Seven years after graduating from law school, 66% of graduates still have debt and the average amount is approximately $57,000, according to the preliminary results of a new survey.

Initial findings of the survey also showed differences by gender and race, with women more likely to carry a larger debt than men, and minorities more likely to owe more than whites.

The results are a part of a study of new lawyers called “After the JD.” In the study’s first wave, the graduates were surveyed in 2002. Preliminary results of the study’s second wave were released earlier this month in Toronto at an annual conference of the NALP, formerly known as The National Association for Law Placement.

The survey includes responses collected from 4,320 people who graduated from U.S. law schools in 2000. The respondents � most of whom also took part in the study’s first wave � were this time surveyed from 2007 through March 2008. The presenters stressed the data is preliminary and could change.

The debt appears to exist across all sectors, including private law firms and government jobs, said Gita Z. Wilder, a senior social science researcher at the NALP. She said preliminary findings indicated women owed slightly more � $57,338 � compared with men’s debt of $56,251.

“It seemed significant to us because it’s beginning to look as if the two genders are diverging,” Wilder said during her presentation.

Debt concerns

Women expressed more concern about debt than men, and debt played a larger role in influencing their decisions, Wilder said. But the amount of debt did not seem to influence all personal decisions, with the decision whether to have children least likely to be affected, she said. As far as race, it appeared that Hispanics were most likely to be concerned about debt.

The preliminary results showed 88% of lawyers surveyed in the study’s second wave had full-time employment, compared with 92% in the study’s first wave, in 2002, said another presenter, Ronit Dinovitzer, professor in the sociology department at the University of Toronto.

Seven percent worked part-time and 4% were unemployed. Women were more likely than men to work part-time and to be unemployed, she said.

About 55% of lawyers worked in private law firms, 15% worked for the government and 8.5% were in solo practice, said presenter Joyce Sterling, professor of law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Initial results seemed to indicate that the number of lawyers in private practice has declined from the first wave of the study, she said.

Preliminary results also showed that men were more likely than women to be equity partners, and that blacks and Hispanics were more likely than whites to be in solo practice.

The survey’s full results are expected to be released by the end of the summer, and a conference on the findings will most likely be held in February, said Robert L. Nelson, director and MacCrate chair in the legal profession at the American Bar Foundation.

The study is funded by a number of sources, including the NALP, the NALP Foundation and the American Bar Foundation.