Thursday, May 27, 2010
I always enjoy hearing about famous people who were once lawyers. Apparently, Gerard Butler has a law degree and worked at a law firm while he sang in a band. He had a little problem with attendance, though. If you fast-forward to about 4:50, you can watch him discuss his distinguished legal career.
For those who have the audacity to ask you, here's your answer: 'I didn't like being a lawyer.' 'But you spent so much cash on it?' 'I didn't like being a lawyer.' 'But it took three years!' 'I didn't like being a lawyer.' 'But what about your future?' 'I didn't like being a lawyer.'"
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Bennett notes that if private student loans are rendered dischargeable in bankruptcy, as they were prior to 2005, this would increase the risk to lenders, leading to higher interest rates for those seeking professional degrees, which are almost certainly financed in part through private loans. It would also discourage low- to moderate-income borrowers from pursuing these degrees due to high loan costs. He does not provide any data supporting these assumptions. One would think it would not be difficult to provide such data, considering private loans have only been protected for a little less than 5 years.
Bennett's solution is for the government to get out of the student loan business and let the market sort it out. Private lenders could assess a borrower's risk of defaulting on the loan and set the interest rate accordingly. There are a few problems with this solution. First, most first-year college students would not qualify for an unsecured private loan without a co-signer with good credit. Which leaves a huge chunk of college-bound hopefuls with their cheese out in the wind. (I, myself, could never have qualified for a private loan during my undergraduate career, nor did I have parents or relatives who could co-sign for me.)
Second, even if private lenders are prohibited from turning down a borrower due to poor credit or no credit (which is the policy of federally-backed loans), then increasing the interest rate seems like it would adversely affect only those students who do not come from well-off or even middle-class families who can co-sign for these loans to get lower interest rates.
Finally, setting the interest rate at the time a student applies for the loan does not make much sense since the student's credit-worthiness will most likely go up after he or she earns the degree (J.D.'s excluded, of course). So, you could have a student with no credit, no co-signer and no income, sign up for a loan at 10% and then graduate with a nursing degree with $50K in student loans. If the student secures gainful employment upon graduating, it seems like the interest rate should reflect the student's likelihood of repaying the loan at that point (when he or she is entering a field with high demand and good income potential), not four years prior, when the student had no money, no credit, and no prospects.
Bennett also proposes that colleges share in the risk of student loan defaults. This would create an incentive for colleges to actually provide valuable educations, as they promise. I agree with Bennett on this one. Too many institutions of higher education are focused on enrolling as many students as possible and forgetting that about 90% of all undergraduate programs are basically worthless (take it from a PoliSci major).
Do you think student loans should be dischargeable in bankruptcy? Should colleges be held accountable when students default on loans?
Monday, May 24, 2010
My job is not exactly easy, but it is the sort of job that one does not take home with her, so I look forward to my afternoons and evenings. After work, I am free to read, write, and take my dog to the park. In my old life, I would come home from work and immediately log onto job search websites, wondering how I could manipulate my resume somehow to hide my legal career from prospective employers. Sometimes I would even crawl straight into bed with a glass of wine and tell my husband that I didn't really feel like talking until after work on Friday; I simply didn't have the strength.
The not-so-easy aspects of my job? My computer skills are rusty. I am required to make a number of spreadsheets, so I use Excel quite a bit. It's hard to remember all the formulas, so I sometimes have to google the answer when I get stuck. Also, I update the company's website on a daily basis, which requires a basic knowledge of HTML. Again, not my strong suit. But I'm hanging in there, hoping if I do a good enough job, I will have a non-legal reference to carry with me on my transition out of the law.
Is it bad that I don't mind being a peon? Do any of you attorneys or J.D.'s out there dream of a life with less stress and more freedom?
Do you think being a lawyer is worth it? If you had to do it over again, would you have gone to law school?
Fortunately, the student loan crisis is being covered more in the media lately, undoubtedly due to the high unemployment rate and a push by congressional democrats to make private student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy. Tess Stovall wrote a great piece for the Huffington Post about student loan reform. She points out that borrowers may only deduct $2500 in interest, which is not that much considering the enormous debt many graduates carry, particularly law school graduates. (Stovall claims the average law school graduate carries $93k in student loan debt.) She suggests that the student loan deduction should be raised to $3500 and unemployment deferments should stay all interest from accruing, regardless of loan type.
I agree, but I don't think these reforms go far enough in addressing the student loan crisis. My husband and I pay $600 per month toward student loan debt, which is $7200 per year. Only a fraction of that goes toward the principal, since I am on a graduated repayment plan. In fact, for the first year and a half of repayment, none of my payments went toward the principal. Yet, I was only allowed to deduct $2500 in interest. So, according to the government, my wealth increased the first year of repayment by $4700 (since the assumption is that $4700 went toward a reduction in the principal balance, while the remaining $2500 went toward interest). This is simply not true, nor is it good policy. Given the state of the economy and the "jobless recovery," the government should give more consideration to the thousands (if not millions) of graduates who are struggling to repay loans for degrees that are failing to pay off as promised.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
1. Monday Morning by Melanie Fiona
4. All My Friends by LCD Soundsystem
5. The Final Countdown by Europe
6. Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves
7. You're the Best by Joe Esposito
8. The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades by Timbuk3
9. Float On by Modest Mouse
10. Money Can't Buy You Class by Countess Luann (Just kidding!!)
What songs motivate you? I would love to add to my playlist!
Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
The other three? Two will be hanging out their own shingles (one of them claims he will be joining a friend who already has her own small practice, but in reality, that's hanging out your own shingle). One will run for state legislature in his home state of Maine.
What struck me about this panel is that these are all Georgetown graduates. Georgetown is consistently ranked in the top 10-15 law schools. If these people are having trouble finding work, imagine all the poor suckers who took out six-figure loans to go to tier 2, 3, and 4 schools.
I wonder what would happen if all of the law graduates who failed to find what their school promised stopped paying their loans? I guess they'd probably all get judgments and garnishments against them, but what if they all lobbied Congress? There might not be a whole lot of sympathy, considering there was a lot of criticism toward the sub prime mortgage bunch. But at least Congress got behind the sub prime mortgage crisis and developed programs to help them out. Maybe student loans could get restructured as well. Perhaps interest rates could be cut to 1% or the balance could be spread out over a longer term.
There is a loan forgiveness program for those who find work in the public sector, but this only benefits people who have actually found work. What about the unemployed or underemployed J.D.'s out there?
For all you lawyers and law graduates out there, how did your job search go? And do you think there is anything to be done about the law student loan crisis?
Friday, May 21, 2010
I loved the attorneys I worked with (emphasis on "attorneys" because one of the paralegals there was a complete bitch to me, although we never actually worked together so I never figured that one out). I liked the fact that I represented the underdog in most cases. I liked those few and far between moments of victory, and the even rarer occasions when a client actually thanked me for a job well done.
But every day, I felt like a phony because I had absolutely no passion for what I was doing. I slowly realized over three years of practicing that I could not stay in a soul-crushing career just to experience those few and far between moments. I cried at night when I thought about years ago, when I dreamed of being a writer or working with animals. Then in the morning I would get up and stare at Westlaw all day, trying to muster the motivation to begin yet another tedious brief or motion.
I looked for work for months, with no prospects in sight. I thought about the fact that each day I lived was a day closer to death, and that I was wasting precious days feeling unhappy and afraid that I would never again feel hopeful about the future.
So I quit and began working as a temp. A couple weekends ago, my husband and I went camping (with our dog) and I read him one of my scary short stories before we fell asleep in our tent. I felt like myself again, happy to be sharing my writing with someone I love and not dreading Monday morning, when I would have to go back to Hell, also known as My Office.
So that's why I quit. I didn't want to be a phony anymore. I am bitter about my debt, but it's mostly my fault. I'll get over it, though. I just need a few more weekends camping with my husband.
Image courtesy of Federico Stevanin.
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Another interesting article by Elie Mystal at Above the Law. I'd heard about a 0L who solicited donations online to pay for her law school tuition. Apparently, her intent was to have other people pay for her tuition so she could help the less fortunate (read: corporations and possibly a German immigrant or two).
She has now abandoned her mission due to mean-spirited comments online. Normally, I don't agree with the philosophy that the ends justify the means, but in this case I'll make an exception. The fewer law students out there, the better.
Image Courtesy of Image: Maggie Smith / FreeDigitalPhotos.net'>Maggie Smith.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
The Next Bubble: Law School Tuition
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At first, I felt a little sad about selling them, like I was saying good-bye to all the dreams I had before I went to law school. Dreams that I would become the next Alan Dershowitz. Dreams that my family would be proud of me and my distinguished legal career. Dreams that I would find happiness and financial security beyond my wildest dreams, despite growing up dirt poor.
The truth is I don't miss these books at all. Nor do I miss practicing law. Yet. More on that later...
Have any of you recovering or practicing lawyers sold your textbooks? Why or why not?
Image courtesy of Carlos Porto.
My husband made an interesting point, though. Since we are now living on a budget, we seem to have more money than we did when I worked full-time as an attorney. He's right. We have cut back a lot on our spending, which leaves us with more discretionary income. My concern is that so far, we have not saved anything. I would like to start putting away about $30 per week. In a year, that's $1560. It doesn't seem like a lot, but at least it is an increase in savings, rather than stagnancy. Since leaving my law job, my savings account balance has not increased at all, so $30 per week would be a good start.
Of course, if I didn't have those income-crushing law loans to repay, my husband and I would have tons of money saved. At least I can console myself with the knowledge that in only 25 short years, those loans will be completely paid off!
What about all of you practicing attorneys and recovering attorneys out there - what are your savings goals? Has the field of law given you more or less financial security?
Image courtesy of Daniel St.Pierre.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Remember the scene in the Wizard of Oz when the main characters discover the wizard is not so magical after all? It sort of reminds me of a blog I recently came across, entitled, "Exposing the Law School Scam." It completely sucked me in. The lawyers on this blog contend that law school is nothing more than a "man behind the curtain" scenario, as in the Wizard of Oz. Law schools falsely advertise misleading employment and salary statistics and trick uninformed young hopefuls into believing that a J.D. is a magical, Golden Ticket into the land of wealth and prosperity. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
At least that's what the lawyers at "Exposing the Law School Scam" claim. I can't say I experienced the same trouble finding gainful employment after law school, but I will say that I definitely had a rosier picture of the legal profession when I entered law school than when I left it. I recall attending orientation about a week before the start of my 1L year, when one of the deans pontificated on how many doors a law degree opens. Pffft. Man, if only I had a time machine and a large polo mallet. The only "doors" my law degree opened were to my therapist's office and the temp agency for which I currently work.
It's not all the law school's fault, though. Sure, they probably inflated their employment statistics, but that's not the real problem I have with them. My beef is they tell incoming law students that a law degree is a great career investment for just about any field you may want to enter. This is simply not true. The truth is a law degree is a terrific investment if you want to be a practicing attorney. If not, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT GO TO LAW SCHOOL. It is a waste of time and money unless you are absolutely, positively, one hundred percent sure that you want to represent clients for 60+ hours per week, most of which will be spent arguing with other attorneys and reviewing long-winded case law in search of a magic piece of dicta that you can include in your brief to win your client's case. If this does not sound like an appealing career path, run, don't walk, to the registrar's office and drop all of your classes. If you do it soon enough at the start of the semester, you may even get some of your tuition back.
My other beef with law schools is what they do not tell you at orientation: if you do not fall within the top 10-20% of your class, you will not be earning a six-figure salary upon graduation. The reason they do not tell you this is because were it not for the bottom 80-90% of students, there would be no such thing as the order of the coif. Big Law firms could not tell their clients that "our attorneys were all in the top twenty percent of their law school classes." So, law schools and big firms need that bottom 80-90% in order to distinguish the great legal minds of tomorrow from the Lionel Hutzes of the legal world. The truth is that if you do not rise to the top of your class, you will most likely be working as a prosecutor or public defender, or will be working for a small firm that will pay you only a fraction of what Big Law pays, which will probably not be enough to cover your law school debt. The other alternative is that you can hang out your own shingle, which, from what I've heard, is not exactly lucrative.
What do you think of the law school scam? For those of you who did not graduate in the top 20%, what kind of work did you find after law school?
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Most of my applications received no response. I applied at non-profits for office manger and receptionist positions (I have a great deal of administrative office experience). I applied at hospitals for patient advocate positions (who better to be an advocate than a trial attorney?). I applied for paralegal positions. Nothing. Not even a rejection letter.
Then, I applied for a State paralegal position. This required me to complete an exam, which consisted of answering several essay questions outlining my experience and skills. I ranked number 2 (!!) and was offered an interview. This consisted of meeting with a panel of attorneys who asked me the exact same questions I answered on the essay test (??), and a few days later I was called in for a second interview. During the second interview, I felt confident that everything was going well. Until the very last question. One of the interviewers looked at me and said, "I'm a little concerned that you have a law degree, and this is only a paralegal position."
I was fuming. This could have been brought up at the beginning of my first interview, and instead, the interview had been rigged so that I would end on a low note. No matter how you slice it, having to explain why I was switching from practicing law to a support position would involve some negativity. I tried to spin it in a positive way, explaining that I did not enjoy the adversarial nature of law, and that supporting people and organizing projects are areas in which I excel. No dice. I received the rejection letter a week later.
In the meantime, I continued to go to work everyday, arguing with prosecutors about how much jail time my wife-beating, drunk-driving clients should receive, and writing threatening letters to insurance companies on personal injury cases. I died a little more each day. Which is why I continued applying for jobs, even though I knew most of them would never get past an initial screener's eyes since I had two scarlet letters on my resume: J.D.
There were many nights when I came home and cried to my husband about how much I hated myself for choices I had made. I had made a poor decision to spend thousands of dollars on a law degree, which left me $80,000 in debt. I had made a poor decision to stay in law school even after I realized I never wanted to be an attorney. I had made a poor decision to practice law, which only made it harder for employers to believe that I would not be "bored" in another line of work. He tried to be supportive, even telling me at one point to quit my job and just focus on my job search. This would basically mean that we would be living paycheck to paycheck with absolutely no luxuries and barely enough money to even eat. Don't get me wrong - my husband makes an awesome living (about $80,000 per year), but with my student loans, which are about $600 per month, and the fact that we are in about the 28% tax bracket, my husband only brings home about $46,000 per year. With our mortgage, my student loans, and our cars, we would not be able to afford cable, any travel, clothing, books, fuel, or even enough for groceries. So I chose to stick it out.
But, I decided to change my approach to the job search. I had been sending out resumes to jobs that were advertised everywhere, which practically guaranteed that I was wasting my time and energy - most of my applications probably never even made it to a hiring manager. Then I remembered that when I attended community college part-time, I had worked for a temp agency. So I decided to go to some and register, just to get my name out there.
I registered at two. They both gave my resumes to various employers, but no one wanted to hire an attorney. The job recruiters explained that prospective employers felt I was "overqualified." Which never made any sense to me - isn't that better than being under qualified and incompetent? So after about six months of being told how overqualified I was, which was entirely untrue (more on that later), I decided to try for part-time work. One of the recruiters I worked with happened to have a co-worker whose husband was looking for a temp at his company, at $15 per hour. I would be working 30 hours per week. I talked with my husband about it, and he told me to go for it. We could always cancel our cable subscription. So I went on a brief interview and explained that no, I would not mind answering to their paralegal. I almost cried when I was offered the position. I put in my two weeks notice at work and tried not to look back.
I know a lot of career counselors advise against taking "just any job," and some people would probably consider my decision to take a receptionist position as doing just that. But to be honest, this job is helping me develop my computer skills in a way that could never have happened as an attorney, when my secretary did everything for me.
Tell me, what roadblocks have you run into in your job search? How did you overcome them?
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
I know what you're probably thinking - "cry me a river," right? "Lawyers are all money-grubbing, egotistical, selfish, litigious, arrogant, trouble-making know-it-alls. And they all make bank for finding 'loopholes' in the law that allow bad people (i.e. criminals, multi-billion dollar corporate conglomerates, and Michael Lohan) to get away with crimes like murder, tax evasion, and general toolishness." Yes, there are some lawyers out there who make bank, and there are many (most even) who believe they are God's own ray of light shining down on the legal profession. But many lawyers, myself included, actually did go to law school in order to learn how to defend the defenseless and to provide the underprivileged with access to justice.
And there is a subset of those lawyers who realize after only a few short months or semesters that they want nothing to do with the legal profession. I realized this after my first year of law school. I believe it was a Thursday. I remember receiving my registration date for 2L year and thinking, "what if...?" I briefly considered possibly not going back so that I could enter the workforce and think about whether I wanted to complete my law school career.
Then I thought about what my classmates would think, what my family would think, what my fiancee would think. And, out of some misplaced sense of duty, I decided to stick it out and earn my law degree, then give lawyering a shot until I decided what I really wanted to do.
This brings us to my second problem: I care too much about what others think of me. I want to please my family and friends and spouse rather than follow my bliss. Now, slowly but surely, I am trying to follow my bliss, which happens to be writing. More on that later.
Back to the grand exit strategy I had crafted for myself. What I failed to realize when I decided to stay in law school was that no non-legal employers want to hire an applicant with a J.D., much less an applicant who has actually practiced law. There are a lot of myths out there that a law degree "opens a lot of doors." Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is, once you have a law degree, most employers assume you will be bored if they hire you to do anything but practice law.
So after six to eight months of rejection after rejection with no light at the end of the tunnel in sight, I decided to accept a low-paying position and let the chips fall where they may. This is not to say I did not have any plan at all; I just accepted the fact that no one was going to hire me for any permanent non-legal position until I proved that I was serious about my transition out of the law. Hence, my re-entry into the world of temping.
Part of the therapeutic nature of this blog is that reading my thoughts in print really hammers home the fact that my need to please is a huge problem for me. It is difficult to admit that I wasted so much time in college and in law school trying to "make something of myself" when in reality, I am much happier being a peon and trying to hone my writing. I realize I will never publish the great American novel, but even just writing a silly short story that my husband enjoys brings me more joy than I ever experienced as a "prestigious" attorney.
So tell me, all you lawyers out there considering taking the plunge, what problem is holding you back?