The median student loan debt amount among law school graduates was $160,000 in 2020.
Image Credit: GaudiLab / iStock / Getty Images Plus
6 min read
Share this Article
The median cumulative debt amount among law school graduates was $160,000 in 2020.
A little under half (44%) of law students still had undergraduate loans when they started law school in 2018.
Roughly two-thirds of recent law graduates reported high or overwhelming stress over finances.
Around 90% of borrowers answered that student loans had some impact on their major life milestone decisions, including buying a house, having children, and getting married.Note Reference 
Over 35% of borrowers with over $200,000 in debt detoured from a career in public service due to student loans.Note Reference 
Over half of borrowers answered that they postponed buying a house or decided not to buy a house.Note Reference 
The average total cost of law school came out to be about $193,000 in 2021. This included three years’ worth of tuition and living expenses. Law school graduates can expect to owe over $100,000 in student loans by the time they graduate.Note Reference 
This report covers average law school debt and more law school loan debt statistics aspiring lawyers should know, from the percentage of students who take out loans to the effects of debt on major life decisions.
Half of Law School Graduates Have Over $160,000 in Student Loan Debt
According to a 2020 survey conducted by the American Bar Association (ABA) Young Lawyers Division and AccessLex Institute, the median cumulative student loan debt — including law school and undergraduate debt — was $160,000.Note Reference 
Survey participants were recent law school graduates who had obtained their degree within the last 10 years and were under 36 years old.
Around 90% of Law Students Took Out Loans
According to a 2021 ABA and AccessLex Institute report, 90% of the more than 1,300 surveyed law school graduates reported taking out loans for law school.Note Reference 
While there was a slight dip in 2016, the percentage of students who borrowed has stayed relatively consistent at around 90% since 2004.Note Reference  The percentage for 2016 also did not account for international students, which may explain the lower number.
|Year||Percentage of Law Students Who Borrowed||Average Total Amount Borrowed|
Just Under Half of Law School Students Still Had Undergraduate Debt
A little under half (44%) of law students still had undergraduate loans when they started law school in 2018. The average amount still owed was nearly $28,000.Note Reference 
Over Half of Students Say They Didn’t Have a Clear Understanding of Loans Before Starting Law School
In the same 2021 survey by the AccessLex Institute and ABA, over half of the respondents (50.8%) answered that they did not have a clear understanding of the costs/debts associated with law school before starting.Note Reference 
Nearly 3 in 5 students (58.1%) also said that they did not have a clear understanding of the impact student loans would have on their personal lives.Note Reference 
Two-Thirds of Law Graduates Reported High Stress Over Finances
Roughly two-thirds (67%) of all respondents from the 2021 AccessLex Institute survey reported high or overwhelming stress over finances.Note Reference  The figure was much higher for those with $100,000-$200,000 in loans.
For Some Graduates, Loans Affected Job Selection
Student loans affected big life decisions, including career choices and other milestones. Nearly 55% of graduates surveyed responded that salary played a bigger role in their job selection than they had anticipated before starting law school.Note Reference 
Over 35% of those who owed over $200,000 in debt detoured from a public service career trajectory due to student loans.Note Reference  This was especially true for Black student borrowers (40.2%) and Hispanic and Latino/a student borrowers (37.4%).
Around 90% Say Student Loans Impacted Major Life Decisions
Around 90% of borrowers said that student loans had some impact on their major life milestone decisions, including buying a house, having children, and getting married.
- Over half of the borrowers surveyed answered that they postponed buying a house or decided not to buy a house.Note Reference 
- Around 40% reported postponing having children or deciding not to have children due to their debt load.Note Reference 
The more debt a student had, the more likely they were to postpone or decide not to buy a house or have children. Asian borrowers were most likely to not buy a house, get married, or have children due to student debt out of any race.Note Reference 
Over 8 in 10 Law Graduates Report High or Overwhelming Stress Over Finances
The majority of law school graduates harbored negative feelings about their financial situation. From feeling anxious or stressed to regretful to depressed.
What’s more, many were unclear on how much their debt was stacking up. Just over half (55%) said they knew how much they borrowed.
Over 60% of Law Graduates Would Choose Law School Again
Less than half of law graduates (47%) say that law school was worth the cost. Despite negative feelings toward debt, such as feelings of stress and regret, the majority of law graduates (61%) still say they would choose law school again if given the choice.