By Susan Smith Blakely • June 13, 2014•Careers, Other Career Issues
This week has been disappointing for any of us who are hoping that Congress will do something to relieve the debt crisis for all student loan borrowers, including, of course, young lawyers. As reported by Above the Law earlier this week, between 2008 and 2012, the median debt burden for recent law school graduates increased by 54 percent, from $83,000 to $128,000. By comparison, student debt for medical students increased only 22 percent during that same time period. I guess the presumption is that lawyers are going to make so much more money over time than doctors that we just should be satisfied with this incredible escalation. Right! Yes, the medical profession has its challenges today, but so does the law profession. Who is asleep at the switch when it comes to controlling the costs of legal educations? Yes, the law schools and the ABA, but there does not seem to be much happening there.
Enter Senator Elizabeth Warren (D -Mass), who has sponsored a bill to allow student loan borrowers to borrow at a reduced rate on federal loans and also to refinance at that same rate. It seems like a good idea, right? Encouraging education by helping with debt reduction --- like motherhood and apple pie. Well, not so fast. The additional cost of the program would be paid for with a tax increase for the wealthiest Americans, and that is the bugaboo. The Republican filibuster in the Senate killed the bill on Wednesday, and at least one member of Congress, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, recited Dr. Seuss to entertain his fellow senators and keep the filibuster alive. Nice.
In the face of this defeat, Senator Warren told the Boston Globe: "Does this country protect millionaires' and billionaires' tax loopholes? Or does it try to help young people who are just starting their economic lives?" Good question. But, that is a values issue that I will let you ponder.
So, what's next? According to the Huffington Post, the Democrats are not finished pushing the bill. They are rolling it into their wider appeal to aid women because women are more likely to accrue debt but earn less than men to be able to repay it in a comparable time frame, thus paying larger amounts of interest. Nice nexus, to be sure. In fact, I wrote to Senator Warren several weeks ago and suggested something very similar to her. Just saying ...
However, there may be more than one way to skin this cat ... wild cat that it has become. Check out the Above The Law coverage "Law School Debt: An Infographic" to read about a private bank initiative that may be helpful to the cause. This is not an attempt to endorse any one bank or loan relief package, and I am sure that there are others out there with similar appeal. Check them out! It will definitely be worth your time --- and your money!
And don't give up the ship. Strange things happen in politics and government. Witness the shocker in my home state of Virginia this week when unknown college professor Dave Brat defeated the number two House of Representatives member, Eric Cantor, in the Republican primary.
The sands can shift very swiftly!
Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and a nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law. She is author of Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar: The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another. Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business. Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues and the law profession.
Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she taught legal research and writing. She also is a Marshall Goldsmith trained career and leadership coach and a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches. She also is a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy. For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com.