How much does a law degree really cost?

So how much does a law degree cost in Australia? A freaking lot, that’s how much! While blissful ignorance would be great when you apply for a law degree, calculating how much it will cost is important. A few sneaky fees might mean that it costs a lot more than you think.

law school money

Calculating the real cost of law school will determine whether you can afford to complete uni, or whether you might have to drop out after a few years – it can be that serious. 

This post will explain where the main costs will come from so that you’re fully informed when you start applying.

Fixed costs during your degree

University costs are out of your control and you have to pay them (unless you can find some scholarships to ease the load). Of course, you can shop around and find a better deal at a different university.

Course fees

Your tuition fees for law school will be the biggest direct cost of your degree. Further, they rise each year! Make sure you include an extra 2.5% or so each year (whatever inflation is, plus a little more just in case) so you don’t underestimate the total cost. 

When you total it all up, a full fee paying students costs might look something like this:

Year 1: $37,000

Year 2:  $37,000 x 1.025 = $37,925

Year 3: $37,925 x 1.025 = $38,873

Total: $113,798

(The 1.025 is the inflation – if you think will be more like 2 or 5%, then multiply by 1.02 or 1.05.)

law school cost
You wish…

Remember there is a significant difference between the yearly fees of a degree with CSP funding (generally only for undergraduate degrees, at around $10,000 – $13,000 per year) and a non-CSP place, being the full fee places (almost all JD degrees, which can be between $30,000 and $40,000 per year).

Student amenity fees

Usually a few hundred per semester. I honestly have no idea why these are needed when tuition costs are so high, but you’ll be paying them.

Library fees

Photocopying and printing will add up if you can’t do it for free (I’ve heard some Juris Doctor degree students get free photocopying). Tack on a few hundred a year if you need to pay.

Fixed costs after your degree

That’s right, the spending spree doesn’t stop once you’ve finished your degree. There are a number of further costs that you need to consider.

Practical Legal Training (PLT)

If you don’t secure a graduate job with a law firm that pays for your practical legal training, you will have to pay for this yourself. There are various providers and costs are around the $9,000 – $10,000 mark.

There will also be a period of work experience required during PLT which in almost all cases will be unpaid, so add this to the lost opportunity costs, discussed below.

Legal admission and practicing certificates

Again, if you don’t work at a law firm that will pay for this, then you will probably need to pay around $800 – $1200 for admission fees. It varies state to state so check out your local law society webpage.

The same goes for practicing certificates – add around $100.

Graduating

Graduating costs a few hundred dollars. A drop in the ocean at this stage!

graduate from law school

Other possible costs

Prescribed textbooks

First of all, there is absolutely no need to buy any of the prescribed textbooks. The first and last time I bought textbooks (secondhand) was for my first two subjects. The rest of the time I used library books (including the old editions which are never borrowed out).

If you want to buy textbooks, which makes things marginally easier and avoids any wrestling with the uni library rules, then  estimate the costs and add it to the total. A normal textbook will set you back around $80-100. Some subjects prescribe 2 textbooks, so find out how many subjects you will be studying and go from there ($150 per subject for a conservative guesstimate). 

Travel costs

Will you be driving? How much will petrol and parking cost? Or do you take public transport?

Printing and photocopying

Some universities provide photocopying for free. If not, add on $20 – 40 per subject.

Food

How much will lunch cost each day? Will you get free instant coffee at uni or will you be buying from a cafe? Some people will add these costs to the total and some think it is going a bit too far (we have to eat whether we are going to uni or not, right?). Do what you think is appropriate for you in this situation.

Lost opportunity costs

What are you going to be giving up by going to law school for the next few years? These costs are always overlooked but it is important to add them in because it will provide you with a more realistic picture of what your degree will cost you.

Work

If you are working full time it is likely that you will need to cut down to part time. How much will you forego over the next 3 or 4 years? Total it up and add it on to the cost.

For example, if you’re making $75,000 full time, and you need to drop back to 3 days per week, then your lost opportunity cost is $30,000 per year. Over three years that’s $90,000 (plus more if you were in line for any promotions).

 lost opportunity cost
This is really depressing, but on the other hand, being a lawyer is pretty cool!

Savings

If you will be using your savings to pay for law school then figure out how much you would have made in interest. This is probably only worth it if you had some substantial savings that you’re intending on burning through.

Here’s a tip: Don’t freak out!

How did you go? Heart racing a bit faster now? My costs were close to $250,000 (most of that lost opportunity costs), so sometimes I think I must have been crazy to continue with my application, but at the end of the day I’m glad that I did!

The point of this post isn’t to put anyone off studying law – it’s to provide you with enough information to make an informed decision.

Law school will cost as much as it costs, so if you’re going to attend, you need to factor these costs into your plan. It’s much better to go in prepared than turn a blind eye and start freaking out after a few months.

Remember, you are investing in yourself and your future!

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