Thursday, October 28, 2010

Law School Hell(?)

This article from Slate about the oversupply of law school grads scared the hell out of me.  Seriously, I wanted to crawl under my desk, rock back and forth in the fetal position, and vomit at the same time.  Not because I am currently experiencing the hell of unemployment, but rather, because I know how precarious life as a new attorney is.

The first thing that everyone should know is that when it comes to starting salaries, there are two types of lawyers in the U.S. - big firm attorneys and everyone else.  Big firm attorneys, starting from day one, are paid six-figure salaries, and make big bucks (there's also an element of soul-selling involved, but whatever).  Everyone else generally makes around $100,000 less than that.  But regardless of what the new lawyer makes, he/she starts out with a mortgage-sized debt called student loans.

From personal experience, I graduated from law school with around $85,000 in student loan debt (and I was able to get it that low because I worked part-time throughout law school and lived with my parents).  Because I am a liberal sort, I went to work for a non-profit, civil rights organization, that paid me $32k per year.  During this time, my monthly student loan payments were approximately $900 per month, or about half of my take-home pay.  I then consolidated my federal loans (so it will take me 25 years to pay them off), and cut my student loan payments to a more manageable $500 per month.  Even then, I was living with my parents and asking for student loan assistance from my law school.

I share this because I was "doing the right thing" - taking out only student loans that I needed, saving as much as possible, had no credit card debt, and working to make the world a better place.  Even then, I stuck living with my parents until I was 32 years old.  It was only until I got a job at a law firm, which still pays significantly less than what partner-track, first year associates get from large firms, that I was able to move out of my parents' house.  Oh, but I need a roommate to make the rent.

Again, I did everything right - I went to a good (Order of the Coif) law school, got good grades, passed the California Bar on the first try, etc. - and I still was too poor to afford my own place.  If I did the "wrong" things (the things that most law school grads do) even just one or two of the wrong things, I would be in serious trouble right now. 

I say all of this, despite the fact that I have absolutely no regrets about going to law school.  I love being a lawyer, I love being a litigator, and I still love the law.  Of course, my practice for the past seven years has been either in civil rights litigation or class action litigation.  I've never had to defend a DUI to pay the rent, or represent a client I found odious.  And that's a good thing, because this job is one of the most taxing, most difficult jobs around.  I rarely have time to date, see friends, work in politics, and I had to get a dog to create some work/life balance.

Still, I understand how lucky I am to be where I am.  And that's why when I read the Slate article, I thought, "There but the grace of God, go I."  I get the same feeling whenever I read about a lawyer falling into drug or alcohol abuse - because every lawyer comes so close to falling into the abyss. 

On a broader, policy oriented scale, we now have an opportunity to do some good for people, and I think we should take it.  Here are my ideas to help out the legal profession:

1) Treat Student Loan Payments Like Mortgage Payments: Only $2500 of my student loan payments are currently deductible, which is totally ridiculous.  Even after consolidation, I regularly exceed the max deduction every year.  That's ridiculous.  If I had a mortgage, I could deduct the amount I pay from my taxes in full.  Keep in mind that I cannot walk away from my student loans like I could with a bad mortgage, and even if I declare bankruptcy, my student loans will never be discharged.  Ever.  So, give me a break.

2) Lawyers who work for non-profits should have their loan repayment suspended - Look, we want lawyers to do good in the world, from fighting injustice, to helping people with wills, trusts, etc.  And we have a growing pool of unemployed attorneys out there who need something to do.  Why not help by suspending repayment of the federal loans for as long as they work for a nonprofit?

3) Law School Transparency - Let's be clear.  Being a lawyer is not the best way to make money.  Those rich lawyers who drive BMW's and whatnot, really do work hard for their money.  Now, there are harder jobs out there, but this idea that graduating from law school is the ticket to wealth is a total fiction for 99% of the law students out there.  So, law schools should be clear about that.  And they should be clear about how much the MEDIAN income of the 1st year attorney is (not the average income, which would be skewed by big firm salaries).  The thing that helped me was that I was working for a non-profit, and I knew going in that I was going to get screwed financially.
So to all you newbie attorneys out there - good luck, and keep on hustling.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Myth of Collegiate Athletics

With the most recent study out that states that full-ride scholarships don't actually pay for all collegiate expenses, I thought it was high time to castigate the NCAA. 

First of all, let's discuss the myth that collegiate athletes are amateurs - that they are not paid to play athletics.  Most notably, this myth goes hand in hand with the argument that a college education is priceless.  Both arguments are without merit.  First, of course, college athletes are paid to play - they receive scholarships from the institutions they play for.  That scholarship (which is considered income by the IRS*) is an actual dollar amount going from the college to the player.  In other words, every school pay its players.

Now yes, an education is an investment in the future, but that doesn't make education priceless.  In fact, every year, every college and university throughout the country puts a price tag on the value of their education.  That price tag is called "tuition."  And said tuition is paid by every non-scholarship student, either through their parents or through loans.  By the way, that price is the price just to attend the storied institution, and does not include costs for books, living expenses, etc.  In other words, USC does, in fact, pay its players more than UCLA, because the tuition costs to go to USC are much, much higher.

Because this is entirely obvious, and because the value of some players is much, much, higher than others, some college athletes, acting as economic actors, actually seek additional compensation for their services.  We castigate these players for either cheating, or being greedy, but let's face it, they are acting rationally.  In fact, given that many collegiate players lack the skills to play in the pros effectively, and that injuries are so common, I would argue that it is more rational to take money under the table than to not.

And here I come to one of my major rules - people are going to do what is perceived to be more rational economically speaking, than they are going to do what is considered more moral.  Moreover, the market will modify and change itself to eliminate an obvious inefficiency (as opposed to an obscure inefficiency or an externality).  Here, everyone knows college athletes are paid for their services (tuition), and everyone knows that in a few select sports (football, basketball), the star athletes are grossly underpaid.  This is especially true when it comes to basketball, where 1-2 stars can make the difference between going to NCAA Tournament (and getting the school to rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars), and not.

So, let's not kid ourselves, collegiate athletics is professional athletics.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Myth of the Swing Voter

In my continuing series of how Democrats are total dumbasses, I'd like to take a quick look at the myth of the "swing voter" - the alleged voter who doesn't know who to vote for right up to election day, who is a moderate, and runs around with unicorns in his or her spare time.  I mention the last part because, like Karl Rove, I don't believe swing voters exist. Or, if they do, taking moderate positions or trying to please David Broder isn't going to help.  Once again, Rove figured this out in 1994-ish, but the Democrats are still trying find these votes. 

The reality is that the two parties are so polarized over issues like abortion, unions, health care, education, etc., that virtually everyone has made up their minds about the party they're going to vote for IF THEY VOTE.  And that's the rub.   The choices going into any election is not simply Democrat or Republican, its Democrat, Republican, or not voting (or voting for a random independent candidate).  And may "swing voters" are, in fact, disengaged voters who have a preference when they vote, but are so disgusted by politics that they don't vote. 

See, that's what Karl Rove and the GOP has long since figured out.  So rather than play to the "mythical middle," they reach out to their base, pump them up, and get them out to vote.  That's how the GOP has won almost every national election since 1994.  It was only in the latter days of the Bush Administration, when the Conservative base was demoralized and the Liberal/Progressive base was energized, that Democrats starting winning again. 

To the extent that swing voters exist, they do so only because they are so disengaged from politics that they don't know who to vote for, but at the same time still vote.  Those voters are simply going to go with the whichever base is more fired up.  Of course, everyone Republican knows this.  So why is it that only bloggers on the Democratic side know this? Ugh.

Monday, October 4, 2010


I have a quick nit to pick with the media - stop referring to animus as "insensitivity."  Today's example comes from, which refers to Mike Pence's claim that stopping gay marriage is more important than the economy as "insensitivity to gay Americans."  But Mike Pence isn't being insensitive to the LGBT community, he's declaring outright war against them.

Unfortunately, I see this time and time again when it comes to describing what politicians said.  When Senator DeMint says that gays and sexually active women shouldn't be allowed to teach, he's not being insensitive to their interests, he's actively saying that all unmarried women are sluts, and gay men are pedophiles.  That's not "insensitive," its an expression of antipathy (go ahead, look up the definition of antipathy, I'll wait).  Is the KKK insensitive to African Americans and Jewish Americans?  No, the KKK actually wants to forcibly remove all non-White people from the United States in as violent a way as possible.

All this leads to the ultimate non-apology, apology - I'm sorry if I said anything that offended you.  My favorite examples of this include Trent Lott saying that he wished segregation still existed, the University of Colorado football coach who said it was okay for the kicker to be raped because she was a terrible kicker (definitely a reason to either quit the team, or play your best at all times), and let's see. . .I'm blanking now.  But even though these guys said horrible things, its apparently the fault of the listener that they got offended.  Um, no. 

So please media, stop saying that someone is "insensitive" when in reality, the person is a racist, a sexist, a xenophobe, or a homophobe.