Spending Money To Make Money: The Cost of Getting Your Law License
This year I graduated law school, took and passed the bar, and was admitted as an attorney in my state. It’s a given that law school itself is expensive. But like a lot of other professional programs, there are also tons of costs when you’re coming out of law school that I didn’t really think about until I had to. Since you have to be licensed in order to work and make that sweet professional salary, there’s no getting around some of them. For lawyers, of course, there’s the bar.
One option for law students are bar loans. My school was mysteriously quiet about this process, but they are the most common option for people who need to borrow in order to cover their post-grad expenses. Basically, your school confirms to the federal government that you will need extra funds to cover “education-related expenses” after you graduate. This allows you to then apply for more federal loans. If you miss the deadline to do this (December for my year), private loans are available, and are also called bar loans, and they typically come with the same or similar terms as most private student loans.
If it is at all possible, the best bet is to plan for this expense at the beginning of your final year: you can set aside any loan money you take out and earmark it for your bar expenses, or you can opt not to take out the maximum amount of federal loans offered to you, and go back and take it out later. This is what I was lucky enough to be able to do, and it’s worked out well.
Here were my expenses related to taking the bar and receiving my license:
Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (basically the bar exam on ethics): $80 (Failed.)
Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, again: $80 (Passed!)
Passport photos for entrance to MPREs: $24 ($12 x 2)
Bar Application: $950
Passport photos for application: $12
Credit card processing fee for application: $15
Bar prep class: $2600. This is a big one! My tip for this: Don’t be afraid to shamelessly make the competing companies bid against each other. One person I know called back and forth between two prep companies three times telling each what the other offered until he got an incredibly low rate. I’ve heard of people paying $900 and people paying $4,000.
Exam software fee: $100. Yes, you can handwrite for free if you feel you can write for 8 hours and edit under a time crunch and the pressure of the test. In a rage over this expense being sprung on me, I almost decided to handwrite out of defiance, but I’m glad I didn’t. Also the Examsoft software famously malfunctioned during my administration of the test and there are several class-action suits pending, so who knows? Maybe I’ll get some money back.
License fee: $5
Credit card processing fee for license: $1
Estimated extra spent on normal items, escalated because of the bar: $400 (Worth it.) When I was studying and anxious and mentally exhausted, I just didn’t have the discipline to stick to my normal spending habits. Costs for eating out, alcohol, expensive coffee, and last minute travel when I decided I absolutely had to hang out with my non-bar-taking friends over 4th of July weekend suddenly went up.
There’s been a lot of debate recently about whether a law degree is a smart investment anymore, and generally, the answer is maybe not. But legal work is something I really do feel passionate about, and I was lucky enough to be able to escape without a totally outrageous amount of debt, so so far I think it’s been a good idea for me. When I was just starting out in law school, and the bar exam seemed far away, a financial aid person told us, “Live like a lawyer when you’re in law school and you’ll live like a law student when you’re a lawyer.” It’s been hard, especially when some of my friends who have been working steadily since college have been able to buy houses and go on long vacations. But I’ve tried to remember the idea of living like a student during the past three years and now that I’m starting to make my loan payments, I do feel good knowing that I did everything I could to keep them to a manageable level. I’m working now, but only in a temporary role. I’m trying to spend wisely and only on things that I really care about so I can’t use being cheap as an excuse to skip networking events that might actually help get me a job. After the next year, the other costs of being a lawyer will kick in, like bar association dues and the fees to fulfill the required Continuing Legal Education credits. Fingers crossed by then I’ll be in a good enough position to not have to worry too much about them. In the meantime, it’s student-price beers in a my student-style apartment while I wait for my settlement check from Examsoft to come in.
Megan H. is a new lawyer in the Midwest who likes to read and write non-legal things too.