This week, the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) released the results of its annual survey. The 2009 report revealed a number of interesting truths about the law student experience; in particular, the number of law students who expect to graduate with over $120,000 in student loan debt rose to 29 percent this year--an increase of 6 percent from 2008 and 11 percent since 2006.
However, the amount of student loan debt does not appear to affect a law student's postgraduate plans. According to the LSSSE report, students at both ends of the debt spectrum ($0 to $120,001+) expect to work in "traditionally lower paying fields like public interest law or government service." Although 17 percent more law students with $100,001+ in student loan debt plan to work at private law firms rather than in the public sector, when the debt is lowered to $0 25 percent more students plan to work at private firms.
From LSSSE 2009 Annual Survey Results
Of course, the current job market has had a large influence on current law students' career decisions, particularly whether to enter the public or private sector. As job opportunities in BigLaw firms disappeared in 2008 and 2009, law students looked to jobs in government, nonprofits and other public interest organizations for positions. According to LSSSE, while from 2006 to 2008 58 percent of students planned to work in private law firms, in 2009 only 50 percent of students plan to do so. At the same time, from 2006 to 2008 only 29 percent of students planned to pursue public interest careers, whereas in 2009 that percentage rose to 33 percent. Earlier this year, I blogged about the surge in applications for federal clerkships—online apps increased by 66 percent in 2009. As LSSSE points out, "It seems certain that fewer new lawyers will land high-paying jobs with private firms in coming years" whether it's because they planned to or not.
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