How Long Does It Take on Average for Law Students to Pay Back Their Student Loans?

  • Studying law is not cheap, and the average law student accrues a student loan debt of about $160,000.
  • According to, 74% of law students have law school debt to pay off.
  • This amount includes the cost of their undergraduate debt, bar exam, and other money to cover other expenses.
  • On average, public-sector lawyers need 26 years to pay off their debt.

Average Law Student Debt

Graduate school loans constitute most of the $160,000 average law student debt and 74% of law students have a law school debt to pay off. This debt includes their undergraduate debt, a major burden in law studies, the cost of the bar exams, and other expenses.

U.S. Department of Education data shows how school choice can influence law graduate debt. At the lower end, the average student has a $52,000 obligation when graduating from the Santa Barbara and Ventura Colleges of Law. In contrast, those graduating from Southwestern Law School have an average debt of $200,000.

Average Earnings for Young Lawyers

After passing their bar exam, young lawyers are ready to seek employment. Pay varies according to the various legal industries, but data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor for 2020 show that the annual mean wage for lawyers was $148,901.

Their data indicates that the lowest 10% of lawyers earned below $61,490 compared to the highest 10% who made more than $208,000. Low-paying legal jobs are generally in public employment and relief services, whereas the highest-paying jobs are in specialized services and the tech industries.

How Long Before the Law School Debt is Paid?

Paying off law school debt depends on several factors, including the debt balance, income, and the repayment method. shows that the average lawyer with a public sector job needs 26 years to pay off law school debt if they pay 20% of their income.

However, the average law student takes 20 years to pay off their loan, and there are even cases where repayment of these loans takes more than 45 years.

These statistics may appear disheartening since debt does take an emotional toll, but here are some tips to help you repay your loans faster.

Repayment Plan Options

There are several federal student loan plans. If you have a federal loan after graduating, choose the best plan based on your income, student loan balance, and family size. Some repayment programs include the Income-Based Repayment Plan, Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan and Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan.


Do You Qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

Direct Loan borrowers sometimes qualify for loan forgiveness if they work for the government or a nonprofit. Research the requirements needed to earn forgiveness. You will need to have made 120 qualifying monthly payments on an income-driven repayment plan while you were working full-time at a nonprofit organization or for the public sector (federal, state, local, or tribal).

Apply for A Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAPs)

If you have a federal assistance loan, you can apply for repayment assistance through several programs. Some examples of LRAPs include the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps Student Loan Repayment Program, the John R. Justice Program, and the Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program.

Managing Your Debt and Consolidating

Don’t allow your debt to get away with you. A 2020 ABA survey found that most law school graduates often owe more after graduating. One of the reasons is accruing interest. The best way to manage this is to pay the interest and some extra principal payments to prevent this increase.

Also, if you are paying off several student loans, consider consolidating them under one loan with the lowest interest rate, even if it means going to a private lender. The bottom line is to find the correct repayment term and monthly payment that fits your budget.

The Bottom Line

Legal professionals need several years to complete their studies and pass their bar exams before earning any money. With an average debt of $164,000, lawyers need an average of 20 years to pay this off. The timeframe is relatively high, but financial considerations don’t deter those who love their job.