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Unexpected Financial Emergency in Law School? Here Are Your Options.

Piggy bank in water - drowning in debt concept
By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. on December 10, 2019 9:26 AM

In an ideal world, you wouldn't have to focus on anything other than your studies and networking during law school. This being real life, unexpected events may lead to financial difficulty. The death of a parent or spouse supporting you financially can be more than just heartbreaking, it can also call into question your ability to remain in law school. Or you may be scrambling to meet basic needs when your car breaks down, leaving you unable to get to class. So what can you do?

First – Keep Your School Informed

Below are some of your options. But before we get into them, know that the most important thing is to speak to someone at your law school. Your law school should have resources to walk you through your various options. Try your financial aid office first.

Emergency and Short-Term Loans Directly From Your School

Emergency loans, as the name suggests, are intended for unforeseen events that make it impossible for you to meet basic living expenses. While not all schools offer these, those that do typically give $100 to $1,000 interest-free. This type of loan will vary depending on the school you go to and will have various eligibility requirements.

Emergency loans are limited in duration and amount, and may include a fee. They are loans, so you do have to pay them back. Failing to keep up with payments can lead to suspension. But if the issue is getting to class, affording medication or getting enough food, your school may help you with a one-time small loan that you pay back in a month or two.

Watch Out for Private Loans

Beware of private student “emergency loans." While they are similarly named, they are a different creature. Taking out a private loan will come with everything that private loans involve: interest (usually high), capitalization, etc.

Whether you should take out additional loans depends on your circumstances, goals and the comfort you have with paying off student loans for what could be decades after graduation. It will provide money when you need it most, but you must be comfortable with the inherent risk involved.

You should also know that many students report having difficulty finding the right legal job after law school, and most don't have a job set up at graduation. You've heard it before, but it bears repeating: Borrow the least amount possible.

Taking a Semester Off

It's not uncommon to go part-time or take a semester off when the unexpected occurs and your finances are just not adding up. It's a difficult decision. Taking a break from law school pushes back graduation. A gap in your education is something that may come up in interviews, although it shouldn't prohibit you from getting a job. It can also be difficult to come back. What about your situation is going to improve in a few months or a year?

On the other hand, taking time off can improve your performance when you do go back. It's hard to study when you are not sure about your living situation or how you'll get to class in the morning. Maybe a few months of work can allow you to re-focus and get out from the worst of the crisis.

Going Part-Time

Working full-time and going to law school is possible, although not easy.

The high-achiever path of prestigious law school, big law job, then partner or corporate counsel usually starts shortly after college and does not involve a part-time option. But that path also requires support from parents or hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans. There are many successful attorneys who obtained a law degree while working or who are already in the workforce. Again, it depends on how you want to use your degree and what school you go to.

In short – talk to your school, watch out for excessive student loan debt, and consider whether part time or a semester off is appropriate. And best of luck to you.

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