We all know it — law school is expensive! Many law students find themselves investing upwards of $150,000 to earn their J.D.
So as you apply to law school, figuring out how to finance your legal education is probably top of mind. It is common to take out student loans. However, there are many scholarship opportunities for law students that can offer financial assistance for your legal education. Taking advantage of these opportunities will not only help alleviate the student loan burden as you begin your career, but it can also open doors to some important professional networks.
Here are some tips in pursuing scholarship opportunities to help finance your legal education.
Apply for scholarships funded by law schools
First, start with the law schools where you’re applying or where you’ve been admitted. Some of them will consider you for merit based or need based financial aid and scholarships as part of your application process. They may ask you to write a special essay or check a box when you submit your law school application, to indicate that you’d like to be considered for a particular scholarship fund. Some schools may invite you to apply for a scholarship after you’ve been admitted. Be sure to take advantage of all such opportunities to be considered for scholarships.
Come Spring before you begin law school, you will hopefully have at least a handful of acceptances — and some of the law schools that accepted you may have also offered you a scholarship. If you have at least one scholarships offer, you can use that to negotiate with other law schools. For example, if X law school has offered you a merit based scholarship of $20,000 per year, but Y law school has not, write a letter to Y law school outlining what you have received from X. It is important that such communications be written graciously and with humility – the goal is to express how grateful you are to be admitted, but that you are leaning toward a more financially doable option. At Stratus, we have seen clients negotiate tens of thousands of dollars in additional scholarship money simply by sharing what you have been offered elsewhere.
Apply for local, state or national bar association scholarships
Attorneys are organized within bar associations, and bar associations exist at the local, state and national level. Bar associations often provide their own scholarships or they serve as a clearinghouse for scholarships. For example, the American Bar Association lists a wide range of scholarships programs. The San Francisco Bar Association offers an annual scholarship as well. Scholarships can range from $1,000-$20,000. But you’re not just getting the cash award – in most instances, there are attorneys ready and willing to serve as mentors for you as you move through law school and begin your legal career. Apply for the funding, but once you secure the funding, begin taking advantage of the professional relationships, too.
Apply for affinity bar association scholarships programs
Affinity bar associations are organizations that build community among attorneys from a particular racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, or other diverse background. Examples include the South Asian Bar Association, the Hispanic National Bar Association, and the National LGBT Bar Association. These groups are interested in supporting young law students who share their backgrounds. If you identify as diverse, there are many such scholarships programs out there that you should explore — but it all starts with research. A few resources to help you get started:
Again, there will be attorneys eager to mentor and support you within these affinity bar associations, too. Apply for the funding, but then continue leveraging these networks and relationships.
Keep looking for scholarships!
You shouldn’t stop looking for scholarship funds after you start your 1L year! Build in a few hours each winter break and summer vacation to keep researching scholarships. There are some scholarships that are geared specifically for 2Ls or 3Ls. And as you begin honing in on what type of law you want to practice, there may also be scholarships specifically for that particular field, such as trial law or public interest law.
While the cost of law school is certainly daunting, you don’t have to finance it through just loans or family support. Applying for the types of scholarships discussed in this article can lead to thousands of dollars of free support for your law degree — as well as important professional relationships that can last throughout your career.