March 6, 2012

Cornell Law School Responds to Grads’ Fears of Debt

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With the cost of attending Cornell Law School for six semesters at more than $200,000, many students say they are concerned about their job prospects, especially as they grapple with the possibility of graduating with large debts.

Prof. Stewart Schwab, dean of the law school, said, however, that Cornell students are faring better than many other graduates in the job market. Cornell alumni are performing especially well in comparison to its peer institutions in the private sector job market, Schwab said.

Schwab added that the University is making strides to help students with job placement after graduation, including matching students with alumni mentors who can “open multiple doors” for them.

“Even after students have graduated and moved into the work force, we continue to offer services to them throughout their careers,” Schwab said. “As our assistant dean for Career Services likes to say, you have a lifetime deal when it comes to career services at Cornell.”

According to data from the American Bar Association, law students in the United States spent $3.6 billion on tuition in 2010. This number takes into account discounts through both merit- and need-based aid.

For instance, Brandon Bodnar law said that if he does not have his G.I. Bill stipend — funding that he receives as a veteran for his first year and a half of law school — his debt would be “tremendously overwhelming after graduation.

“Most students [at Cornell] have a ballpark debt of $220,000 after school,” Bodnar said. “Luckily, I don’t approach that, but I still have a lot to pay off.”

Zachary Zuniga law, who said he is “fully dependent on student loans,” echoed Bodnar’s concerns about paying off loans after graduation.

“It’s a scary thought to contemplate paying off these loans,” Zuniga said. “A lot of my classmates are graduating and have no job prospects. Paying off $3,000 a month in loans is just unrealistic in that case.”

Aggravating the issue, Zuniga said, was the fact that “the job market is shrinking, but law schools are spitting out more students than ever.”

Although 99 percent of students in the Class of 2010 reported in a post-graduation survey that they were employed, some students and graduates expressed concerns about finding jobs that would allow them to pay off their debts.

Recent graduate Eduardo Bruera J.D. ’11 said that paying off debts can be difficult after graduating from law school. Bruera, who is currently employed as a law clerk for a federal appellate judge, said that the job hunt is essential for those with heavy debt

.“If you can’t secure a high enough paying position to service your loans, it will be extremely problematic,” Bruera said. “Law hiring is a bit of a weird beast. It’s based almost entirely on grades.”

Schwab, dean of the law school, also attributed some of the difficulties students face in finding jobs to the dismal economy.

“What we saw as a result of the 2008 crash was that law firms reduced hiring by half or more,” Schwab said in an email. “Hiring has improved since then, but still has not fully recovered. When the economy is not thriving, legal employers struggle too, and scale back their hiring plans.”

Still, some students, including Bodnar, stressed the importance of recognizing that six-figure, “big law” jobs, are few and far between.

“When I decided to go to law school, I had to understand that there are few career options available that would be able to pay off my loans later,” Bodnar said.

He also said that he is unsure of whether or not to seek employment in the private or public sector after law school.

“I’m still debating working in the public or private sector, and part of that comes from paying off my debt,” Bodnar said. “If I went private, I could pay off my debt a lot sooner, but these positions are highly competitive.”

Original Author: Erika Hooker