Saving Law Students From Bankruptcy Post-Graduation

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By Kristopher K. León*

Law schools have put a lot of emphasis on the students getting through law school and passing the bar, as they should. Law schools, however, should also address student’s need for financial management education.

Financial management as a lawyer.

Most law students are accustomed to managing their lifestyles according to financial aid. Most students started this pattern freshman year of undergrad.

With these budgets based on some government calculation of student’s living expenses, students are limited to the bare necessities and grow accustom to it. You have law students accustomed to receiving anywhere in the range of $5,000 – $10,000 per semester to live on. Now, after passing the bar and securing employment, students are earning in the range of $50,000 – $90,000 per year.

They suddenly make more than they have in previous employment. During law school, a majority of students do not get paid for employment. They often accept unpaid internships. After graduation, their income increases drastically and places them one or two tax brackets higher than before. Assuming that law students find a job in this unforgiving job market, ex-students turn into well-paid professionals.

Apart from the basic necessities and the ever-present student loan debt to pay off, what do these enabled individuals do with their income? Do they even know what to do with it? Sure, they’ve mastered how to apply the reasonable person standard and synthesize cases, but are they willing to live on the same budget which they have for the past decade?

Most law students do not enter law school with a business degree. Students are coming into law school with degrees in political science, criminal justice, and/or philosophy. It is very possible that these students have never even taken a course in finance let alone have a degree in the subject-matter. This is where the problem lies. A problem that few law schools have implemented programs to mitigate, as they have with Bar prep courses to alleviate the problem of school bar passage rates.

Sure, passing the bar is paramount, but what weight does it carry when three or four years down the line, post-graduation, young lawyers are filing for bankruptcy? Law schools offer Bankruptcy law courses and debt courses, but there is a need for personal finance seminars for these graduating law students. These schools need to educate students on financial planning so that they can make responsible financial decisions in their future.

Law schools have a duty to assist these students, who have invested upwards of $100,000 for a three-year legal education, in handling their finances for the next thirty years in the legal profession. This duty is not to provide them financial advising services for the next thirty years, but to provide the proper education during their final year of law school, so that they can responsibly handle their own finances for the next thirty years. Educational seminars should be implemented to emphasize the following topics:

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