Thursday, June 3, 2010

Are Law Students Ignorant Cretins?

A retired Canadian law professor claims the current Canadian law school model has turned legal education into "kindergarten for cretins." Robert Martin claims deregulation of law school tuition resulted in schools developing the Wal-Mart Model (presumably meaning law schools are now offering cheap education at a high volume). The McLean's article, which does not link to Martin's original article that was published in the journal, Interchange, does not specify whether Martin believes the legal market is over-saturated as a result, but by stating that law degrees can now be bought by virtually any sucker who will pay the inflated tuition, he is certainly implying just that.

I am a bit offended that Martin calls law school graduates illiterate and ignorant. Most law school graduates, even those who did not attend first-tier institutions, are probably fairly intelligent and ambitious, although misguided in their attempt to secure middle-class lifestyles by paying six-figures for degrees of questionable value. I believe most of the blame falls on the institutions who charge exorbitant tuition rates while promising graduates starting salaries of $70K +. Maybe that story will be in next month's issue.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Another Grad Who Would Like a Refund

The New York Times reported today on a woman named Cortney Munna, who incurred over $100,000 in student loan debt for a 4-year degree from NYU. She is now attending night school in order to defer her loans, but the interest is still accruing. Once her loans come out of deferment, the payments should be about $700 per month. She currently earns $22 per hour working for a photographer.

The article does not specify what type of degree Munna earned, but I am going to take a wild guess that it was of the Liberal Arts variety. As I've said before, most liberal arts degrees are basically useless. The only use mine ever had was that I could put it at the top of my resume when applying for jobs after college. None of the positions for which I applied actually required knowledge of political science or philosophy, but the companies still required a B.A. or B.S.

This is the sad reality of higher education. Students spend thousands of dollars and go into debt in order to earn degrees that will help them achieve middle-class jobs, but the loan payments will end up putting these suckers back to the position they were in prior to taking out the loans. For example, Munna works for $22 per hour. Without her college degree, she might have been able to find office work for $10-$15 per hour. She takes home $2300 per month with her current position, but $700 of that will eventually go toward her loans. So, that leaves her with $1600 per month, which is about $12-$13 per hour prior to withholding, and $10 per hour after withholding. So what did she gain by attending NYU?

How much are your student loan payments and what percentage of your current income does that comprise? Was taking on student loans worth it in the end?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"You do realize we're all going to be dead soon, don't you?"

Once one realizes she no longer wants to be an attorney, being one becomes intolerable.

I remember being mired in despair during my search for a non-legal job, when I would routinely come home from work and log onto job search websites. Sometimes, if I was feeling particularly discouraged, I would skip the job search websites and go straight for a glass of wine. I remember crying to my husband about how I was "wasting my life" and that I was starting to hate living my life. At work, I was miserable, and when I wasn't at work, I was dreading having to go back.

I kept remembering what a friend of mine had once told me when I was complaining to him about some trivial problem I was having: "You know what - who cares? Do you realize we're all going to be dead soon?" At the time, I just laughed, agreed with him, and changed the subject. But when I thought of it in the context of my job situation, it began to have greater meaning. Hating my life was not a trivial problem, but the truth behind the sentiment remained: we are all going to die eventually (even soon if you consider how old the average human is when she dies compared to how old the universe is), so we best not waste precious days worrying about trivial concerns.

And, to be fair, some of my concerns were trivial. Sure, hating my life was a big deal, but worrying about quitting the law was trivial. I worried about how much less money my husband and I would have to live on. I worried about a loss of prestige that results when giving up the job title of "attorney." I worried about how my family and friends would react to the news. I worried about never finding a career that truly fulfills me. These concerns were all trivial when I considered the fact that, if I were to live to be 80 years old, I had already lived approximately 40% of my life. Why spend the remaining 60% worrying about what other people (people I mostly see only on national holidays or at weddings) would think about my decision to leave the law?

During my job search, when I reminded myself that I was going to be dead "soon," it made being an attorney (temporarily) a bit easier, and it made the job search easier, too. I still dreaded upcoming telephone conferences, motion hearings, and unfinished briefs that needed my attention, but I began to separate myself from them emotionally. They were just a part of my job, not a part of me. Motion hearings and briefs would go on if I were dead. My life, however, is temporary, so I began to focus on what I wanted and not what I hated.

With respect to my job search, I started to not care as much about where I ended up working. I had been so consumed with finding the perfect job for me that I didn't stop to think that maybe, at this point in my life, there is no perfect job. Right now, maybe all I need is to earn some income to help pay the bills, and think about what I really want out of life, not just what I want out of a job.

When I tell people that story about my friend dispensing such brash advice, most people think it was rather insensitive. But to this day, I am thankful to him for putting so succinctly what Richard Carlson, of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff... fame, took 272 pages to articulate: "Who cares? Do you realize we're all going to be dead soon?"

The Votes Are In!

Last week, I posted two poll questions regarding readers' thoughts on higher education as well as the debt load carried with certain degrees. 43% of respondents stated that if they could do it all over again, they would go to tech school or learn a trade after graduating high school (myself included!). 20% would earn a bachelor's degree.

As I suspected, most of the J.D.'s (31 out of 41 J.D. respondents) admitted to having $50K - $100K+ in student loan. The other 10 J.D.'s had $50K or under in student loan debt.

I have mixed feelings about the results. On the one hand, it is nice to know I am not alone in regretting the astonishing amount of time and money spent on a (now useless) advanced degree. On the other hand, the fact that so many respondents would learn a trade or get a technical degree rather than earn any other advanced degree is a bit discouraging. It seems to me that some products of the higher education system are questioning the value of their advanced degrees. Are institutions of higher learning encouraging too many folks to earn these degrees? Any other theories?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Famous Ex-Lawyers: Gerard Butler

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.

The Dreaded Question or "So, Did You End Up Going to Law School?"

Last night, I had an unexpected run-in with a former co-worker. I was at a volunteer orientation meeting. (Since I plan on going into health care, I am going to volunteer some time at one of the local hospitals.) Afterward, as I was leaving, a woman came up to me and told me she couldn't remember my name, but we had worked together a few years back. I recognized her, but couldn't remember her name either. We re-introduced ourselves and began chatting about what we had been up to. She said, "So, when you left, you were talking about going to law school. Did you ever end up going?"

I felt unprepared, to say the least. My mind had been so preoccupied with this upcoming wedding (where I know I will need to explain my recent career developments to old friends) that I had forgotten I might run into people on the street who would ask about what I was doing with my life since the last time I saw them.

I explained that yes, I had gone to law school, and I did end up practicing for a few years. But it wasn't for me, so I left the law about a month ago. I also told her I planned on going back to school. She smiled and told me everything sounded "great," although she did ask me why I left. I told her I didn't like arguing with people all day, laughed, then changed the subject. I left feeling pleased about how smoothly it went. It was good practice for the upcoming wedding. I figure things will go similarly, except people won't really be interested in what I'm saying. That's the upside to having a group of friends that includes a disproportionate percentage of functioning alcoholics. (Actually, they're all just really fun at weddings.)

When I got home, I checked my email and was greeted by a terrific message from a reader, a former attorney, who had this to say about my insecurity:

"You are decompressing in the same way that an alcoholic - no offense intended at all - has withdrawal symptoms. Of course you care about what others think of this mistake which both you and I made. Nevertheless, I'll bet that fewer people wonder about your career choices than you think.

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.'"

Both of these events last night helped me realize how much my apprehension about explaining my decision is self-manufactured. People have their own lives to worry about, so my decision to change careers really isn't that earth-shattering to anyone else but me. Since it's such a major change for me, though, I am a little fixated on it. Much like an alcoholic fixates on sobriety after getting clean. What it ultimately comes down to, for anyone interested in hearing the real story (at the wedding or elsewhere) is this:

I didn't like being a lawyer.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sorry, I Must Have Skipped That Year

The New York Times ran an Op-Ed piece from Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, President Emeritus of George Washington University. Trachtenberg believes undergraduate and professional degree programs could be shortened in order to reduce costs to students and get them out into the workforce sooner. He cites Northwestern Law School, which has a two-year J.D. program, as well as Texas Tech, which offers a three-year M.D. program. He also proposes the idea of a three-year Bachelor's degree, which might include two full summer semesters to make up for the eliminated fourth year.

I agree with these proposals, particularly the idea of a two-year J.D. By my third year in law school, I had pretty much learned that being an attorney would take years of training and dedication, and that law school mostly just teaches you how to start finding the answers to legal questions. In fact, I think law students should complete an apprenticeship for their second year, in order to teach them what an attorney's job really is. Judging from the current law school model, a student might get the idea that attorneys regularly partake in esoteric discussions about "substantive due process" versus "procedural due process." In reality, most attorneys regularly engage in expletive-laced discussions about looming deadlines ("where's my fucking brief already?!) and gridlocked negotiations ("when are you gonna make me a fucking offer?).

Do you think students should be given the opportunity to earn their degrees in less time?
Image courtesy of healingdream.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Kill Them All (with Debt) and Let the Market Sort 'Em Out

Daniel Bennett wrote an article for Forbes on the rising default rate for student loans. Apparently, the 90-day default rate for private loans is up to 6% and the 30-day default rate is up to 7.5%, an increase from 5.4% and 6.8%, respectively. The default rate on federal student loans went from 6.7% in 2007 to 7.2% in 2008.

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

The Joy of Filing

I have to admit, I really enjoy being a temp. Transience is quite freeing. I even found myself sounding chipper at work today when I answered the phone.

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.

I had lunch with a co-worker of mine last Friday. She used to be a paralegal, and she considered law school for a while. I told her she made the right decision not going - law school is definitely not for the wishy-washy. I know that now. She agreed, and said that after working at several law firms, she has come to the conclusion that lawyers have personality disorders. I told her that's why I stopped being one.

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?

Hindsight's 20/20

Here is a list of 14 articles written by various authors on whether being a lawyer is "worth it." By "worth it," I assume they mean the stress, long hours, and the years of dedication it takes to become good at it. Numbers 8 and 9 are my favorites. Number 8 is written by a woman who was smart enough to drop out after only one semester. (If only...) Number 9 is written by an attorney who recalls a run-in he had with a more seasoned member of the legal profession, who warned him during his 2L year that he should drop out. I can relate to Number 9 more because so many attorneys advised me not to go to law school before I applied. Again, if only...

Do you think being a lawyer is worth it? If you had to do it over again, would you have gone to law school?

The Myth of "Good Debt"

I have often read that student loans can be categorized as "good debt," since they are an investment and generally come with low interest. Given that many degrees are no longer an investment, but rather a gamble (I'm looking at you, Mr. Juris Doctor), I have a hard time swallowing the notion that carrying $80,000 in student loans is actually a good thing.

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.

Do you agree that student loans are good debt? How do you think the government should address the student loan crisis?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Music That Will Make You Want to Follow Your Dreams

Lately, I've been trying to listen to inspiring music that will keep me pumped up and motivated on my quest to find a fulfilling career after leaving the legal profession. Although I think I may be one of those people who never truly finds happiness at work (maybe I'll be a terminal student and blogger who temps to support herself forever!), I haven't given up on finding career satisfaction just yet. Here's my playlist (it may also come in handy as a good workout mix):

1. Monday Morning by Melanie Fiona

2. Dog Days Are Over by Florence + The Machine
3. Undiscovered by James Morrison

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.

Wow, $50K Wasted on a Worthless Degree!

Above the Law published their quote of the day. Apparently, some teacher who couldn't find work at an elementary school (and is now in nursing school) is complaining about spending $50K on a degree she can't use. I don't know whether I should be angry at how out of touch she is with the student loan crisis or whether I should sympathize with her plight. After all, $50K is a lot of money, although it's nowhere near the amount that most of my law school colleagues are carrying in student loan debt. Plus, the quote does not state whether Jade Stier is actually in debt for that amount or if that's just what she spent.


Breaking the News to Family and Friends

Since I quit being a lawyer, I have been much happier and I am looking forward to what lies ahead. Except for one day in particular: June 4. This is when I will attend a wedding, where I will be seeing old friends from college. I'm nervous about telling them I am no longer a practicing attorney and have chosen temp work instead. I accept the fact that they will think I am a loser, but I would still like to figure out a way to succinctly explain my career change and graciously change subjects.

I have been accepted into a healthcare program that will take two years to complete, but I will not be starting the program for at least another year (the waiting list is a mile long!). I'll be taking some classes toward the degree in the Fall, but my core classes won't start for another year. So how do I explain that in the meantime, I will be working as a receptionist? My husband keeps telling me that what I'm doing is brave and to just tell everyone that I'm working part-time and doing a little writing before going back to school. I know the problem is how I feel about what I'm doing, not how anyone else feels. Why, then, am I afraid that everyone is going to think I'm a bum? And how do I explain my career change in one sentence so I don't end up rambling and making everyone uncomfortable?

Maybe I should just tell everyone I'm pregnant - people always let women off the hook when they drop the P word. Or, I could tell everyone I can't talk about what I do because I'm working in a top-secret government position. That's what one of my friends always tells everyone, and I'm beginning to suspect she's full of it.

All of you career-changers, laid-off attorneys, and under/unemployed J.D.'s, how do you explain your career circumstances?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Democrats Push for Student Loan Reform

Congress may soon pass a law that would permit private student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy. Prior to the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Act, private student loans were considered to be equivalent to other private, dischargeable loans. If the proposed bill is passes, this would be terrific news to the countless law students who are struggling to repay their six-figure loans.

Personally, my private loans are not really a problem (I owe about $14K in private law school loans, which is about $100 a month). The bulk of my student loans are government-backed, so I really have no hope of ever making them go away apart from doing it the old-fashioned way - by paying up. Even if I could discharge all of my loans through bankruptcy, I'm not sure I'd want to. I used to clerk at a bankruptcy firm and I know how much it can wreak havoc on one's credit. For me, bankruptcy would be an absolute last resort. Which is what it's supposed to be anyway.

If this law passes, would you declare bankruptcy to wipe out your private loans? Why or why not?

Georgetown Law Students on the Legal Job Market

NPR invited five Georgetown law students to discuss where they will be working after they graduate. They all applied to hundreds of law jobs, but only two have found bona fide positions. One will be working for a small government agency and another will be working for a firm. The one working for a firm will not be able to start work for about a year after graduation, though; in the meantime, she will be working with a volunteer legal services program.

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

Why I Finally Left the Law

Ok, I know my posts make me sound like a bitter ex-lawyer or a disgruntled, underemployed J.D., but the truth is, I am neither of those things. Although-believe me-I sympathize with those who are strapped with 6-figure debt and a worthless law degree because I am now in the same boat. The difference is that I chose to leave a job that held promise if I had decided to continue with my legal career.

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.

Mean Blog Comments End Quest to Go to Law School for Free

Mean Blog Comments End Quest to Go to Law School for Free

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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 /'>Maggie Smith.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Next Bubble: Law School Tuition

The Next Bubble: Law School Tuition

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Elie Mystal wrote an interesting article about the similarities between the housing market bubble and the law school tuition bubble. Consumers, desperate to pursue the American Dream of home ownership at any cost, took out sub-prime mortgage debt that infinitely outweighed the values of the homes themselves.

Similarly, a law student will take on a six-figure debt in order to pay for a degree that holds questionable value in today's job market. Like American consumers who have been inundated with the message that home ownership is the ticket to financial prosperity, law students have grown to believe that a law degree is worth more than it is. And those of us who now recognize the emperor is not wearing any clothes are swimming in law school debt that will likely not be paid off in our lifetimes.

I am on the 30-year plan with my law school debt. I pay a little over $600 per month with private and government loans combined. My private loans will probably be paid off in about 20 years, but as for the bulk of the debt, my husband and I will have paid off our mortgage well before those loans are ever wiped clean.

The fact that my husband and I are purchasing a home would probably lead many to believe that we are financially secure. Sure, we pay our mortgage and other bills on time every month. But will we ever be able to afford children? Probably not. Vacations? No. Most likely, we will both need to work in order to keep up with our debt for the next 20+ years. It makes me sad. It makes me want to use the $392 that will be deposited into my checking account on Friday to buy a whole mess of lottery tickets...

Finally, a Use For My Law School Textbooks

For the past few months, I have been selling my law school textbooks online at Every time I sell one, I am tempted to include a note to the recipient, begging them not to continue on the road to unhappiness and possible financial ruin. Instead, I simply place the packing slip inside the front cover and say a little prayer that the person who ends up using the book finds more happiness with their law degree than I have.

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.

Life on $392 Per Week

For the past 4 weeks, I have been temping as an administrative assistant for 30 hours per week at $15 per hour. My take-home is about $392. Of course, my husband still brings home the bulk of our income. But since I used to bring home twice this amount per week, my self-esteem has taken quite a hit. I don't feel like I contribute very much financially, which has always been very important to me. Growing up, I dreamt of having a career that would offer financial security. Since leaving my law job, I no longer have the feeling that I am working toward a comfortable retirement with my husband. I feel more like I am living paycheck to paycheck.

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

The Man Behind the Curtain

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

The Job Search

After two years of practicing and hating almost every minute of it, I decided to put my resume out there. Mind you, I began my job search when the unemployment rate had approached 10% and many employers were in the middle of a hiring freeze. This may have affected my prospects somewhat.

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

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The First Step

I have often heard that the first step to overcoming a problem is to admit you have one. It pains me to say my problem happened to leave me over $80,000 in debt. My problem? I have a law degree.

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?