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September 15, 2021

ABA to release student debt survey results during Student Debt Week of Action

CHICAGO, Sept. 15, 2021 — The American Bar Association will host a panel to discuss the findings of “Student Debt: The Holistic Impact on Today’s Young Lawyer,” at a livestream to the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) Facebook page on Tuesday, Sept. 21, at 1 p.m. EDT.

The report, prepared by YLD and Access Lex Institute Center for Legal Education Excellence®, features select findings from the 2021 ABA YLD student loan survey. The findings detail how most young lawyers struggle to pay off their student loans and some wind up heavier in debt after years of repayments because of accumulating interest. As a result, many suffer from mental health issues and postpone major life decisions because of their debt load:

  • 65% said they suffered from high stress or overwhelming stress because of their law school debt.
  • A majority of respondents reported they lacked a clear understanding of the legal job market and the cost/debt associated with law school attendance prior to enrolling.
  • Respondents with higher loan balances were more likely to show signs of stress – over 70 percent of those with $100,000-$200,000 and over 80 percent of those with over $200,000 reported high or overwhelming stress.
  • A majority of those with more than $100,000 in debt agreed that their loan obligation has caused them to feel depressed or hopeless.
  • Rates of pre-law understanding and satisfaction with the decision to attend law school declined as debt balances increased.

More than 1,300 lawyers under age 36 who earned a law degree or who were licensed in the last 10 years completed the questionnaire, which was conducted in May 2021. The data was analyzed by AccessLex.

Additional survey results reiterated findings similar to a 2020 YLD survey – that 90% of respondents borrowed education loans for their J.D. or prior degrees, owing an average of $130,000; that Black borrowers reported higher J.D. debt balances than any other racial/ethnic group; and that 51% of respondents postponed or decided not to buy a house, 39% said they postponed or decided not to have children and 27% postponed or decided not to get married. 

Some examples of the consequences of this debt are detailed on “The Impact of Student Loans on Attorneys” infographic.

The panel will feature Aaron Sohaski, team director of the ABA YLD Student Loans and Financial Wellness Team, Chris Jennison, special advisor to the YLD Student Loans and Wellness Team, and Tiffane Cochran, director of research at AccessLex.

The event is being held during Student Debt Week of Action Sept. 20-24, when ABA members are joining more than a dozen national professional groups to urge the White House and Congress to relieve the burdens of heavy student loan debt on recent graduates

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at and on Twitter @ABANews.