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Law Office Management

Dec. 2, 2014

Q&A: Is your law school debt a problem and how are you dealing with it?

Five lawyers discuss how they deal with their student debt

Q: Is your debt from law school a significant problem, and what's your best strategy for dealing with it?

Emily Rubenstein

I started my own practice right out of law school, and it can be scarier in terms of loan debt to pay off. Luckily my debt burden is not one of the most extreme cases.

One of the most important things is to have foresight going in and think of law school as an investment. Part of making a smart investment is understanding your level of personal and financial commitment and the amount of risk that goes into any investment. I tried to plan ahead and research options to help mitigate some of the financial strain. UC Hastings offered loan counseling, for example. I would recommend any law student take advantage of that. It's part of what you're paying for.

Emily Rubenstein, founding partner at Emily Rubenstein Law in Encino, graduated from UC Hastings College of the Law in 2013. She specializes in family law.

Salina L. Sierra

It's a significant problem in the sense that I'm not really feeling that I can purchase a home or anything big like that. I am single so it is just my one income. I am basically paying a mortgage in law school debt in every month.

It is a matter of just figuring it out year by year. I started off doing the payments where it's very income based. But as your income rises, so does your payment so really it's just taking it a year at a time and doing what you can.

If you get a bonus, great! You can pay down your debt a little bit. But you really have to just wing it.

Salina L. Sierra specializes in family law. She graduated from John F. Kennedy University College of Law in 2010 and is now an attorney at Cordell & Cordell in Sacramento.

Kathryn L. Bain

It is definitely overwhelming. The payment plan I ended up using was a graduated payment. It started out a lot lower and every two years it went up, so that made it a lot more manageable in the beginning. I also went to a loan counselor at Hastings for some advice.

My best advice to new attorneys would be to let them know they do have options. There are deferments, and there are definitely ways to make the payments lower in the beginning and make the payments higher over a number of years.

I have made a pretty big dent. It has been about six years, and I can see now that I have made progress. I can see an end in sight.

Kathryn L. Bain, who specializes in employment law and personal injury with Bain Mazza & Debski in San Mateo, graduated from UC Hastings College of the Law in 2008 and is now a founding partner.

Matt Edling

It took maybe three or four years for me to pay off my debt, but it didn't dictate my job selection. But what it does do is it slows how fast you can make your own individual financial decisions, from something as simple as renting a big apartment to something as complicated as buying your first home. It dictates where you choose to live and where you choose to practice. You just live well within your means to do it. So my wife and I lived in a smaller apartment in a rent-control area and saved our money. And, I should add, we had dual incomes.

Matt Edling, who graduated from UC Hastings College of the Law in 2007, specializes in financial and commercial litigation as a principal at Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy in Burlingame.

Paul Wilkins

My wife and I met in law school so we accumulated [sizable debt]. Fortunately we both went into public service as prosecutors, and McGeorge has some loan forgiveness for people who work in the public sector. Our strategy was to focus on the unsubsidized loans and really divert all of our income to paying off the ones with the highest interest rates and then work our way down.

We cut down on other things. We decided not to purchase a house but to pay off debt instead, which was a major decision that we kind of struggled with. But both of us were fortunate enough not to have any undergraduate loans, so all we accumulated was from law school. My law debt is, in essence, paid off. My wife has some that will be forgiven in a year.

One of the perks of not being in debt is you have a little bit of flexibility.

Paul Wilkins specializes in criminal defense and trust and estate litigation with the Law Office of Paul A. Wilkins in San Carlos. He graduated from University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in 2007.

Riley Guerin

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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