A common saying when I was young (in the last century) was the old adage that lawyers are people who wish to make a lot of money but are risk-averse.
That observation certainly rang true when I went to law school in the 1970s. I graduated from the University of Texas School of Law with a class of 500 students, and nearly all of us found decent jobs as lawyers.
Even better, my classmates and I finished law school with little or no debt. Tuition was only $500 a semester. Working part-time as a law clerk for the Texas Attorney General’s Office, I avoided student loans. I started my legal career debt-free, and I quickly found a good job practicing law.
But law school tuition has shot up dramatically since the days I went to law school. Tuition at UT’s School of Law is now $36,000 for in-state students–36 times what I paid.
And the job market for lawyers is terrible. Many people now leave law school with enormous debt and little prospect of finding employment in their field.
And this brings me to the case of Nystrand v. Kingdom of Sweden, filed last spring in a Tallahassee bankruptcy court.
Anneli Nystrand, a Swedish immigrant, graduated from the University of Miami School of Law in 1995. In my opinion, she did everything right.
Nystrand attended a respectable law school and paid off her student loans, although it took her 15 years. She passed the Florida bar exam and landed a job with the Florida Department of Banking and Finance, probably a pretty good gig.
Unfortunately, as the years rolled by, Ms. Nystrand’s financial situation deteriorated. In 2013-2014, approximately 18 years after graduating from law school, she was on the job market. Although she applied for more than 200 attorney positions, she did not get a single interview.
In 2016-2017, she found a law job that paid only $39,000 a year. In 2017-2018, she worked for a law firm and made $50,000 a year.
In 2019–more than 20 years after graduating from law school– Ms. Nystrand began accepting court-assigned cases for a flat fee. If she took a juvenile delinquency client, for example, she only received $377, which is less than the hourly rate of a corporate lawyer in a top-flight firm.
Her total income for 2019 was only $20,000. In 2020, Nystrand did a little better, earning $46,000 before deducting expenses.
In April of this year, Ms. Nystrand filed an adversary complaint in a Florida bankruptcy court against the Kingdom of Sweden, seeking to discharge student loans owed to that Scandanavian country.
I have no idea what that is about. Nystrand’s complaint does not state the amount of the debt or how it was incurred.
Nevertheless, I am on Ms. Nystrand’s side. I hope she is successful in clearing her debt to Sweden.
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Anneli Nystrand is one among hundreds of thousands of underemployed or unemployed attorneys who left law school with enormous debt. Now they are trying to build their careers in a soft job market–particularly for lawyers who attended second- or third-tier law schools.
Florida has 11 law schools–far too many. Ms. Nystrand is forced to compete in a job market for attorneys saturated with people looking for work.
All these unemployed or underemployed lawyers deserve reasonable access to bankruptcy courts. Senators Durbin and Cornyn’s bill would allow distressed student-loan debtors to get bankruptcy relief ten years after their student loans become due.
If that bill becomes law, people like Anneli Nyastrand would immediately benefit.
But one more thing needs to be done. The American Bar Association, which allegedly regulates legal education, needs to get off its ass and close down some law schools.
Nystrand v. Kingdom of Sweden, Case No. 21-400006-KKS (Bankr. N.D. Fla. Apr. 16, 2021 (adversary complaint).
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