Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Job Search Update

Hi, everyone. Sorry for the lack of updates recently. Like always, I have a bunch of partially completed feature pieces sitting around in the queue. As many of you know, trying to find a job can itself be a full time task.

I don't want to go too long without a new blog post, so let me update you on my job search. With many of my earlier avenues shut down, I'm currently only pursuing the following paths (excluding sending my resume to various on-line jobs postings).

  1. I actually received another bite (re: resume) this week. Unfortunately, it's only a short term contract position and the followup I received from the consulting firm wasn't to schedule an interview, but to note their interest in my application and to find out my availability and salary requirements - let's just say, at this point, I'd be wiling to look the other way on a violation of minimum wage laws.

    The good news is that at least somebody bothered to read my resume and initially found me to be a good fit for the position. Also, it actually is a substantive position that could add some much needed recent business experience to my resume for when I return to the full time job search (should I get the position).

  2. A friend of mine works (in a fairly senior position) for a software company. He has shown my resume to HR and hopefully can point me to a position for which I can apply. Like many companies, they do have a preference for recent grads for entry level jobs, but they are willing to consider "non-traditional" candidates. My friend got his job (albeit during better times) after being out of school for a while. With any luck, having somebody on the inside working for me could help me land an interview and perhaps eventually a job.

  3. There's still the possibility of some of the phantom document review work becoming available. I can't believe things are so bad that entry level document review work is only a possibility.

  4. I have registered for a couple career fairs next month. I was going to go to one last month, but my ill-fated interview was scheduled on the same day. I haven't been to a career fair for a while. I guess the benefit is that I can at least speak with potential employers directly. I'll be sure to create a blog post detailing my experience at the job fairs.

  5. I have been considering contacting my former employer to see if I could get some contacts or advice for my job search. I've hesitated to do this because, at this point, I don't really want to move (and my former employer is in another region of the country). The president of the company probably knows some people with whom I can speak where I currently live. That said, if I become desperate enough that I'd be willing to move, I would like to have the opportunity to lean on him for even better contacts in his city. I don't know if he'd appreciate being solicited twice with similar requests.
Also, as a bonus here's a depressing breakdown of the responses I've received to my applications. I've actually lost count of the number of applications I've submitted, so I'm going to err on the conservative side. I suspect the numbers are actually much worse.

Number of resumes/applications submitted: 50
Number of responses received*: 10
Number of positive responses**: 3
Number of interviews : 2
Number of offers: 0

Having a Juris Doctorate degree: Priceless...oh, I mean Worthless

* This includes offers for interviews, followups by actual humans, and rejection notices. This excludes immediate, automated acknowledgments.

** 1 request for more information; 1 general interview for legal temp work; 1 actual interview for a full time position

Friday, March 19, 2010

Student Aid Reform Bill: Nothing Special

This weekend Congress will not only address the controversial health bill that has been championed by President Obama, it will also pursue passage of a bill that seeks to reform the student loan industry.

At first blush, this seems like a great idea. After all, the student loan industry is an inefficient mess. Moreover, critics of the industry are hailing the measure while our friends at Sallie Mae and Access Group are fighting tooth and nail against the legislation. What's bad for Aunt Sallie has to be good for everyone else, right?

Maybe. The key component of the bill is to eliminate the "middle man" in the process of dispersing and administering federal student loans. That is, instead of private companies like Sallie Mae receiving subsidies to handle the student loan process and having the loans guaranteed by the government, the Department of Education will just handle the process itself.

From the standpoint of irate borrowers who have been harassed by Aunt Sallie and her partners in crime, this may be welcomed news. Such a reform could bring some of the private student lenders to their knees and even portend their eventual destruction. From a spiteful standpoint, many may see this as sweet revenge.

There will also probably be some more immediate benefits to those seeking loans. For example, many of these companies charged high fees for initiating loans. This was one way many lenders made money. Without the profit incentive, the government may be willing to allow borrowers to borrow the amount requested without skimming a little off the top for themselves.

Aside from possibly eliminating some absurd fees and sticking it to our unscrupulous creditors, the bill really doesn't help matters too much, however.

While the bill does push the private lenders out of the federal student loan industry, it does nothing to address the private wing of the industry. Many borrowers who are facing the most trouble don't just have federal loans - they also have private loans. In fact, if the federal student loan portion of the business is ripped away from the lenders, they're probably going to start turning the screws even harder on their private borrowers to try to remain solvent.

Sure, intervening too much with the private lending market may be constitutionally and even economically dubious, but the government doesn't have act quite so radically. All it needs to do is allow private student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy - like pretty much all other debt.

If the administration was truly serious about taking on student lending interests, this would be a far more productive battle to wage than simply playing musical chairs with the process for facilitating federal student loans.

The pending legislation also incorporates a partial expansion of the IBR. It, however, seeks to implement the expansion in the worst possible way.

According to The Project on Student Debt, the proposed changes to the IBR (capping payments at 10% of discretionary income and forgiving all debt after 20 years) will only apply to loans originating on or after January 1, 2014. That means current borrowers who have already snared themselves with student loans will not benefit. In fact, anyone enrolling in law school this fall will only have a semester during which this proposal will bear any fruit.

Now, of course, I have a self interest in seeing the change be made retroactive. Nevertheless, that's not my biggest problem with the proposal. I personally find the 15%/25 year plan currently in effect to be reasonable.

The problem with the change is that it departs from the purpose (or what should be the purpose) of the IBR. The IBR allows students who have already sunk themselves with debt to have the opportunity to live somewhat normal lives while paying back a reasonable portion of their incomes.

By delaying the implementation of the new IBR program, the only effect will be to encourage future borrowers (who currently are not saddled with debt) to enter academic programs knowing they may not be required to pay back the balance of their loans. This creates incentives (or at least eliminates disincentives) for students to pursue all sorts of worthless degrees while allowing the law school and other higher education leeches to continue sucking down student loans dollars with relative impunity.

Why don't we really eliminate the "middle man" and just have the government mail checks to these hucksters directly?

What remains to be seen is just how zealously the government will seek to collect on loan repayments. On the one hand, there is no profit incentive, so the mafia-esque techniques employed by the dons at Access Group may no longer be necessary. On the other hand, student loan repayments are a source of revenue for the government, and the IRS has never been known to shy away from using gestapo tactics of its own.

The IBR is bound to become popular and almost certainly will cost the government money. Hopefully, this means that the feds will be more forgiving about making timely repayments.

Here's hoping some government drone eventually loses my student loan paperwork and the Dept. of Ed stops demanding payments.

Esq. Never urges a vote of "Who Cares?" on the pending legislation.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Craigslist Test

"You should have done more research before going to law school."

If you've spent anytime criticizing the law school industry over the internet (or beyond), you've almost certainly encountered the above retort - or at least some variation of it. I'm not exactly sure what it's supposed to prove. If anything it seems to be a tacit admission that law school is indeed a scam - but that the victims got what they deserved.

If it's actually intended to be a defense of law school, it's a poor one.

For one thing, even if we agree that all law students are uninformed naifs who deserved to be taken advantage of, this hardly justifies the existence of the law school cartel - particularly when it's underwritten by an endless supply of federal student loans.

For another, as I've mentioned before, few of us are interested in having a "cyber pity party". All of the sympathy in the world can't reverse the mistake of going to law school. Criticism of the law schools can, however, encourage potential students not to make the same mistake and may even encourage future reforms.

Of course, the assumption that every disaffected law school graduate simply decided to apply to take the LSAT and send in their application materials on a whim (and at quite the expense) is absurd. Many law students do put in the effort to determine if they want to be attorneys. Sadly, most of the information they have is incredibly biased.

Take the employment/salary data that is compiled by the law schools (without an independent audit) and then regurgitated by US News and the LSAC. This data isn't just "slightly off" or a component of "creative marketing". It's a well engineered distortion.

It's not that the average student is only making $70k when the stats claim the average student makes $90k. It's that students are pulling in $40k (or even south of that post-recession) without benefits despite the misleading figures, or that the only students actually earning such "salaries" (once again, pre-recession) were prols working in some subterranean sweatshops reviewing documents. (To say nothing of the schools' attempts to hide unemployment numbers by temporarily hiring recent graduates, counting part-time jobs at Five Guys, or outright lying.)

If you think I'm too concerned with salary data, I submit that the same distortions also are made by the legal media and the schools when it comes to their claims about practical training that the law schools allegedly provide and the overall utility of a law degree.

Moreover, all of this information about law school is being provided by established publications and supposedly august institutions of higher learning. This isn't some fly-by-night internet get-rich-quick scheme. I'm sorry that kids in their 20's are so trusting that they're willing to believe that even if established institutions may embellish things a little that they wouldn't outright hoodwink them out of $100k and sentence them to a life of debt slavery.

If the whole point of law school was to convince me to never trust anyone again: mission accomplished.

Personally, I think I did do a reasonable amount of research before attending law school. I purchased US News' grad school guide. I read a number of different articles about law school. I spoke to people I knew who had enrolled in law school. I spoke to practicing attorneys. I solicited advice from on-line forums. I went to law school open houses (including admitted students day at my eventual 2TT alama mater). Only a scant few of these sources offered any caution about attending law school - certainly nobody conveyed that it would be a complete disaster.

Should I have done even more research? Evidently.

Nevertheless, virtually all sources from the misleading marketing materials produced by the schools to the pro-law school school propaganda found in US News' annual guide to graduate schools to the various pre-law hucksters at undergraduate institutions insist that law school is a good investment.

In fact, with few exceptions, these anti-law school blogs are the only consistent source of criticism against law school machine. (A few more neutral sources such as Above the Law and other less law school focused blogs heroically - but too infrequently - also sound the alarm against the scam.)

Contradictorily (but hardly surprisingly), the same law school apologists, who insist that we've forfeited our right to "whine" because we failed to conduct due diligence before attending law school, seem to hate these blogs (and other internet protests against LS). Where exactly do these law school lackeys expect prospective students to find accurate information (or at least the opposing perspective) about law school? Certainly not the NALP, not US News, not the mainline media, not most older attorneys, and for Pete's sake, not the freakin' law schools.

Of course, the apologists aren't all that concerned about prospective law students making informed decisions. Instead, they're more interested in defending the schools, waxing nostalgic about what it was like to graduate in 1972, or just being jerks in general.

When it comes to incoming law students, however, perhaps the apologists have little to fear. After all, applications are up and law students are notoriously hard headed about listening to those of us who have already been hosed by the LS diploma mill racket.

For example, here's a recent comment I received to a much older blog post:

I just stumbled upon your blog and I am sorry to hear about all that you are going through. I know it must be hard. However, you have some maturing to do. How old are you? This is life. Nothing in life is guaranteed. Sometimes our efforts do nothing to move us forward in life. Other times, we are blessed with things we never imagined. I know you worked hard for your degree and you spent a lot of money to obtain it. But my advice for you would be to take the life lessons you are learning right now and keep moving forward. I am a young woman who has experienced a deep career disappointment as well even with impeccable work experience. I plan on going to law school. But I know it does not mean that I will have a six figure salary. What it means is that I worked hard for something that I wanted in my life and I hope for the best. If the worst comes, then I will take that and make another career move. I do hope you find a position soon. It is very heart breaking to be unemployed and yet highly educated. But also realize that this is life. We are never guaranteed success and fortune. We are not even guaranteed the next day. We however do have to take what we been given and make the most of it. And besides, you never know what will happen in the future. Best of luck.

Now, to the commenter's credit, this is a much nicer note than I receive from most of my critics. Nevertheless, she's still is under the impression that the purpose of this blog is just to whine about my station in life. (Hey, that's only a half truth!) She fails to recognize that there is something fundamentally wrong with legal education (if not education overall) in this country, and she could very well end up holding the same bag of law school manure the rest of us chumps are saddled with at the end of her three years.

Obviously, we can't reach everybody, but I can understand that the heavy cynicism and harshly critical attitude that you sometimes (okay - often) find in the anti-law school blogosphere can sometimes undermine our credibility.

For those of you prospective law school students that feel that way - and for those of you who know prospective students that are about to walk the plank - let me propose a neutral test to determine if law school really seems like a good idea. I call it "The Craigslist Test".

I assume most people know what Craigslist is. (For those who don't, it's pretty much an on-line classified ad website - broken down by cities and regions.) One feature with which most law graduates are amply familiar is its job listing section. Craigslist even has a specific section dedicated just to legal jobs.

Here's the test. Choose a city. Choose your city. Choose a better city. Choose multiple cities. It doesn't matter. Now, check out the number of job listings there are for attorneys - particularly for entry level attorneys. Can't find too many? That's not a big surprise. If you can't find any, here's one.

But, wait, that's just the recession talking, right? Well, to answer that, let's move on to step two. Now compare the number of attorneys positions with the number of other positions available. Chances are you'll find plenty of advertisements for financial analysts, accounts receivable clerks, sale managers, etc. - many looking for entry level candidates. Heck, just look at the number of paralegal and legal assistant positions available. The dearth of entry level attorney positions in comparison should be pretty astounding.

Oh, but you protest that Craiglist isn't exactly the best way to find legal employment? Okay, go ahead and try your luck at Monster, Career Builder, or any of the other job boards. Chances are that if you find any listings for attorneys, the employer is looking for lawyers with several years of experience working for big firms.

You see, the reason I chose Craigslist is because that's where you're going to find the bulk of the advertisements for small firm positions, which are going to be the only roles available to most students this side of the T-14. Skadden and co. don't advertise positions on job boards. They use On Campus Interviews, and if you wash out at the OCI game (as even plenty of T-14 folks are doing these days), you're about as likely to get a biglaw offer as Jack Crittenden is to stop carrying water for the law school hucksters.

Even if you've convinced yourself that "Hey, Brooklyn landlord-tenant court doesn't sound that bad" or "I think no fault insurance defense work just has a bad rap", too bad, those jobs aren't available. If you want to live out your dreams of mastering Word's cut and paste feature to update stock legal forms or hang out with dregs of society, it looks like your only option will be to turn to the wonderful world of legal networking. Feel free to search the rest of this blog to find out just how well that works.

So prospective law students, if you think anti-law school scam bloggers are just a bunch of losers who couldn't make it and seek to whine about their problems, then I guess I'll echo the law school apologists, "Do your research." Run through the job boards and any other source you'd like and see just how many entry level attorney jobs there are (plus take a look at the salaries).

Oh, and if you happen to stumble across a fabled entry level attorney job at a mid-sized firm that pays $70-80k, you may want to turn your gaze upward to take a gander at the recently airborne swine now gliding by you.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Failing Yet Another One of Life's Little Tests...Plus Tips for Getting Into IT!

[Note: I came to this realization before today - I just didn't have time to finish the article until now.]

Well, folks, I think it's time to waive the white flag regarding the job for which I interviewed a couple of weeks ago.

With no call back and no response to my inquiry about whether a selection for the position had been made, I think it's safe to say that the company isn't exactly beating down my door to claim me as their newest employee. I personally find the lack of information annoying. Nonetheless, according to most job search sites, it is not uncommon for most companies to just hope you go away if they don't have any further interest in your candidacy for a position. (But he said he'd call!)

The good news is that I'm pretty sure I wasn't dinged because of the J.D. Obviously, it's impossible to be certain, but multiple people from the company reviewed my resume (containing my law degree) and they still invited me in for an interview. Also, nobody really made it a big deal during the interview. I think if I was a closer fit for what they were looking, they would not have discriminated against me in hiring for the position based about my degree disability.

That said, I am disappointed. Based upon the job description, the position looked like a natural transition for me based upon my prior job experience (though not prior education). Essentially, I would be analyzing internet data through both basic statistical methods and by using tools such as SQL and some light scripting/programming.

In my prior position, I handled quite a bit of data and used SQL and some scripting in analyzing it - though not as extensively as the new position would have required. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to use my prior work experience and also enhance my knowledge of SQL and PHP to allow me to eventually move into more advanced analyst or development positions.

Unfortunately, I felt a little blind sided at the interview. My conversation with the interviewer on the business side went pretty well. It seemed like we were really on the same page about everything; the interview with the tech guy, however, didn't go quite as well.

I didn't think it was a disaster, so when I updated you last time, I still thought I had a decent chance. In hindsight, I probably should have been a little less optimistic. The interviewer kept pushing me on my knowledge of PHP and programming in general even though they weren't mentioned as part of the job description. In fact, both the job description (and my resume) emphasized having a proficiency with data analysis and using SQL.

He also didn't seem particularly impressed with my SQL background even though I was very familiar with it and even used it in my last job. Moreover, he asked about my familiarity with other operating systems and wanted to know if I had any personal programming projects.

One thing I didn't share with you last time is that there was actually supposed to be a third interviewer: a more senior tech guy I believe. At the end of the interview, I was informed by the first interviewer that he couldn't find the third guy. At the time, I didn't think much of it since he said the other tech guy would just fill him in.

Now, however, it does seem pretty odd that the guy neither was around during a scheduled interview nor could be contacted (particularly in the era of cell phones, etc.). My assumption is that the first tech interviewer just told him not to bother with the interview because my programming skills were inadequate.

The biggest disappointment is that this seems to reinforce just how bad the economy is. It's possible that they interviewed a flawless candidate or one of the executive's nephews needed a job and they had no need to further review anyone else's credentials. Aside from those scenarios, however, I think I would have at least had a chance for a second interview in a better economy.

It isn't unthinkable that they interviewed some out of work web programmer or DBA (who was willing to be "underemployed") with decent statistical skills who could handle any necessary SQL or PHP programming with ease.

I don't think I would have had much trouble filling the role - albeit maybe with a period of adjustment. Most of the statistical analysis was pretty similar to what I had already done. I was familiar with SQL, and even its more advanced concepts are pretty easy to pick up. I was familiar with programming and PHP is a pretty straightforward language. Also, the type of things I'd have to do (use PHP to query a database) isn't all that difficult to learn and there are plenty of examples available on the web.

Sadly, in these tough times, companies aren't going to take any risks. There are a glut of well qualified and overqualified candidates for most positions, and those without flawless backgrounds for these positions are going to be at a severe disadvantage.

For those of you looking to get into the world of computers and IT, please know that experience and specific training are critical (particularly during the downturn) to getting into this field.

I'm going to spend the rest of this post discussing some strategies for improving your chances of getting employed in this field. I will link to a few external sites. Please note, I do not make any money off this blog, and I only recommend these sites as potentially useful tools.

Figuring Out What You Want to Do

IT is a large field. It can include anything from networking infrastructure, to web development, to programming. Popular areas include being a network administrator, working with or administering databases, designing and managing websites, and using of a variety of scripting and programming language. Because each area is different and getting up to speed in a specific area can take some time and dedication, it's best to select just one area at first and then pursue the appropriate skills and qualifications.

For the most part, I recommend for the average college educated job seeker (particularly those with a business/research background) to become as familiar as possible with SQL and scripting/programming (particularly web based scripting/programming). This sort of background will open up a number of doors in the business world for analyst and other positions where such knowledge is prized. Unlike most development positions, the amount of training and experience you will need will be less extensive.

Where Can You Learn These Skills?

Acquiring different skills will require different approaches. Because my focus is on SQL and light programming, I'll direct my advice towards these skills.

There are a ton of books, videos (usually web based), and tutorials available. Resources from the first two categories usually cost money (though a trip to the local library could help alleviate the cost). I also don't have any great recommendations. I purchased a couple books on PHP and web design, but they weren't particularly notable.

For the most part, I recommend sticking to free resources on the web to at least learn the basics. There a number of site with tutorials and free videos on Youtube.

The best site for learning the basics of areas like SQL and PHP is W3Schools. This site presents pretty straightforward step by step training and quizzes on how to learn various languages. If you can master each step and perform well on the quizzes, you should be able to develop a good background in a number of useful areas.

While this is a great site for learning the basics, even the mastery of all of the information it contains probably will only give you the knowledge base to work in positions where SQL, PHP, etc. are components of the job and not the job itself.

How Can I Demonstrate These Skills

One question that came up during the interview was whether I had a portfolio I could show to demonstrate my knowledge of PHP, etc. I had actually heard before that this can be a critical step in landing a development role. Because I wasn't under the impression that programming would play such a critical role in the position, I was unprepared to provide any samples.

If you're looking to enhance your resume, setting up some simple "e-commerce" applications on a web server can be a good way to do so and get some actual hands on experience in scripting.

If you don't want to start from scratch. Here are a couple good web tutorials about creating some simple applications: http://www.freewebmasterhelp.com/tutorials/phpmysql/1; http://www.phpwebcommerce.com/

Operating System Diversity

This is also something that blindsided me during the interview process. Many web servers use Linux and many more nerds (i.e. the guys who are helping to make the hiring decisions) love Linux.

I was asked if I knew Linux during the interview. I'm really not sure how this was relevant, but aside from using a GUI interface once or twice, I really wasn't too familiar with using the OS.

This is probably tangential to more important skills, but installing Ubuntu (or another popular version) of Linux on another computer or by partitioning your hard drive may be a good idea. At the very least, you could honestly say you've worked with the OS, and if you can pick up some understanding of the commands and working with internet applications, you'll probably have passable knowledge.

Becoming a Real IT Professional

Unfortunately, most of these steps can only help you land positions that are tangentially related to IT. Unless, you're particularly disciplined and motivated, it can be quite difficult to really acquire the knowledge necessary to transition into the field - particularly its programming/software engineering wing.

Virtually all advertisements for software engineering/programmer jobs want people with knowledge of C++, Java, JScript, Ruby on Rails, SQL and about hundred other languages or applications. How on earth is an average person supposed to acquire that knowledge especially when one needs to find a job in a reasonable amount of time?

I seriously wish that I could have spent the time and money I wasted picking up my worthless J.D. to learn programming and working with databases instead. Of course, this lends itself to another problem, where does one acquire this knowledge?

I don't know of any great answer to that question. One answer is to try to pick up a second B.S. degree in computer science or information systems, but this is an expensive and time consuming undertaking - particularly if you're going at night while working during the day. Most of the on-line schools are also pretty expensive and virtually all of them are also geared to be four year programs as well.

There are some certification and training programs, but the quality and price of many of these are suspect.

The only one I found to be somewhat reasonable - and I know this sounds like some thinly veiled marketing ploy - is called Hands on Technology Transfer (HOTT) - hey, I didn't come up with the name.

I'm just providing the link for those who are interested. If you think I'm trying to snag a couple of bucks from you, feel free to just Google the company yourself. (If I was going to scam people, I'd start "Attorney Dreams" anyway.)

In any event, the reason I'm referring you to their site is because, it's the only company I can find that has regularly scheduled training in a variety of areas that can help you get into IT. I specifically linked to the PHP training.

The price does seem a little steep, but then again, I wasted twice as much on my worthless BAR/BRI course. It does seem that a course that lasts a whole week (of full day classes I believe) would be enough to provide rigorous training and help you build a portfolio of work samples. I don't, however, know if it's a reasonable substitute for a semester long college course.

Aside from going back in time and choosing a better major, I don't know what other advice to give.

If anybody out there who is "in the know" wants to offer additional advice, feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me at esqnever at hotmail dot com if you're interested in writing a guest post.

If I can ever land a document review job and make some money, I'd probably enroll in one or two of HOTT's courses to help me transition into the computer industry.

I will, of course, keep you apprised of any updates with my job search.

Friday, March 5, 2010

It's Payback Time!

No, readers, Esq. Never isn't about to go out and settle the score with the law school deans and their apologist sycophants once and for all as the title may suggest. Instead, I'm writing about repaying student debt. Specifically, I'm writing about the new Income Based Repayment Plan (IBR) that allows graduates with federal loans to make payments based upon their annual incomes.

I have mixed feeling about the IBR. I definitely appreciate most of its provisions. After all, if it wasn't for the IBR, I'd probably be writing Escudero Nunca from Costa Rica right now. I do, however, fear that it may create some new problems down the road.

For those of you unfamiliar with the IBR, it's a new loan repayment plan that ONLY applies to federal loans (excluding Parent PLUS loans). It DOES NOT apply to private loans.

The one nice thing about graduating in 2009 from law school (and I do mean the ONE nice thing) is that we were the first class that could borrow the entire cost of attendance via both Stafford and Grad PLUS loans (both part of the federal program). This means, that the entirety of our educational debt for law school is subject to the IBR.

The key provision of the IBR is that it allows graduates to pay back their federal loans as a percentage of their income. Moreover, for repayment purposes, one's income is considered to be one's adjusted gross income less 1.5 times the poverty level (based upon family size). The statutory percentage is set at 15%, but because the income that is being assessed is less than one's actual take home pay, the effective rate for most people is around 10%.

If one's income is low enough, it's actually possible to have monthly payments of $0. Moreover, income is determined based upon a person's tax return. In lieu of using a tax return, a borrower can also petition the lender (and can always consolidate with the Dept. of Ed.) to use an alternative method for assessing one's annual income.

This can be particularly useful if a person's income declines over the year and is not properly reflected by past tax returns. It doesn't appear, however, that if a person's income increases over the year that he is obliged to report the higher income until the next annual assessment.

Aside from people with incomes that may fluctuate wildly (usually those who are self employed and independent contractors), these repayment terms are very favorable and will allow many debtors to enjoy a pretty normal lifestyle without the crushing penalty of debt.

There are some problems with the system. Married couples must either use their jointly reported incomes or file separately to use the IBR. (Filing separately can cost some families more in taxes than they would otherwise pay.) This marriage penalty seems unnecessary since it should be easy enough to separate each spouse's individual incomes particularly since the Dept. of Ed. permits borrowers to prove their incomes via other means besides using past tax returns.

The other problem is that interest continues to accrue (but not compound) on all loans except for subsidized Stafford loans (and the subsidy lasts for only three years). This means that one's debt can balloon considerably over time if one sticks to just the minimum payments. This can make getting future financing for something like a house more difficult in the future. (Not because your credit rating will be hurt if you make timely payments under the IBR but because your debt to income/asset ratio is going to be uglier than Dean Matasar wearing a Speedo.)

As I joked in A Law School Carol, the IBR is great...as long as you don't plan on getting married or owning a house for the next 25 years.

These, however, aren't my biggest concerns about the IBR. The marriage penalty is unfair, but it's not like most of us TTT losers are going to get a chance to get married anyway. (Driving your old '87 Ford Taurus back and forth between your "job" earning $15.25 straight at the local doc review sweatshop and your mom's basement isn't exactly the best way to woo the opposite sex.)

As for the accruing interest, the choice is left up to borrower as to whether he wants to just make the minimum payments or wants to try to pay down his debt before the Battle of Armageddon takes place. Moreover, if a person goes into public interest work, he can have his debt forgiven in ten years and can see his debt forgiven after 25 years (possibly 20 under a proposal by President Obama) if he works in the private sector.

The real problem with this system isn't that it doesn't provide relief to borrowers. It does. The problem is that it continues to perpetuate the current corrupt system. The only difference is that it begins to shift the burden from the borrowers to the tax payers.

The law school deans (and their higher education cohorts) aren't necessarily evil; they're greedy and self important. By that, I mean that they don't necessarily relish seeing their former students thrust into poverty thanks to high monthly loan repayments and unhelpful degrees. If that is what it takes to allow them to rule over profitable educational empires, so be it, but if they can have the same results by sponging off a less visible source of revenue (the US Treasury), then they'd probably prefer that.

Save the IBR, we could otherwise be witnessing the destruction of the law school scam. Tuition at some schools (even some absolutely horrendous schools) is approaching $50k a year. Throw in living expenses, and it's hardly unreasonable to believe that plenty of students could graduate with debt closing in on $200,000 or more in just principal.

On top of the debt, the legal market is still collapsing. Firms aren't hiring summer classes. Those who do get hired are getting deferred. Federal jobs are getting record applicants. States are having trouble funding their DA and PD offices. Small firms are hardly hiring and are offering starting salaries south of $30k a year. Document review work has all but dried up in most cities (and many projects require years of experience).

This combination of absurd debt burdens and limited (if not non-existent) job opportunities is a recipe for mass defaults on students loans. That's the sort of thing that could get a lot of attention and force the law schools and their phony statistics to come under greater scrutiny, which would either force most of these dumps to close or require some massive reform as to how law schools (and probably other areas of higher education) operate.

The IBR, however, is going to provide an escape hatch for most entry level attorneys who are getting hit the hardest by the collapse of the legal market. It'll also provide a bit of a cushion for those with a mixture of private and federal student loans. In fact, the ABA recently proposed helping out older borrowers by encouraging the federal government to buy up their private debt and allow the borrowers to pay it back as Grad PLUS loans (and thus benefit from the IBR).

Over the long term, the low monthly payments are going to deprive the government of significant revenue. Moreover, the hit to the treasury is going to be even harder when the government needs to write off all of the forgiven debt (either under the 10 or 20/25 year plans).

Of course, the real effect of the IBR won't be felt by the taxpayers for decades, which, of course, buys the law school cartel and their buddies plenty of time to continue jacking up tuition and churning out worthless degrees with relative impunity. If they can actually get the government to assume to the private debt, they'll have muted the only constituency that's still is at serious risk for default.

With manageable monthly payments, the law school industry is rightfully banking that most of its graduates will just grumble about their experiences but end up finding other work and moving on. If the economy picks up, all the better. The mistake of going to law school won't hit individuals as hard as it used to while the law schools and allied companies will continue to be able to feast on the continuous flow of student loans.

For those who love to throw out the canard that law schools should be absolved of their behavior because students should have done more research, this is something that should be of concern to you. In the past, you guys claimed that we should have to pay for our educational myopia. Thanks to the IBR, now you'll also have to pay for our mistakes and what we call the Law School Scam.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Networking Trail of Tears

In analyzing U.S. history, the average American Indian probably views our nation's past with some reservation. (Okay, that was bad.) You don't have to be particularly PC, however, to recognize that the white man has broken many a peace treaty.

Likewise, if you're the typical job seeker (particularly one searching for an attorney position), you've likely encountered your own share of broken promises and disappointment. Some of the broken promises are explicit - somebody promising to do something for you and failing to follow through. Others are more implicit - somebody giving the impression that he can do something for you and then offering little more than cliche advice and well wishes.

In honor of Jay Leno's return to late night, I've decided to offer my Top 10 greatest networking disappointments...What? It's the other guy who has the Top 10 list? Well, I'm still going to do it anyway.

Please note, I actually needed to sort through a number of networking failures to actually narrow things down to only ten. Also, this does not include the reams of resumes as to which I have received no response.

10. Rejection Never Felt So Good

This was a quasi-networking situation. I learned about this business opportunity via an e-mail list to which I used to subscribe. I hadn't actually graduated law school yet (and it was a non-legal position that they probably wanted to fill immediately), so it should come as little surprise that I received the typical "Your credentials are indeed impressive...but take a hike." letter.

What actually is surprising is that I received any acknowledgment at all that I submitted a resume! Maybe by mentioning my affiliation with the organization that ran the e-mail list, I put myself on the inside track to actually getting a rejection letter.

Until my recent interview, this experience had the dubious honor of being the highlight of my job search.

9. Talking to Industry Insiders...and Hearing Nothing Back

One suggestion career strategists usually make is to talk to people involved with the industry in which you're interested. I suppose this is reasonable advice, but my two contacts (within IT) weren't exactly a great help.

One guy literally had no advice. He pretty much just worked his way up from the call center and didn't have any special training for his analyst position until he actually got the job. He was, however, able to depress me by letting me know that he had a pretty good job despite not even bothering to attend college.

The other guy had some advice for me, but he also hadn't really done much to get his position. The only thing I really learned was that he had a much better network than I do because apparently some family friend handed him his current position.

He did say he'd put me in touch with some contacts, but even after trying to follow up, he never really came through.

He did, however, put me in touch with some recruiters...

8. The Recruiter: A More Professional Method of Getting Rejected

My friend put me in touch with two IT recruiters. One guy was apparently a heavy hitter in the industry...Obviously, I never heard anything back from him.

The other guy was the typical run of the mill recruiter working for a larger firm. At first he seemed quite willing to help me out even though I explained my background in detail before talking with him.

After reviewing my resume, he said that the type of positions for which I'd be the most qualified would prefer someone with an engineering degree. Oddly, he couldn't have told me this beforehand, but at least he kept me on the hook.

When I asked if there was a specific area of my tech knowledge which I could improve to be more employable, I heard nothing back. I understand the guy isn't my personal consultant, but you'd think if I could improve my resume, it would give him a better chance of placing me and earning a fee. Given that I did get at least one tech related interview, I don't think I'm entirely unemployable in the field.

7. Harvard, Yale, Standford or Take a Hike

Now we're getting into the good stuff - searching for attorney positions.

First up is a friend who had a relative at a big firm. I've spoken about this before - that non-attorneys don't realize that the big firms are entirely inaccessible to anyone without the right pedigree.

Most of the time I tell people who have contacts at the big firms that I don't think I'd be a good fit for such a firm and that while I appreciate their assistance, it isn't worth their trouble.

This friend was insistent, however. Not surprisingly, when he got back to me, he informed me that his contact said unless "[Esq. Never] went to Harvard, Yale, or Stanford, there was nothing [she] could do for [me]."

That's right, even if you were a good student at the other lowly T-14 schools, you could go pound sand. Are you taking notes TTT bound law students? I'm not making this up!

6. Alumni: Brothers of the Bar

When career services realizes that your class rank makes it more likely that you'll win the Powerball drawing than land a job through OCI, instead of telling you to drop out and cut your losses, they instinctively urge you to talk with alumni.

Well, I live in the suburbs outside of a major city; outside of where I went to law school. I found an alumnus with his own firm in the town next to mine. You'd think this brother of the bar, this fellow 2TT alumnus, this fellow native son, and even local politically involved figure would be interested in talking to a fellow alumnus. No. No, he was not. He wouldn't even return my messages.

Glad to see that loyal alumni base that my school was always talking up coming through during these tough times.

5. CLE's: Meet the Pros...Get Blown Off By Them

CLE's are a great way to kind of learn what should have been taught to you in law school and meet with practicing attorneys, right?

Sort of. In my experience, most of the attorneys just share anecdotes and refer you to the written materials for actual information. I don't think any attorney who saw my resume was too impressed with CLE courses.

Moreover, the networking advantages of these session is pretty overstated. For one thing, the speakers while interested in talking about the law, aren't too interested in doling out career advice. Every time I asked, "How can I get into X law?" you could see their frustration with the question. This probably happens to them all the time.

Most of the time they provided general advice to just try to find some guy to work for to pick up some experience (as long as it was a guy other than one of them, of course) or to go out and get my own clients. Well, thanks. That was worth the price of admission. At least I got some pizza out of the deal.

Moreover, most of the other participants at these introductory classes were fellow recent graduates or solos struggling to find new practice areas to eek out some base living. Not exactly people looking to take on full time attorneys.

The only contact I made was with another student who helped turn me onto another vain attempt to try to find a legal job....

4. The Attorney Hard Labor Fantasy Camp (aka An Unpaid Internship)

Well, I guess some of my networking paid off. It helped me land an unpaid internship. (At least I didn't have to pay for it.)

I was told upfront that the position wouldn't lead to permanent work. Nonetheless, I thought I'd learn some valuable skills, maybe make some good contacts, and even have my boss recommend me to other attorneys.

The only thing I really learned was how awful it is to be a practicing attorney. This is actually what led me to abandon the law altogether. I guess, it did kind of work out for the best. (Too bad it took me months of boring labor and a miserable commute to figure that out.)

3. Anything Can Happen (Sadly, Most of the Time It Tends to be Bad)

Over the years, I had gotten to know a man pretty well who was very excited about my decision to become an attorney. He lives in the jurisdiction in which I currently live. He was a very outgoing person, and he was really in my corner in trying to help me find a job.

In fact, one of his close friends ran his own firm. This also wasn't just some solo shop. It employed multiple attorneys (but was definitely not an elite firm).

He talked this guy up while I was in law school and promised to put me in touch with him. It took a while, but after I took the bar he eventually got in touch with the guy...or actually his friend's wife...make that his soon to be ex-wife.

Apparently, his friend was in the midst of a bitter divorce and was doing everything he could to hide his assets including trying to dissolve his firm. Needless to say, he wasn't hiring.

Regrettably, I had an indirect falling out with this man and was no longer able to avail myself of his assistance.

(Pro Tip: For all you law students with "guarantees" of good jobs once you graduate, just remember, anything can happen.)

2. Like Father Like Son

What's better than knowing someone with a friend with his own firm? How about knowing somebody's whose dad runs his own firm.

My contact wasn't exactly my best buddy, but we were definitely on good terms. We also went way back and had quite a bit in common. He's a young attorney who works in my jurisdiction for his father's reasonable sized firm.

I figured this would be a pretty decent way to start off my job search and build my contacts, so I asked if he wanted to get together for lunch. He e-mailed me almost a minute or two after I sent out my query and seemed very excited to get together.

While it was nice to catch up with him, he was unable to really provide me with any contacts...except for his dad. He did, however, say that his dad would be happy to speak with me and that I should e-mail him and see if I could set something up. As an established attorney, he should be able to point in the right direction or at least have some good contacts. (I also somewhat knew his father.)

I wrote him a polite and relatively short e-mail asking for about 15 minutes of his time. Guess what? No response. I then e-mailed my friend to see if his dad was particularly busy or if he would be able to speak to him for me. Remember how my friend got back to me in about a minute the last time I contacted him? Well, this time, the delay was a little longer...like, forever.

I even ran into my friend's mom (who is still married to his dad) at one point and talked to her about my job search plight. She wished me luck and made no mention of asking her husband for assistance.

If family friends are blowing you off for informational interviews, you know this is a tough field.

1. Just Because I Said "Send Me Your Resume" Doesn't Mean I Have to Read It

I had another close, family friend who was also interested in seeing me land a job. He had a good friend, who is also a lawyer. This guy has his own firm. My family friend has often availed himself of this man's legal services. (My own father even once used his services.)

In addition, this attorney is involved in the local bar and was pretty well known in town (and the surrounding community). You know, one of those "give back to the community" guys.

The family friend talked to the guy about me and explained my situation. The attorney gave him his contact information and told me to send in a resume and cover letter.

I prepared both of them and had them reviewed by other people who thought they looked great. I dutifully mailed both to him and waited two weeks without hearing back.

I then called up his firm and politely explained the situation to his secretary. The result? He was unwilling to even take my call. He just instructed his secretary to inform me that if he was interested, he would get in touch with me.

As you can guess, that day never came. Moreover, he wasn't even willing to offer me the opportunity to clerk or serve as an unpaid intern for him. Heck, he wouldn't even give me 5 minutes to maybe give me some advice or explain why he couldn't do anything for me.

Bonus: I already covered this guy, so I left him off the list, but if you want to hear about another networking failure, check out my old post about "My Loyd Braun". (Where do I find these people?)

So there you have it, folks. That's not even a complete list of my networking failures. It isn't easy to network for any job, and it's even more of an uphill battle in the saturated and inaccessible market for attorneys.

Now, I know some of you are probably thinking, "Get real, Esq. Never. We all know you're a pathetic nerd who couldn't network himself out of a paper bag. Your examples prove nothing but your own awkwardness and lack of people skills."

I'm not going to defend myself as some back slapping, glad handling, 20 something version of Bill Clinton. Nonetheless, I have been able to make and maintain some friendships and contacts over the course of my life. Moreover, I've even had non-legal success in networking. I once was able to secure a paid summer internship (take that University of Dreams!) where most of the other interns went to more elite colleges through contacts I made.

If you want to dismiss these examples as outliers or just part of an insufficiently aggressive networking campaign, be my guest. If, however, you're plugging through law school and the bar because you're convinced your networking skills are vastly superior, well, good luck to you. You're sure going to need it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bad Dreams

Recently, I haven't been one to post twice in a day. In fact, I'm lucky if I post twice in one week, but I just couldn't pass up commenting on this:

An anonymous commenter tipped me off to the University of Dreams. Apparently, it was also recently profiled in the Chicago Tribune.

With a name like "University of Dreams" you'd have to believe that this is just another silly on-line school trying to get a slice of Aunt Sallie Mae's pie. You'd be wrong, however. No, the "University of Dreams" is much worse than that.

It's a program designed to let you buy your way into a summer internship program. No, it isn't just a consulting service to help you land a good internship. It actually guarantees you an internship. All for the low, low price of several thousand dollars. (More than a semester's tuition at some schools.)

Yes, people are now desperate enough to PAY to work for someone. Remember that Simpsons episode where Lisa tells Bart that in the nation of "Rand McNally" hamburgers eat people? That fib was even less strange than this.

Look, I'm a chump. I bought the law school snake oil. I even paid my own transportation costs to commute to an unpaid legal internship or two. Still, paying several thousand dollars to do work for someone else? That's just absurd.

I remember that when I was in college, students would settle for unpaid internships while most would try to finagle at least a minimal hourly wage. People are now actually parting with the big bucks just so they can say they did something interesting over the summer?

It used to be a bad joke on JD Underground that the market for attorneys was so bad that pretty soon we'd be paying practicing attorneys to work for them. After learning about this program, I'm not so sure that day is too far off.

Maybe, I should start "Attorney Dreams". You can work for a plaintiff or insurance defense firm for $2,000. Criminal defense and wills and trust law is going to cost you $5,000. If you want to work in the skyscrapers that house the major corporate firms, it's going to cost you $10k. (Please add $2,000 if you want to work in entertainment or sport law.)

I wouldn't even need to collect all the money upfront. I could offer installment plans or even loans. "The University of Dreams" offers both. You only need to put up $900 to be approved for their generous financing plan, and then it's only payments of $248 a month for the next three years!

Unless, I'm now living in a bizarro world where someone is also going to pay me to watch TV and play video games, I'd like to thank "The University of Dreams" for reminding me what a nightmare the higher education system in this country has become.

(NB: Anyone who is interested in the Esq. Never internship program, please e-mail me ASAP. It's only $10,000 per person. I won't even make you do anything. Act now!)

Unnecessary Enemies

Over the past year, the number of news articles and blogs that have been published in order to draw into question the wisdom of going to law school has been impressive. The popular legal tabloid, Above the Law, consistently urges people to stay away from law school while at least eight blogs do the same on a daily basis. The National Law Journal, the L.A. Times, and the Wall Street Journal (among other publications) have printed stories or op-eds assailing the ABA and the present law school system.

While much of this coverage has been met with strong support by those who have been wronged by the law school industry (and a number of neutral observers), there has inevitably been a bit of a backlash.

Obviously, this exposure is unwelcome news to those who profit off of the industry, but there has also been some criticism from those who are (at least allegedly) detached from the law school profit machine.

Most of these people are satisfied, practicing attorneys. To them, these attacks are foreign to their own experiences and are offensive to the career that they enjoy.

In some cases, these are just those at the top of the legal food chain taunting us with what amounts to little more than "Nya, Nya, a boo boo! I got a 170+ LSAT score and yooouuu didn't!" In other instances, it's simply the reality-challenged response of some old codger who graduated law school back when he could also go to the county fair and get cotton candy, a soda pop, and ride the Cyclone and still get change back from his nickel.

Admittedly, however, there are a few legitimate voices out there of people who truly enjoy practicing law. They didn't necessarily go to the best schools or get the best grades. Nonetheless, they were able to make it as attorneys and couldn't imagine doing anything else.

While they may not appreciate some of the commentary from the anti-law advocates, I don't think these people should necessarily be opposed to us.

Why? Well, I think most of us would agree that the world needs at least some lawyers. Our criticism is really aimed at how legal training is currently provided.

If anything, the prevailing system makes it more difficult for people who truly want to be lawyers to actually realize their dreams. The heavy debt load and glut of lawyers makes finding reasonable entry level work quite difficult.

What good does it do for anyone (save the law school industry) to throw so many attorneys (many of whom just want a job not a calling) onto the market with such punishing debt loads?

What sense is there in defending a system that doesn't even train budding attorneys as to how they should practice their future craft?

Aren't plenty of potentially good attorneys and caring advocates flushed out of the back of the law school toilet because they weren't able to pull off a top LSAT score or nail straight A's on a bunch of theoretically focused exams that bear little resemblance to the actual practice of law?

Why should those with a passion for the law have to compete with reams less interested graduates who went to law school in search of high starting salaries, stable careers, or versatile degrees - based upon the distorted statistics and information provided by the schools?

I had no business going to law school. Some people do. That's fine, but wouldn't we be better off with a system that taught these people how to be attorneys and didn't try to rope the rest of us into handing over our student loan dollars only to have all of us fighting over the limited number of entry level positions?
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