Average monthly law school debt payments top $1,000

By Tom Gantert

Legal News

Eric Kyser says that his monthly payment for his law school loans will soon jump to $600 a month.

And the 29-year-old Jackson attorney is one of the fortunate ones, according to a survey by an Ann Arbor research firm.

Michigan lawyers such as Kyser--a sole practitioner with an office outside the home--make average monthly payments of $1,050 a month on their law school debt, according to a recent study by Ann Arbor's Applied Statistics Laboratory. The survey, which was released in January, also found that average payment on that debt was $486 a month for non-private practitioners and $787 a month for private practitioners.

According to ASL, the average law school-related debt was $80,825 for private practitioners and $78,616 for non-private practitioners.

Lawrence Stiffman, owner of Applied Statistics Laboratory, called the job prospects of fresh-out-of-school attorneys "pretty dismal."

"You are faced with all the debt," Stiffman said.

Kyser said that's why he went to work for himself.

"When I first got out of law school, it was extremely hard," Kyser said. "I needed to make money right away."

He had to pay $70,000 in law-school related loans after graduating from the University of Toledo College of Law.

"It's incredibly overwhelming," Kyser said. "It is still overwhelming and I've been in practice four years. It's more than my car payment. It's a big chunk of my budget. It's only going to get bigger over the next couple years."

Bree Thurlby, a Jackson attorney with the Marcoux, Allen law firm, had been a working attorney for almost 10 years.

She says her loans are for 30 years.

"It's like a house payment, except I don't end up with a house," Thurlby said. "It is just like with any other debt you have. You make adjustments so that you are able to cover everything."

Bethany Smith has been in practice since 2000 and has a 30-year deal for her law-school loans.

"When I was younger, I didn't like making my student loan payment. I was angry when I paid it," said Smith, deputy city attorney for the City of Jackson. "It can be burdensome on a new attorney that is not making much."

"But once you are established and once you make that payment, you see the value of it," Smith added. "You have a degree that allows you to make a good income."

The State Bar of Michigan also does its own survey of Michigan lawyers.

It found that the average law school debt was $86,301 for those who attended law school with in the last 10 years and were in private practice. Law school debt averaged $84,620 for those in non-private practice.

The State Bar of Michigan's survey found that the average monthly payment on law school loans was $513 a month in the non-private practice and $860 a month in the private practice.

The SBM survey also found that the highest paying field of law in private practice in 2010 was probate, trust litigation with an average salary of $259,000 a year.

Bankruptcy creditor was second, with an average salary of $222,361 followed closely by personal injury (plaintiff) with an average salary of $221,008 a year. The lowest paying was criminal (public defendant), with an average annual salary of $34,269.

Published: Thu, Feb 9, 2012