For the most part, minority and women students wind up in lower-ranked law schools, which cost them more to attend, resulting in higher debt burdens, according to a study by the National Association of Law Placement. Minority and women law graduates from these lower-ranked law schools are up against paralyzing odds: lower bar exam passage rates, employment rates and income levels. In the intense competition for good jobs, few will find careers to support themselves while fighting for the ideals that brought them to law school in the first place. Many of them will end up with a great deal of debt. Ameritech Financial, a document preparation firm, denounces the debt and poor prospects that face minority and women law students, and urges them, as well as all borrowers, to seek assistance in navigating the complex system of student loan repayment.
“There is no justice to the fact that women and minority students generally pay more for the privilege of going to these lesser schools, thus accruing heavier debt loads,” said Tom Knickerbocker, executive vice president of Ameritech Financial. “It is unfair for all borrowers who find themselves underemployed and overburdened by student debt.”
One reason cited for this disparity is the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores. Underprivileged students score consistently lower on their LSATs than their more privileged counterparts, even when other measures of abilities and achievements might predict other outcomes. Though causes for this gap, such as the expense of an LSAT prep course or hidden biases within the test, are debatable, the outcome is not: minorities and women disproportionately end up at lesser law schools.
The few minority lawyers who obtain high-paying legal jobs have overwhelmingly gone to a top law school. Three-quarters of current black law firm partners went to one of the top 12 law schools, and nearly half went to either Harvardor Yale. And even though more than 50 percent of law school graduates are women, only 35 percent work at the top law firms after graduating, and most of these are from the similar small number of top law schools.
With potentially lower wages at smaller firms or public institutions, lawyers who have student loans may need some assistance in repayment. Federal income-driven repayment plans may reduce payments by basing them on income and family size, which may give struggling borrowers some financial relief. Lawyers working in low-paying public service positions may also be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
“The top law firms produce the judges that will decide our future and we should have fair representation from qualified female and minority lawyers,” said Knickerbocker. “And these lawyers, and all students who had to borrow to get through college, should have some assistance traversing the complex terrain of student loan repayment. At Ameritech Financial, we help borrowers apply for federal programs such as income-driven repayment plans which can possibly lower their payment so that these high achievers can get on with the business of changing the world.”