Thursday, June 23, 2011

Loan Deferral Drama

While I try to keep this blog law school focused, or at least legal-field focused, I have been experiencing such a headache with my undergraduate student loans for the past few weeks that I could not resist writing about it here.

Because I graduated in May and do not have a job yet, I called the company that handles my undergraduate student loans and requested an unemployment deferral.  Charmingly, the loans go into repayment on your last day of classes, as if that's the day that you will magically have the money to start making payments again.  They sent me some forms to fill out, which were simple enough.  I faxed them back and it all seemed painless as one could expect.

A few days later, the phone calls began.  First, they claimed not to receive my fax.  Then, they claimed they only got the cover sheet.  Then magically, another page appeared.  But still, more than half of my loans were not in deferral-mode.  Calmly, I went back to the UPS store and had them faxed again.  These are people who essentially send faxes all day, for a living.  I think they know how to do it.  I informed the company that I faxed the sheets once again, and that should have been that.

And a few days later, the phone calls began again.  Apparently no fax was received.  This is not rocket science; I used the number on the site, which was the same as the number the service rep gave me.  I calmly explained that I have no job, and every time I have to fax something to them it costs money.  But, I faxed it again.

Now, the harassing letters have started arriving, threatening to report me to collections for the half of my loans  for which the form was apparently faxed into the ether.  Collections, after how many days?  Really?  Just for the cherry on top of the whole situation, I received an email telling me that they received mail back from my address marked as undeliverable.  Which is pretty astonishing as I have received mail from them before, at this address.  Beautiful.

I'm sending it again today with a tracking number, snail mail.  I know that there is nothing remarkable about this story, but here's the thing:  My student loans and the knowledge that they are looming over my head is a constant source of anxiety and stress for me.  To be bombarded with calls, letters and emails as if I am some sort of criminal deadbeat is very upsetting, especially when I tried to do everything right from the outset and get the loans deferred.  It is also a painful, constant reminder that I cannot put this stuff off forever.  (A reminder which, believe me, I don't need.)  I find it hard to believe that the company has the documents and is lying about it - if I had to guess someone profoundly inept has been receiving them and misplacing them.  But these are people who have been hired to handle things that are absolutely critical to people's lives.  A little organization is not too much to ask for.  But why should I be surprised?  This is all par for the course.  Prospective students, take note:  you could very well be in for this type of humiliation down the road.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Single Life

When I discuss the state of the legal job market with people outside of the field, one of the most common reactions I get from the over-forty crowd is:  “Why don’t you just put out a shingle?  In my day you could just put up a shingle and make (fill in the blank) dollars a day/week/month, just by dealing with things like wills or real estate closings, or DUIs.”
Apparently, that mentality is making some inroads with the new generation of law grads. This article from MSNBC claims that 5.7 % of graduates of the class of 2010 who are employed in the private sector work in a solo practice.  That number does not seem especially high to me, but it is an increase.

Here are a few interesting parts of the article:

'Chetson doesn’t blame his school’s career services for focusing more on maintaining long-standing relationships with bigger, more established companies. But he does blame law schools for being as expensive as they are, causing students to rack up a large amount of debt only to be faced with meager job prospects.
“Law schools recognize that to get people to keep coming, you’re going to have to hold out the hope that you’ll be able to make $150,000 at the end of the year,” he said.'
Sounds mostly right, except for the part about not blaming career services for focusing more on maintaining relationship with big firms, when the reality is that the lion's share of law graduates stand little to no chance of ever getting a job at a big firm.  The fact that they do that is a large part of the second problem he mentions, which is that schools have to hold out hope that you will get a $150K job, knowing that it is nonsense.

'Aaron Street, co-founder and publisher of legal resource blog, said a majority of law schools continue to focus on how to interview for jobs or submit resumes for job postings, rather than honing the skills needed to be a successful business person.
“Current or prospective law students need to understand that you can’t just sit back and have classes spoon fed to you and think it’s going to be done,” he said. “You’re going to have to figure out things on your own and if you’re not prepared for that don’t go to law school.”'
 Well, yes.  I agree that if you don't want to figure things out on your own (or if you don't want mountains of debt and poor job prospects), you should not go to law school.  But I still think that is a failing on the part of the schools.  I have said in numerous posts that no one deserves to get anything handed to them.  But we are not asking for things to be handed to us.  Rather, we are PAYING schools for a SERVICE.  That service is not just to hear some egotistical professor blather on about substantive due process.  The goal is to become employed, and it is the school's job to prepare you for that position through training and to assist in placement because that is what they advertise.  Mr. Street is correct that as a law student you will have to figure all of these things out on your own, but there is no reason that should be the case given the sticker price.  Which is the point Mr. Chetson makes earlier in the article.

Do any of my readers have experience with solo practice?  Is it really a viable alternative for people who are struggling to find a job?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

It's life's illusions I recall...

I'm wondering if anyone else with crippling student loan debt and few or no job prospects finds themselves incredibly nostalgic for times in their life that were distinctly mediocre while they were happening.

For example, I hated high school while I was in it.  Not for any special reason, but for the reasons most people give for not liking high school.  I felt out of place, and I was more focused on getting into college than most of the other students which alienated me somewhat from the "cool" groups.  Between that and the fact that I had to spend almost all of my free time caring for my younger siblings, those did not feel like the best four years of my life.  Nothing unique to complain about, for sure, just the usual growing pains that many college-bound high school students feel.

Well, I remember my high school years as BEYOND PARADISE right now for two simple reasons:  I had a part time job working at the mall that paid almost $10/hour (which would be impossible to get right now), and I had NO DEBT.  Real happiness truly boils down to the divide in the eras in my life:  After debt, and before debt. (B.D.) I don't really count my undergraduate debt.  Although it is not exactly trivial, it was manageable even when I was working as a paralegal.  (God, why did I leave that job?)

I wish I could go back in time and tell my sixteen year old self to avoid graduate school at all costs, no matter what pressures come in the form of college career advisers or parents.  Failing that, I wish I could at least tell myself to lighten up and enjoy high school more, because it is the last time I would enjoy true freedom from the ball and chain of crippling, non-dischargeable debt.

Monday, June 13, 2011

This op-ed makes a lot of sense...

I think this is my favorite part:

"We’ve learned that during prosperous economic periods the number of law positions increases substantially; the reverse is also true. Even so, the largest group of people ever to take the law school admissions test did so in 2009-10. More than 1,600 first-time test-takers who indicated Indiana as their permanent residence took the LSAT last year."
So, let me get this straight... we are not in a prosperous economic period, which means that the number of law positions has decreased substantially, according to his rationale.  The president of the university is admitting that there are fewer law jobs, but justifying opening up a new law school on the basis that more people are taking the law school admissions test.  Where does he expect these people to work?  Does he plan on hiring them?  I wonder if their "feasibility study" considered that question.

"We have four law schools in Indiana, and each serves law students quite well. Yet we know that many well-qualified prospective law students who apply to our law schools are not accepted."
And why exactly is this a problem?

You see, this doesn't surprise me anymore.  We know why universities do this - they want to cash in on naive applicants.  But it does not make it any less sickening.  I do not know much about Indiana.  But notice that while he talks about the fact that there are only four law schools in Indiana, and that law students are leaving the state to attend school and end up practicing in other states, he does not once imply that there is a need for lawyers in Indiana that is not being met by the current schools.  He only states that students are choosing to go elsewhere.

Hopefully prospective students will use their own critical-thinking skills, see the gaping hole in the logic here and avoid this trap.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Sound of Silence

Here's an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer, commenting on Villanova's response in the face of the data inflation scandal that broke four months ago today. Or rather, their lack of a response. It seems that Villanova's strategy could be summed up as: "Least said, soonest mended."

Is that a smart move? I think it probably is. Unless they plan on taking extremely proactive, positive steps to deal with the larger problem, they have nothing to gain and everything to lose from the story getting any media attention at all.

I think the most interesting part of the article is buried at the bottom.

"Two American Bar Association committees are working on revamping the reporting requirements in an effort to better inform prospective students. One of the participants, David N. Yellen, dean of Loyola University School of Law in Chicago, says he doubts there's much that can be done to prevent the kind of out-and-out academic fraud that occurred with the Villanova numbers.

He says the upside is that it probably is very rare - there are only so many Bernie Madoffs in the world. The employment information is another matter. That is reported every year and used by U.S. News & World Report. Yellen says it is often misleading because it makes no distinction between full- and part-time employment. Moreover, salary data often are reported from a misleadingly small sample of graduates."

Is it really rare? Or is it just rare to get caught?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

School's Out Forever

Hi everyone,

I know it has been a really, really, inexcusably long time since I have blogged. And I am sure that I have lost most of my links or readers. But I want to check in with a little update in case anyone still looks because the scam-busting movement is just as important to me as ever, if only from the sidelines.

Graduation came and went with little fanfare on my part. I told my family not to bother making the trek because I don't feel there is really anything to celebrate about graduating with a ton of debt, no job and a group of friends in the exact same situation. None of my close friends from law school have jobs yet, and only a few of my acquaintances do. I will say that if I feel good about anything, it's the fact that I will never be in a classroom again and no one will ever get another tuition dollar from me. That said, graduation also marked my official transition from depressed law student to completely unemployed law graduate. Yes, I am unemployed for the first time in my life since I was fourteen, which is pretty demoralizing even if it has only been a few weeks.

A few things going on in my personal life convinced me to put off taking the bar until February. I have been looking for non-legal jobs and if I find one I like I might not take the bar at all. Or even if I find one I don't like. Who knows? At this point what I really need is a paycheck; I don't want to mooch off of my fiance forever.

I literally have nothing but time right now, so maybe I will take this opportunity to post more often. So many of the really important scambloggers have done a great job advocating for various types of reform, and I think they will be better advocates for such things than I will. They are more eloquent and, frankly, more creative. But perhaps I can turn this into a job-search journal. I have been applying for non-legal jobs for three weeks now. In that time I have had two interviews. (Two and a half if you count a phone interview that lasted about a minute.) Perhaps I will post more about those later, but the real take-away from all three is what I (along with many others) have been saying all along. A law degree is NOT an asset in any field but law. The law degree scares people away. A position that you are fully qualified for and could perform well in will be out of reach because the employer will be scared that you will leave for a "$100,000 law job."

Plenty of people go to law school not knowing what the practice of law entails, and therefore not knowing that they might not like it. That is bad enough, but what really pains me is to hear about people who plan on getting a law degree *knowing* that they have no desire to practice, thinking that they can "do anything" with a law degree. The employers I spoke with beg to differ.

I will be checking in with some job market updates as I get them. Once again, I am sorry for the months with no updates, but I can tell from reading the scam blogs that the movement has not suffered! The truth has a way of getting out eventually, and it feels good to know that I have played even a tiny part.