Nearly all students must take out at least some law school loans to cover the cost of their legal education. Overall, you want to borrow as little money as possible to go to law school; not only will a lower debt load give you more career options (you won't have to worry about finding a high-paying job just to pay off debt), but it will also free you of your debt obligations sooner -- and the sooner you're debt-free, the better.
What follows are five ways to minimize law student loans; make sure you also check How to Minimize Law School Loans: Part II for more tips.
1. Apply for scholarships.
While outside scholarships are always good resources to explore, you should also determine whether the schools you are interested in attending offer internal scholarships as well; you often have to apply for these at the same time as you hand in your application, so be sure to check deadlines and requirements.
If you've been awarded a scholarship or financial aid package at more than one school, don't be afraid to use this as leverage to try to get a bigger award at your school of choice. Contact the financial aid office, and let them know that other schools are also offering you money to go there; you just might see your original scholarship offer or overall package adjusted to make your first choice school even more attractive.
3. Investigate loan forgiveness programs.
While the federal government has loan forgiveness programs, so do many individual law schools, particularly for students entering public interest. Many of these programs require a commitment to public service for a certain number of years following graduation and can be an efficient to satisfy your law school debt.
4. Borrow from the federal government.
The law school loans with the best interest rates are almost always those offered through the government, so be sure to fill out your FAFSA and see how much you are eligible to borrow before pursuing loans from private lenders.
5. Consider your potential future salary.
Many students enter law school assuming they will be in that top 10% to 20% that receives offers from large law firms with starting six-figure salaries. Obviously not everyone can be in that group -- and indeed, in the current economy, securing a job with Big Law is becoming ever more challenging.
Honestly assess your potential income level, use a loan calculator to figure out how much you can afford to pay back each month, and borrow accordingly.