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What if an 18 year old wanted to go to law school as cheaply as possible? How mutch could he manage it for? What about an ivy league school? What about the university of Texas? He is a dependent of a veteran, but the G.I. bill benefits have already been used up. He is not willing to get a student loan no matter what the benefits may be.

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    I’m voting to close this question because it's not a question on the law Jul 9 at 14:50
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    @BlueDogRanch Questions about getting into a legal career are on-topic.
    – Unfair-Ban
    Jul 9 at 15:28
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    @Studoku Where do you see that? It isn't mentioned in the list of topics in the help centre
    – JBentley
    Jul 9 at 17:58
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    See law.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1307/… on law.meta for discussion of this, please. Jul 9 at 19:27
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    Stories such as the matter of Anna Alaburda are very telling. "Although she graduated near the top of her class in 2008 and passed the bar exam on her first attempt", she lost her suit against her law school for misrepresentations about employment. Another irony is that instead of litigating the case by herself, she hired attorneys (yes, in plural) to represent her in court. See also this. Jul 9 at 22:54
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This answer is limited to options in the United States.

According to the U.S. News and World Report annual survey of over 197 law programs, the average cost of attending a private law school is $43,020 and attending a public law school costs an average of $26,264 for in-state residents and $39,612 for out-of-state students. At the top 10 law schools in the country, the average cost of attendance is $60,293 per year.

(Source as of 2018).

Law school typically takes three years, so triple that number. So, you are looking at $78,792 to $180,879. As discussed below, however, there are economically rational reasons for prospective law students who are chasing a career in a big law firm or in academia to attend a more expensive top law school if they can manage to be admitted there.

Some law students are able to work at a moderately paying part-time job during the school year, but summer clerkships for law students, especially between the second and third years of law school, tend to be quite well paying as summer jobs for college students go. A pay of $10,000-$20,000 for the summer as a whole (as well as a leg up on a permanent job after law school) for a post-second year of law school clerkship, would not be unusual.

But this is offset by the need to use most of the savings from this job to pay for an optional, but highly recommended, bar exam preparation course that typically lasts several weeks and costs on the order of $5,000-$10,000 (not included in the total cost calculated here). LSAT preparation classes, in contrast, have only marginal value, especially for someone who has already taken SAT or ACT preparation classes. These classes are not necessary if you simply buy some test preparation books and do a few practice tests yourself.

Unaccredited law schools (which exist only in California) are a waste of money. The attrition rates are very high, and bar passage rates are very low at the bottom ten or twenty law schools, as measured by incoming student LSAT and undergraduate GPA performance, and are also a bad idea unless you have no other choice.

Also, keep in mind that before going to law school, you have to earn an undergraduate bachelor's degree (although your major really doesn't matter at all).

How Much Does a Bachelor's Degree Cost?

The average annual tuition and fees for a four-year bachelor's degree in the United States is $8,893 for in-state attendees of public colleges, $22,203 for out-of-state attendees of public colleges, and $30,094 for private nonprofit colleges. These 2013-2014 figures, from reports released by the College Board, represent a 2.9 to 3.8 percent increase from the previous year. The 2.9 percent increase for in-state students at public institutions is one of the smallest increases in 30 years.

The published figures don't include room and board, books, transportation and other expenses. That adds an average of $13,933 per year at a public college and $14,656 at a private institution, according to the College Board. Added all together, that brings the four-year total cost to $91,304 to $179,000, depending on where you attend.

(Source)

So, for undergraduate and law school educations combined you are looking at $170,000 to $360,000 of costs of attendance (disregarding any part-time employment or summer job income and any opportunity costs), over seven years, if you attend full-time.

Of course, this goes up almost every year. Higher education costs have consistently risen at more than the general rate of inflation in the economy for many decades.

Anyone with the academic ability necessary to graduate with an undergraduate college degree with good enough grades and LSAT scores to get into law school, however, is almost sure to be able to secure significant financial aid at the undergraduate level which is, in part at least, not a student loan. The net price of attendance at an undergraduate college has little to do with the "sticker price" of that experience. My children have paid only a small fraction of the "stricker price" to attend a highly selective liberal arts college and an Ivy League university, respectively, as undergraduates, and would have had to pay more per year to attend a local, non-flagship state university (because highly selective institutions have big endowments to pay for generous financial aid packages).

In contrast, almost all financial aid for law school comes in the form of federally guaranteed and subsidized rate student loans that will have to be paid off during one's legal career. I had family pay for all of my family contribution for my undergraduate education and half of my law school costs of attendance (at a top ten school), and it still took me twenty years to pay off my students loans.

He is not willing to get a student loan no matter what the benefits may be.

The only possible ways to become a lawyer debt-free are to have a wealthy family, or perhaps, to enroll in the U.S. military's judge advocate-general (JAG) program (I'm not familiar with the details of how that works).

Also, most student loan programs for law school have income based repayment plans and public service employment loan forgiveness plan, so the student loan burden is significantly lower if you pursue a public interest lower paying career (but still quite burdensome early in life, nonetheless).

Footnote: Only Risk It If You Are LikeLy To Pass The Bar Exam

From sources beyond the scope of this question, I'd just like to note that the empirical evidence suggests that one needs roughly a 2.8 undergraduate GPA out of 4, and 149 out of 180 LSAT score (a score which is at roughly the 40th percentile for LSAT test takers and an IQ of about 118) to have a realistic chance of passing the bar exam (extrapolating from admissions statistics and bar passage rates of the lower ranked accredited law schools). If you aren't at that level academically, law school will eat your tuition without providing you a degree or profession of any significant value. If you can't meet this academic threshold but are committed to working in the legal field, consider getting a paralegal certificate instead, which is vastly less expensive and takes much less time to secure, while still preparing you for a reasonably well paying law related career.

To have a very high chance of passing the bar exam on the first try (95%+) you need to have an LSAT score of about 155 out of 180 and an undergraduate GPA of about 3.35 out of 4, in addition to studying hard without too many distractions in law school. (See e.g., here and here).

A typical lawyer who has just passed the bar exam had an LSAT score of about 165 out of 180, and an undergraduate GPA of about 3.5 out of 4.

Footnote: Are The Rewards Worth The Cost?

This said, if you pass the bar exam, the income benefits of being a lawyer (no matter where you went to law school, or how well you performed academically in college, in law school, and on the bar exam) will generally exceed the costs of getting that education and the opportunity costs involved, although your mileage may vary. This has been shown with quite rigorous studies, for example, comparing people who got into law school and passed the bar to people who just barely failed to be admitted or were admitted but couldn't attend for financial reasons (alas, my links to the relevant studies have rotted and I can't quickly reconstruct them).

This is not true, however, if you are a woman who takes a substantial amount of time out of the workforce to have children and raise them when they are little (in which case the economics of a law school education become much, much worse, aside from the fact that women who are lawyers tend to marry very affluent husbands on average). My alma mater has done surveys of alums to get hard data on this point and the reality is much more extreme than I would have expected before seeing the data (I've only seen this data in hard copy).

Post-law school earnings are bimodal.

Something on the order of 30-40% of new law school graduates secure very high paying positions as associates in very large law firms, where most will work for two to seven years before leaving in a lateral move to a small or medium sized firm, or opening their own practice. Lawyers on this track receive exceedingly good returns on their law school educations.

Most new lawyers on the big law associate track (and it is very rare to enter this track other than as a new law graduate who summer clerked for a larger law firm while in law school), are either at the high end of a top law school, are at the very top of the class of another law school located in the same state as a major office of that firm, or have family connections to the firm (or perhaps celebrity or elected official status). So, economically, the main benefit to attending a top law school, at a cost of up to $100,000 more than a less prestigious law school, is to increase one's likelihood of finding a career in a big law firm immediately upon graduating from law school (with a 50% to 100% higher income in the early years of your career, and higher lifetime earnings by a smaller percentage). (Graduating from a top law school is also basically a necessity if you want to secure a tenure track position as a law school professor and can provide other intangible benefits as well.)

The minority (typically 10% to 30%) of big law associates at a given big law firm (about 7% of all new lawyers), will make partner join the pinnacle of the upper middle class in the United States and have economic returns comparable to being top executives in publicly held companies, very large privately held companies, successful IT startup companies, or hedge fund managers and investment bankers.

The law school graduates who do not start out on this track are much less economically well rewarded at first, although still well enough to justify the cost of a law school education in the lion's share of cases (subject to the caveat for women taking substantial time out of the workforce to have children which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in lifetime earnings).

After a decade or two in practice, however, this divide tends to even up, with the big law track lawyers mostly sinking down in relative incomes, and the other lawyers gradually rising up in relative incomes, although some divide typically persists through the two group's careers.

Furthermore, there are lots of things about being a lawyer that are not fun. It is not a good career choice for many people, and making good money while being miserable is sadly a common circumstance in the profession. Being a lawyer is very different from the way it is portrayed on TV and a prospective lawyer would be well served by getting first hand experience or talking to practicing lawyers about what the job is really like once you are in it.

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    I got through my undergraduate degree with no debt because Mom worked for the university and all we needed to do was pay for books and lab fees. I worked while going to school which not only offset costs, it gave me something to put on my first resume. I graduated with an engineering degree and was vigorously recruited by the USPTO with scholarship and grant opportunities for law school (that was a long time ago though, don't know what the environment is like today). There are a lot more ways to get a degree without going into debt than just being wealthy or joining the military.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 9 at 18:42
  • @ColleenV Fair enough. Certainly, though, grant based aid is a tiny percentage of the financial aid available for law school relative to the grant based aid available for an undergraduate education, and is largely limited to niche opportunities like the one that you used.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 9 at 19:16
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    It really comes down to what you're willing to do in terms of relocating, choosing a particular specialty etc., how big your network is, and probably a lot of luck. I just had an e-mail come through that was congratulating the 6 recipients of a scholarship our company put together to celebrate their longest-tenured employee (68 years!) - it's $5000 a year which can be renewed yearly for up to 4 years. Many companies like UPS offer tuition assistance. Getting your undergrad degree paid for is half the battle.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 9 at 19:24
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    What qualities does a lawyer need to be happy, avoid "making good money while being miserable"? Thick skin? Cynicism?
    – Greendrake
    Jul 9 at 21:13
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    @Greendrake Strong in Big Five personality trait "conscientiousness", competitive, not very creative, mildly extraverted, strongly wealth/money oriented (especially people who grew up deprived of material things) without lacking social capital, and recognizing that the job is more of a super-bureaucrat and less of a scholarly endeavor.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 12 at 16:29
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Although your question hints at the USA, you didn't tag this with a jurisdiction so I will answer for England and Wales in case it is useful to you or anyone else. I'll also assume that the goal is to qualify as a lawyer (rather than specifically to attend "law school" for its own sake).

The Solicitors Regulatory Authority has recently overhauled the system in E&W for qualifying as a solicitor to make it more accessible.

First, you need to have a degree or equivalent. This can be in any subject and from any country (provided that it will be recognised as being equivalent in the UK), so there's the potential to do it on an extreme budget (e.g. the Open University or from a country that offers free or cheap degrees).

You then need to complete the SQE which is broken down into two components: SQE 1 and SQE 2. After that you are eligible to qualify once you have completed two years of qualifying work experience.

The great thing about the SQE compared to the old system is that it is a centralised exam that anyone is able to take whenever they want (as opposed to being forced to attend a course at a university and take their exams on their terms). This means there is a much more open market for courses and course materials, to suit a range of needs and budgets.

Those on a very tight budget can choose to be self-taught. You can buy a complete set of books for the SQE 1 for around £400. I imagine something similar will soon become available for the SQE 2.

If you want to cut the budget even further there is theoretically nothing to stop you from using the official syllabus specification and carefully learning each topic from library books. I have completed a GDL + LPC (under the old system) and can confirm that the topic coverage is almost identical, so you should be able to find plenty of material easily.

The exams themselves cost £3980 in total for the SQE 1 + 2.

For mid-range budgets there are also plenty of non-university courses available if you want some basic level of support, classes, and/or online courses. The SRA publishes a list of providers but beware that they do not screen any of the entries and there are quite a high number of "fakes" (companies not actually providing any sort of training or courses but using the list to get free advertising). A few months ago I emailed every company on the list and identified around 3 or 4 providers providing budget online courses for around £1500 or so for the SQE 1.

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If the main objective is to be permitted to practice law, the options are not limited to law school. One may opt to seeking an apprenticeship at a law firm in certain States of the U.S. and depending on the state (for e.g. California, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia). After a certain number of years, one may be eligible to take the bar exam.

Typically one may be required to pass the bar exam of the state. It might also be possible to obtain bar membership thereafter in other states with practice years accumulated after the bar admission in the apprenticeship state.

Additionally, the 5th Circuit issued preliminary injunctions relating to the State of Louisiana and Texas that lawyers are not currently required to be a member of their respective State Bars but this is probably bound to change soon as the Bars there will adapt new policies on their budget spendings or meet other requirements of the panels. Even so, it may probably not allow anyone to practice without a law degree any ways or having been admitted previously or to be admitted currently to any other State Bars, but I haven’t come across any analysis of what these rulings mean for the purposes of practicing law without a law degree and with, say, admission to the bar of another state where on may have absolved sufficient apprenticeship.

References:

California: One may conduct a “Law Office Study Program” (Rule 4.29) subject to Business & Professions Code § 6060 you can submit a "NOTICE OF INTENT TO STUDY LAW IN A LAW OFFICE OR JUDGE’S CHAMBERS".

Vermont: "Law Office Study Program"

Virginia: "Standards of Apprenticeship Programs"

Washington: "Law Clerk Program"

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  • Are you saying there is no formal education required to practice law, only to pass an exam? Jul 11 at 5:20
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    Not exactly. You may skip formal education if we consider ABA-accredited or other law schools, but you still have to go through a supervised apprenticeship wherein you obtain education, although you would not necessarily define it formal and there are strict requirements where it is even possible. (I updated the answer to reflect this)
    – kisspuska
    Jul 11 at 5:37
  • The California approach overwhelmingly fails. It is will-o'-the-wisp leading you into a dangerous marsh of failure. The Vermont, Virginia, and Washington programs are tiny and don't really have a proven track record of success for graduates either. They are basically obscure curiosities and not recommended.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 12 at 16:31
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If you speak German, or can learn it, you can study in Germany.
That is not only possible from the EU, but explicitly also for people living outside of the EU, including the USA.

For free. Seriously.

If you do not speak German, there are only a few lectures on special law topics (1 or 2 years) that may be interesting to specialize on something. The field of study of Law accepts only a limited number of students, probably. But you would not have a disadvantage in the process of choosing them. I think special lectures are not full, normally.

If you want to spend as little money as possible,
Berlin would be a good place, it has 3 universities.
(But Germany is not expensive in general.)

How is that even possible, that the universities are for free? Because we think education is important. We really mean it. And it works very well.

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