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Getting Schooled in Law Loans

Friday, 31 Dec 2010 | 12:19 PM ET

The American Bar Association has officially issued a warning on itswebsite.

The ABA is now making the case to persuade college students not to go to law school.

According to the association, over the past 25 years law school tuition has consistently risen two times faster than inflation.

The average private law student borrows about $92,500 for law school, while law students who attend public schools take out loans for $71,400. These numbers do not include any debt law students may still have from their time as undergraduates.

Before the recession, the ABA cites statistics that show an average starting salary for an associate of a large law firm of about $160,000 a year. But by 2009, about 42 percent of graduates began with an annual salary of less than $65,000.

And those are just the newbies.

Flanagan & Einwohner partner Stewart Einwohner says he has been getting resumes for pro bono work from experienced lawyers.

"Some of the resumes that have come across my desk are from attorneys who have good skills and impressive work histories, and they are offering to work for free. Rather than sit at home with no salary and nothing to do, many of these attorneys are offering to work for free in exchange for something to put on their resumes. Their strategy is to keep their resumes fresh with the hopes of finding something long term," said Einwohner.

The ABA is also warning of endowment losses, declining state support, and difficulties in fundraising that have hit law schools hard. It expects most public schools to raise tuition this year by 10 to 25 percent.

Tens of thousands of dollars in debt — and a shiny degree: But, at the end of the day, getting a job in law could be a cold case in 2011.

Joanna Slusarz, a third year law student at the Rutgers School of Law — Newark, does not have undergraduate loans.

Slusarz's law school tuition costs $25,000 a year. Even though she lives at home to keep living expenses manageable, Slusarz calculates she'll owe more than $75,000 when she's done.

"I started in 2008. We didn't really hear about law firms firing people. Everything started happening, really, the second half of that year. Offers started getting rescinded for summer associates," said Slusarz.

She appears to be one of the fortunate ones.

Slusarz has a job lined up when she graduates — and she's confident the firm will retain the offer.

"I still feel going to law school is a good investment. You spend money to make money," she said.

(John Carney — editor of NetNet — is an Ivy League law school graduate: He no longer practices law.)

Stephanie is Squawk Box producer and senior NetNet retail correspondent. Follow her on twitter @StephLandsman

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