Time is running out for students who want to withdraw from Texas’ nine American Bar Association-accredited law schools and still recoup some of their tuition money.

While tuition refund policies vary, Lone Star State law schools generally use a sliding scale, with the last chance to get a refund ending about a month after classes begin.

South Texas College of Law Dean Donald J. Guter says he told students at his school’s Aug. 9 orientation that they had about 10 days after the orientation to drop out and receive a full refund.

“One of the things I said at orientation this year — straight out — is, ‘If you’re in here, you know what the job market is, you know what debt you’re piling up, and you need to make a decision,’ ” Guter told Texas Lawyer in August. “ Don’t hesitate. If you’re not sure you have a passion for the law, do a re-evaluation in the first days so you can have your money back. We don’t want to take your money.’ “

Guter, also president of the Houston school, estimates that about 10 incoming students decided law school was not for them, but the students had made the decision before orientation.

“So those strong comments didn’t dissuade anyone,” Guter says. “Apparently, the no-shows had nothing to do with what I said.”

Law Dean Dannye R. Holley of Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston says Guter’s remarks have merit.

“In this environment it looks a bit more risky to enter law school, and once you get fully informed . . . you may decide — if you were still wavering — that it’s not for you,” Holley says.

While Holley did not outline the refund policy when he spoke to students at Thurgood Marshall’s Aug. 20 orientation, he says he did talk about the legal job market and told them to make sure to have a plan for how to use their law degree and to be committed to school. He says he noted that a law degree is no longer a “guarantee for future riches or even the upper middle class.”

Holley says none of the incoming students who attended orientation dropped out before classes began.

According to Thurgood Marshall registrar Trudy Green, law students receive a full refund of their tuition if they withdraw before classes start; 80 percent during the first week of school; 70 percent during the second week; 50 percent during the third week; 20 percent during the fourth week; and nothing after Sept. 23.

No students withdrew from the entering class at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, says John Attanasio, dean of the private Dallas law school. “It’s very hard to get in here . . . so people tend not to withdraw,” he says. “It’s also a big decision. So I think by the time they’ve gone through the process and been successful in the process, they tend not to withdraw.”

According to the school’s website, the school’s refund policy allows students to receive a refund of 100 percent if they withdraw prior to the first day of school, which was Aug. 17; 90 percent through the fifth day of school; 50 percent through the 10th day of the term; 25 percent though the 15th day of the term; and 10 percent through the 20th day of the term.

The most common method students use to pay for law school is government loans, Attanasio says. “They can even borrow for their living expenses, as well,” he says.

Money Back

At Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock, where classes began Aug. 20, students could receive a full refund before the first day of class; 80 percent during the first week; 70 percent the second week; 50 percent the third week; 25 percent the fourth week; and nothing after that.

Christine Blakney, managing director for student business services at Texas Tech School of Law, says all state-funded universities follow the same refund schedule, as required in Texas Education Code §54.006.

She cannot provide statistics on law student withdrawals from the entering class this fall, but she says law students are “pretty well committed” by the time they register. “I really don’t see a high withdrawal rate from our law school, and I think it’s because their registration is handled on pretty much a one-on-one level as opposed to undergrads,” Blakney says.

At the University of Houston Law Center, also a state school that follows the §54.006 schedule, students would have received a full tuition refund had they withdrawn before classes started on Aug. 27. There will be no refunds after Sept. 25, according to information provided by spokeswoman Carrie Criado.

She says one entering class student withdrew from the law school this fall due to a death in the student’s family.

Raymond Nimmer, dean of the UH Law Center, says he didn’t discuss the school’s refund policy when he spoke with incoming students at orientation.

“I told them that I thought they had made a good choice and that they chose a good school and a great profession and I envied them for starting into a career path that I started a long time ago and never regretted . . .,” Nimmer says. “I thought they would have a wonderful time as professionals once they came through the school. I did not at all suggest they should give a second thought to joining the legal profession.”

Nimmer says it’s normal for a few students to drop out during the first few weeks for various reasons, but “you are talking about adults, and I think they made, over an extended period, a series of judgments as to what they want to do.”

The University of Texas School of Law in Austin follows the §54.006 schedule, which provides for no refund after the fourth week of classes. Spokeswoman Kirston Fortune says one student in the entering class has withdrawn this fall to attend another law school, but she did not know which law school.

Law Dean Ward Farnsworth did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

At Baylor University School of Law in Waco, no students from the fall entering class have withdrawn. However, according to the refund policy for the fall of 2012, students at the private law school could receive a full refund before classes started on Aug. 29 and less than that each day until the refund dips to 41 percent of tuition on Oct. 9. There are no refunds as of Oct. 10.

Baylor law Dean Bradley Toben did not return two telephone calls seeking comment.

At St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, a private school where classes started on Aug. 20, students could receive a full refund during the first week. The refund dropped to 75 percent during the second week of class; 50 percent during the third week of class; and 25 percent during the fourth week. Sept. 14 was the last day for refunds on withdrawals, according to the school’s academic calendar.

Dean Charles Cantú did not return two telephone calls seeking comment.

At South Texas College of Law, a private law school where classes started on Aug. 13, students could receive a 100 percent refund after registration and through the first week of classes; 75 percent through the second week of classes, 50 percent through the third week of classes and 25 percent through the fourth week of classes, according to information on the law school’s website.

Tuition refunds for students who withdraw from Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in Fort Worth are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, says Cristina Noriega, a communications specialist at the school.

One student has withdrawn from the incoming class of students at Texas Wesleyan, says Arturo Errisuriz, assistant dean for career services and acting assistant dean of admissions and scholarships. Errisuriz says the student withdrew for personal reasons.

“You would think there would be more [withdrawals], given the job market and economy and all that,” he says.

Plus there’s the crushing student loan debt.

“I think folks that are here are committed,” Errisuriz says.

He says that four students had withdrawn from the entering class by this time last year. He notes there has been a lot of media attention paid lately to the difficulty of finding legal jobs and says that perhaps students read that information before arriving on campus.

Errisuriz notes, “If they have read the articles, and if they are here, they are here to stay.”

The Top Five Reasons Students Withdraw From Law School

1. Personal issues.
2. Family matters.
3. Work-related matters.
4. Time and commitment required exceeds what they can handle.
5. Fear of the Socratic method, speaking in public and being called on in class.
— Arturo Errisuriz
assistant dean for career services and acting assistant dean of 
admissions and scholarships
Texas Wesleyan University School of Law
Fort Worth

Tuition at Texas Law Schools
Law School 2012-2013 Full-Time Entering Students’ Tuition and Fees (Nonresident)
Baylor University School of Law* $46,420
St. Mary’s University School of Law* $30,566
South Texas College of Law* $27,000
Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law* $44,017
Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law $16,446 ($21,396)
Texas Tech University School of Law $22,518 ($32,148)
Texas Wesleyan University School of Law* $30,580
University of Houston Law Center $29,820 ($39,771)**
University of Texas School of Law $33,162 ($49,244)
* Private law school.
** Annual tuition for entering students increased because the school added one credit hour plus applicable fees to the first-year curriculum. Previously, that credit hour was taken in the second or third year.
Source: the law schools.
Texas Lawyer, September 2012