Twenty Years After Law School, Many Black Attorneys Still Face Overwhelming Student Debt

Many studies have shown the disparate impact of student loan debt on Black borrowers. For example, see JBHE posts here and here.

Now a new study by Meghan Dawe of the Center on the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School finds a striking student debt gap among Black and White law school graduates. In a longitudinal survey of students who graduated from law school from 1998 to 2000, Dawe found that Black law school graduates were 13.7 percent more likely than White students to graduate from law school with student debt. Black borrowers graduated from law school with 7.8 percent more student debt than White borrowers.

By midcareer, these differences are even starker: Black borrowers were 26.6 percent more likely than White borrowers to have student debt remaining, and, among midcareer debtors, Black borrowers owed 38.7 percent more than their White counterparts. Some 73 percent of Black law school graduates still held student loan debt, 20 years after earning their law degree. Twenty years later, the average debt outstanding for Black law school graduates was more than $74,000.

Why is this important? Dawe explains that “unequal access to legal education, in particular, has important implications for democracy as lawyers play a central role in mediating the relationship between the state and its citizens. Barriers to legal education and the legal profession also have serious implications for racial equality and social justice. Many lawyers in the United States take on prominent roles in the economic and political spheres, and student debt limits opportunities for Black individuals to participate in positions of power and privilege in American society.”

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