school respondents expected to owe more than $100,000; in 2011 and 2015, that proportion exceeded 50%.  Tuition and, therefore, debt is growing dramatically at public college and universities, due in large part to declines in the aforementioned state subsidies.  While the high-debt expectations were lower among respondents attending public law schools, the increases over the survey years were more dramatic.  In 2006, only 11% of LSSSE respondents expected debt of more than $100,000; by 2015, this proportion had almost tripled to 31%. [i]

The increases were even more compelling among respondents who expected more than $120,000 in debt.  In 2006, only 4% of public school respondents expected debt at this level; by 2015, that proportion had more than quadrupled to 17%.  The same proportions almost doubled among private law school respondents—19% in 2006 and 36% in 2015. [ii]

Focusing once again on the subset of respondents who expected to owe more than $100,000, in 2015 a whopping 71% of those respondents who attended private schools expected to owe more than $120,000.  Fifty-six percent of this high-debt subset at public schools expected to owe more than $120,000 in 2015—the first year this proportion crossed the 50% threshold.

[i]. Proportion of respondents who expected to owe more than $100k

100k by affiliation 3

[ii]. Proportion of respondents who expected to owe more than $120K

120k deby by affiliation


LSSSE Annual Results: Ten Years of (Ever-rising) Law Student Debt

This is the first in a series of posts centered around data from the 2015 LSSSE Survey administration and the 2015 Annual Report, which provides a retrospective glimpse into law student debt trends over a 10-year period, using survey years 2006 and 2015 as bookends. Survey year 2011 will be used as a midpoint in much of the analyses—2011 is noteworthy because a record number of students—157,298—enrolled in U.S. law schools that year. This post discusses the increase in law student debt over the 10-year period.

The vast majority of law students— almost 90%, according to LSSSE Survey data and estimates by the American Bar Association—rely on student loans to finance their education. The typical law school graduate is part of a relatively rarefied group of debtors with student loan balances approaching, if not exceeding $100,000. In 2012, the average debt for graduates of private law schools was $127,000; $88,000 for public law school graduates. These amounts represented inflation-adjusted increases of one-quarter and one-third respectively in just seven years.

The LSSSE Survey asks respondents the following question:

“How much educational debt from attending law school do you expect to have upon your graduation?”

In order to account for the inherent imprecision of speculating about the future, the response options appearing on the survey are presented mostly as ranges in $20,000 intervals, with two outer options:

  • $0
  • $1- $20,000
  • $20,001 – $40,000
  • $40,001 – $60,000
  • $60,001 – $80,000
  • $80,001 – $100,000
  • $100,001 – $120,000
  • More than $120,000

For much of the analyses in this series of posts, the six intermediate ranges are compressed into three $40,000 ranges, with the outer options remaining the same:

  • $0
  • $1- $40,000
  • $40,001 – $80,000
  • $80,001 – $120,000
  • More than $120,000

Unsurprisingly, over the 10-year timeframe, increasing proportions of LSSSE respondents reported expecting high law school debt.  In 2006, 32% of respondents expected to incur more than $100,000 in debt during their law school matriculation.  By 2011, that proportion had increased to 44%, a level at which it remained in 2015.  The differences in expected debt were particularly acute at the highest level—more than $120,000.  Roughly 30% of respondents in both 2011 and 2015 expected debt above $120,000, compared to 16% in 2006.

An analysis of the subgroups of “high-debt” respondents really highlights the prevailing trends.  We measured the proportional split between respondents who expected to owe $100,001-$120,000 and those who expected to owe more than $120,000.  In 2006, 51% of respondents in this high-debt subgroup expected to owe more than $120,000 (leaving 49% expecting to owe $100,001-$120,000).  By 2015, 67% of this high-debt subgroup expected to owe more than $120,000.


2014 10th Anniversary Symposium

Law School Survey of Student Engagement
10th Anniversary Symposium
“Data and Assessment in Legal Education: The Necessities, The Possibilities”
November 6-7, 2014
Saint Louis University School of Law
On November 6-7, the Law School Survey of Student Engagement commemorated its 10th anniversary by hosting a symposium titled, “Data and Assessment in Legal Education: The Necessities, The Possibilities”. The Symposium was co-sponsored by Access Group, the Law School Admission Council, and Saint Louis University School of Law.

The Symposium featured presentations and interactive panels discussing the growing importance of data-informed decision making in legal education. The focus centered on curricular reforms, enrollment management/student selection strategies, and student services. The symposium provided attendees with insight into how data can be collected and analyzed in tangibly useful ways.

In addition to panel discussions, researchers presented projects that illustrated the usefulness of data collection and assessment.

A copy of the LSSSE Symposium program can be found here: LSSSE Symposium

AGENDA

    Thursday, November 6 (3:00-7:30 PM)

  • 3:00-7:30: Registration
  • 3:00-3:15: Welcome:
    • Aaron N. Taylor
      • Assistant Professor, Saint Louis University School of Law
      • Director, Law School Survey of Student Engagement
    • Chris Chapman
      • Chief Executive Officer, Access Group
  • 3:15-4:30: Using Data to Demonstrate and Improve the Value of Legal Education
  • 4:35-6:00: Using Data to Predict Enrollment
    • Michael Dean
      • Associate Dean and Chief Operating Officer, Mercer School of Law
    • Abby Fitzgerald
      • Founder and Principal, Yellow Arrows, LLC
    • Michelle Mason
      • Interim Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Education, Experiential Learning and Engagement
    • Michael States (moderator)
      • Assistant Dean of Admissions, University of North Carolina School of Law
  • 6:00-7:30: Opening Reception
    Friday, November 7 (8:00 AM-4:15 PM)

  • 8:00-12:30: Registration
  • 8:00-9:20: Breakfast welcome and opening keynote:
    • Mike Wolff
      • Dean, Saint Louis University School of Law
    • Jeffrey E. Lewis
      • Dean Emeritus and Professor, Saint Louis University School of Law
      • Chair, ABA Standards Committee
  • 9:30-11:00: Using Data to Reform the Curriculum
    • Catherine Carpenter
      • Vice Dean and Professor, Southwestern Law School
      • Member, ABA Standards Review Committee
    • Barry Currier
      • Managing Director of Accreditation and Legal Education, American Bar Association
      • Member, LSSSE Advisory Board
    • Bryant Garth
      • Professor, UC Irvine School of Law
      • Chair, LSSSE Advisory Board
    • Cassandra Hill
      • Associate Professor and Director of Legal Writing, Thurgood Marshall School of Law
    • Elizabeth Pendo (moderator)
      • Vice Dean and Professor, Saint Louis University School of Law
  • 11:10-12:30: Data as an Assessment Tool:
    • “Learning From-and About-the Numbers”
    • “A Long-Overdue Medicine for What Ails Legal Education: The Washington & Lee Reformed Third Year”
    • “Northeastern University Outcomes Assessment Project”
      • William Henderson
        • Professor of Law, Indiana University School of Law
        • LSSSE Faculty Associate
  • 12:40-2:00: Lunch Presentation of 2014 LSSSE annual report and longitudinal study
  • 2:10-3:30: Using Data to Devise and Assess Admission Criteria
  • 3:40-4:15: Closing Keynote

REGISTRATION

  • Registration Fee: $60
  • Refund: Cancellations made before October 15th will be refunded, less an administrative fee of $11.
    No refunds will be made after this date, but registrations are transferable.
  • CLE Credit:
  • Question: Contact Aaron N. Taylor, LSSSE Director, ataylo65@slu.edu.
  • Registration for the LSSSE Symposium is now open

ACCOMODATIONS
Please make hotel arrangements as soon as possible. There is a large conference taking place during the same timeframe as the Symposium, so rooms are filling fast.

The following hotels offer special rates for guests attending events at Saint Louis University:

Hotel Ignacio
3411 Olive
Saint Louis, MO 63103
314-977-4411
http://www.hotelignaciostl.com/

Renaissance St. Louis Grand
800 Washington Ave.
Saint Louis, MO 63101
314-621-9600
http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/stldt-renaissance-st-louis-grand-hotel/

Omni Majestic Hotel
1019 Pine
Saint Louis, MO 63101
314-436-2355
1-800-THE-OMNI
http://www.omnihotels.com/hotels/st-louis-majestic

SLU Law is located in downtown St. Louis at 100 N. Tucker, Saint Louis, MO 63101. Any hotel in the downtown area will put you within walking distance or a short cab ride.