by Judge Richard Poland,
Now that you have been accepted into a law school, you must determine how you will pay for your juris doctor degree. There are, contrary to popular belief, many loans available for the asking. But remember this: If you choose to borrow excessively, you can live like a lawyer while you are a law student, but you will then need to live like a law student when you become a lawyer.
After you have chosen which law school you will be attending, you need to contact the Financial Aid Director of that law school immediately. Most law schools will advise you about loans, grants, and scholarships. You also need to be aware of deadlines, such as the one for FAFSA which has a priority application timeframe of January 2 through February 15. This is important because you may qualify for an interest-paid-during-law school federal Stafford or Perkins loan. At any rate, payments are deferred until six or nine months following the graduation or withdrawal of a full-time law student.
There are also a number of web sites with which you should be familiar. A few of those web sites are as follows: www.acess.grp.org, www.salliemae.com/lawloans, and www.northstar.org. The Law School Admissions Council also has important financial information and links at www.lsac.org. Commercial banks, parents, or other relatives may loan money to you. You should check as many financial resources as you can.
Regardless of how much money is available, borrow wisely. A day for payback is just around the corner. Grant and scholarship money is always preferred over a loan. Low interest rates are better than high interest rates. Everyone knows this, but be willing to do your homework so you do not have to repay more than is necessary. You should borrow as little as possible, especially if you already have college loans to pay off.
The ABA recommends that you not work during the first year. This is generally good advice, unless you are enrolled in a part-time program. But there is no reason not to work during the second and third years of law school. I did, and the extra money was very useful. There may be an on-campus work grant job available, or perhaps a local law firm is looking for inexpensive legal labor. A law internship will allow you to make solid contacts for future job prospects.
My final piece of financial advice is this. As you choose which law school to attend from among the law schools at which you have been accepted, ask yourself if the high-priced private institution is worth the extra money. If the school is a 1st tier law school, it may well be worth the extra tuition cost. But if it is a 3rd or 4th tier school, you may be incurring too much debt. Talk to the Career Service Office at a particular law school to determine what percentage of that school’s graduates are working in a law-related field and how much their graduates are making. Do independent research as well. A $100,000 debt may not be worth it if only 75 percent of the graduates are gainfully employed making an average of $45,500 per year. As the Apostle Paul once said, “Think on these things.”