Susan Smith Blakely

Truth Telling about Law School Debt

Law school student loan debt.  Just the mention of it can cause most newly-minted lawyers to break out in cold sweats.  It is always on their minds.  It is always standing in the way of getting on with their lives.

My children both are lawyers, and the amounts of their student loan debt is shocking.  Fortunately, our family is in a position to help them pay down a large portion of that debt.  But, many young lawyers are not in that position, and I feel so bad for them.

Bad because they are in situations where they cannot follow their dreams.  Bad because of the stress that it imposes on their lives.  Bad because they have worthy goals that must be put on the back burner so that they can do boring and unfulfilling work that pays the most.

There is the recent law grad with a dream to work in the civil and human rights areas.  But, not so fast.  What about those student loans?  Have to take a higher paying job to even make a dent in them.

There is the mid-level associate who would like to start a family or purchase a house to fulfill some important goals.  But, not so fast.  What about those student loans?  Forget qualifying for a mortgage when the student loan debt is significant.

There is the young lawyer under so much stress from student loan debt who seeks medication for anxiety and depression to relieve the harmful physical and psychological effects of stress.

And the stories go on and on and on.  Read about them in a recent Law 360 article.  Be prepared to identify with these stories, but take heart that you are not alone.  Read the charts and see where you can expect to be in terms of student loan debt in your future.  Know that the stories have no real happy endings unless you win the lottery.

It was not supposed to be this way.  If I had seen the costs of law school skyrocketing like this, I am not sure I would have smiled on my children’s decisions to follow their parents into the law profession.  Yes, I love the law, and I am very proud of my children for their hard work and persistence in a challenging profession.  And, yes, I am pleased at what I have been able to accomplish for myself and others through a career in the law.  But, loving the law may not be enough today.

Somebody has to do something or we will continue to discourage the talent that is the future of our profession.  Enough time has passed to know that a more robust economy is not the solution.  Enough time has passed to know that the people and institutions benefiting from these dire circumstances must be called out.

Who is the somebody who will stand up and call out?  The ABA through the certification process?  Law schools through their policy decisions?  Congress through the legislative process?  Just who?

I wish I knew.  For your sake.

Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, 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.  Her third book in the series, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, focuses on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and was released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

Ms. Blakely’s new book for ALL young lawyers, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice, will be released by Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers in the summer of 2018.

Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including Corporate Counsel Magazine, the ABA Journal, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, Women Lawyers Journal (NAWL), DC Spotlight,, Daily Muse, Lawyer and Statesman,, Georgetown Law Magazine, and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues in business and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" and the Lawyer Monthly “Women in Law Award 2016”for her work on behalf of women in the law. 

Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and is certified as a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit

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