Practicing Law on a Shoestring

practicing law on a shoestring

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Budget, that is, and for lawyers just starting out, every penny counts. Just ask the people at The Frugal Lawyer, an online resource for lawyers on a budget.

This is true for those joining a firm, and even more true for those who want to start their own firm, because getting to this stage was not cheap, and succeeding means sacrifice.

A Law Degree Costs …

If you go to Harvard, a private law school, and you waive the LL.M. degree, you will end up paying $58,242 per year for three years for a JD (Juris Doctor) degree. This includes tuition, dormitory housing, food, health insurance, health service fees, dental insurance, books, supplies, an activity fee, and  personal and transportation expenses. This is after you have sustained the cost of about three years of study toward a bachelor’s degree, and assumes you will go to law school full time. If you choose part time, it’s even more expensive.

If you are married, add $15,360. If you have a child, add another $7,800.


Don’t waive the LL.M. degree, and you’re looking at a base cost of $59,550 for that year alone. Nor is Harvard the exception. The top ten public law schools in the United States will cost between $25,000 and $45,000 per year, on average. The least expensive is probably the University of Oklahoma. A step up from that, in costs, is the Clark Law School at Brigham Young University ($11,970, members only price).

At the opposite end of the country, in Washington D.C., the David A. Clarke School of Law is also highly affordable ($11,516) because it allows students to use community service time to offset tuition and some fees.

How to Stay Lean (But Not Mean) …

As a graduate, you have acquired a valuable piece of paper – your law degree – but this is not the time to turn frugal into frivolous. Some things are essential – like insurance, professional memberships, and a holiday gift for your boss if you have one. Other things aren’t. You will have to learn to distinguish between the two.

Until you are comfortable doing so, continue to economize in large and small ways. You already have a cell phone: consider buying another, adding a user to your service, and making the second cellie a dedicated business phone in place of a landline.

Curb impulse buying by evaluating the cost of an  item against your wages. Speaking of shoestrings,  if you make $30 an hour, and your new Nikes cost $120, you will have to spend four grueling hours of research to pay for them (shudder)!  

Cutting the Coffee Cost

Coffee is another big expense for some people. Starbucks stocks are worth a small fortune: so is their coffee. At an average $4.00 per serving, and an average two containers per day, coffee drinkers are spending about $2,112 per year (not counting scones).

Get over yourself, buy a can of coffee and a pot, and take this essential beverage to work in a thermos. You could save enough for a vehicle down payment. You might even become a meme, especially if you start carrying a metal lunchbox complete with homemade lunch!

While you are getting past yourself, consider shopping thrift and discount stores. Thrift store clothing is just fine for relaxing and recreation once it is washed. For work, consider outlets like Burlington Coat Factory in the Twin Cities (a good men’s suit for $45!). Elsewhere, choose major brand online clothing outlet stores like Tommy Hilfiger, The Outnet, J. Crew, REI – even Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Or search OutletBound for actual outlet malls in your state.

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