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Law students sacrifice to repay debt
Grads forced to take private sector jobs to pay off loans

By Aliyya Haque
Contributing Writer
Stanford Daily
Thursday, September 30, 2004

Allegations that a Stanford Law School graduate worked as a prostitute partly in order to repay her loans have raised questions among students and administrators about the difficulties law school students face in paying back their educational debt.

At Stanford, the average student owes approximately $83,000 upon graduation. Though Stanford offers a loan repayment program that is comparable to those offered by other top law schools, students say they feel pressure forgo their top-choice jobs for ones that pay more.

According to the Oakland Tribune, federal prosecutors are alleging that Cristina Schultz, Law School Class of 2001, worked as a call girl in part to pay off close to $300,000 in student loans. No charges have been filed against Schultz at this point.

Though Schultz’s case is extreme, the reality is that many law school students are tens of thousands of dollars in debt once they receive their diplomas. As a result, few law students enter the public sector, where jobs pay far less than those at top private firms.

Frank Brucato, senior associate dean for finance at the Law School, said that approximately 10 percent of each year’s graduating class enter government or public service positions, while the vast majority end up in higher-paying private-sector jobs.

Taking a high-paying job strictly for financial reasons is not unique to Stanford Law School students.

Jan Conroy, spokesperson for Yale Law School, said that reconciling law student loan debt with students’ entry-level jobs, whether they are high- or low-paying, is an issue that all law schools must face.

In 1987, the Stanford’s Law School created its own loan repayment assistance program, which allows graduates working in public service or government positions to pay off their educational debt more easily.

“We believe our average payout per graduate is higher than in any other law school,” Brucato said. “[The repayment program] does not only minimize the economic hardship of loans, but in fact also eliminates this hardship. If their starting salary is $40,000 or less, then graduates will pay nothing towards their educational debt.”

Similar loan forgiveness programs have been developed at top law schools around the country, including Harvard, where students leave with an average debt of around $79,000, and Columbia.

Conroy, of Yale Law School, said, “We want to make sure that our graduates will be able to take the job they really want, regardless of debt. If Yale Law graduates take a relatively low-paying job, Yale helps them make their loan payments.”

But such help is far from enough to compensate for the vast differences in pay between public- and private-sector jobs.

“The average starting salary for a Stanford law graduate in these top firms is $125,000 plus bonuses, so it is easier to pay back loans,” Brucato said. “Stanford Law School makes it possible for all of its graduates to pursue all types of legal careers.”

Still, some students say that the decision between entering into a top firm or a public service job is largely based on financial circumstances.

“Student loans have been a big factor in my decision to join a private

firm,” said a second-year Stanford law student who asked to remain anonymous.

“In top firms, it’s so much easier to pay back loans, since the starting salary is almost $200,000 per year. It would take forever if I was in a public-service oriented job.”

For other students, the lifestyle associated with higher-paying, corporate jobs is the attracting feature, more so than financial burdens.

“Stanford offered the best financial aid out of any of the schools I applied to, so I wasn’t as concerned with loans,” said a first-year Stanford law student, who also asked to remain anonymous. “But I still want to work for a private firm.

“It’s also more socially acceptable, and I’d be having a better life.”

Though Stanford eases the financial hardships of its graduating students in terms of educational debt, it cannot ease the burdens of living on a small salary.

“There is a clear difference in lifestyle between those working in a private firm and those working in public interest, and unfortunately, mainly due to financial reasons, this remains a difficult decision for graduating students to make,” Brucato said.