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TDot’s Tips: More Final Exam Advice

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 30, 2010 in TDot's Tips

Good evening y’all! :D

Let me preface this entry by giving a quick shout-out to the folks at FAMU Law down in Orlando, one of the ~40 historically black public institutions in the country alongside NCCU. I was told earlier today that some 1Ls down there found some helpful information here at law:/dev/null and I just wanted to thank y’all for reading! There’s no higher praise I can get than someone liking what I’ve written :)

Today was Reading Day at NCCU Law and final exams start for our 1Ls tomorrow morning with Property I. So it seemed like a timely opportunity to point the 1Ls back to a handful of final exam tips I wrote back in December, along with some recent additions I added in October :angel:

There are so many blawgs with so many exam tips that I don’t want to pile on more beyond what’s already out there — after all, you should be learning rules of law instead of this random 2L’s suggestions on how to do better at exams.

But I also had a few more ideas that I’m also using myself, and I figured it’d be selfish of me not to share. So take this with the requisite grains of salt, your mileage may vary, there are no express or implied warranties of any kind that any of this will actually help your exam grades, etc etc etc ;)

  1. Do as many practice multiples as you can get your hands on. I’ve been banging the “do more multiples!” drum pretty zealously every time I talk about exams, because (for some reason that escapes me) I still have folks swear to me that it’s a misapplication of time and energy :crack:  Y’all, please just trust the computer scientist on this one: your multiple choice questions are more important than your essays. Multiple choice questions have finite answer options that are objectively either right or wrong. If the answer for a question is A, bubbling in “A” on a Scantron is the only way to get points for that question. It’s objective. There’s no room for interpretation. That means multiples can’t be curved. If your law school grades on a curve, for example like the strict-C curve we use at NCCU Law, the professors have to find some subjective way to sort your grades — and since multiples can’t be curved, that subjectivity has to happen on the essays. In other words, no matter how stellar you do on your exam essays, for that portion of the exam you are inevitably at the mercy of your classmates. (Cue the :surprised:  looks.) If you do well, but everyone else does well too, that makes you average; the professors will then start looking for über-nitpicky justifications to shave a point here, a point there, etc. On the other hand, with multiples you stand on your own; you either got them right, or you didn’t. A student with a stellar essay score and a barely-passing multiples score isn’t going to do very well, but a student with a perfect score on the multiples and a less-than-stellar essay can ride the curve to a decent grade.
  2. Start exploiting your bar prep company now. I can’t speak competently about Kaplan’s PMBR because I don’t use them, but I signed up for Thomson Reuters’ BarBri my 1L year and I’m in the process of paying $$$$$ to take their bar review course after I graduate. Not only does BarBri provide a huge “First Year Review” book to 1Ls, they have free practice tests online with their “StudySmart Law School” web application — an app that has more multiple choice questions than you can shake a stick at, and a timer to go with it. I don’t remember if I had as much access to this stuff as I had last year, but right now I can take practice exams on CivPro, ConLaw, Ks, CrimLaw, Evidence, Property, and Torts. You’re already paying money to these folks to provide you with a service, why not start using it now? ;)
  3. See if any 2Ls/3Ls will let you look at their old essays. Just about everyone you ever talk to will tell you to find old tests to practice on, but that doesn’t do you much good if the test is really old or your professor isn’t available to offer their $.02 on your practice work. If you’ve already attached yourself to a 2L for their textbooks and happen to have the professor they had last year, see if they have their old graded essays and would be willing to let you look at them. It will give you a sense of how someone did in your shoes, and if the professor provided any useful commentary on the essay it will also provide some insight into what that particular professor might be looking for in an answer. Your hypo is going to be different of course, but every little bit of insight helps. As an example, for NCCU Law 1Ls the Traveling Professor likes having every single possible detail thrown in about the tested area of law in her Property essays; MDG, by contrast, takes off points if you mention extraneous CivPro law that doesn’t actually apply in his particular hypos.
  4. Visit Academic Support. I never went to our Academic Support office last year, because I routinely fled the law school as soon as class was over to escape the high-stress super-Type A personalities roaming the halls.1 Over the past week I’ve been in there more than all of last year as I was trying to snag this CrimLaw tutor gig…  and I just now realized these folks have scads of supplements, flash cards, practice tests, and all sorts of other stuff to help you pass your classes :eek:  I guess in my mind I really already knew that, but it didn’t really “click” until seeing all of it there in front of my eyes. Definitely pay a visit to Academic Support and use the tools they have available for you (especially since you’re already paying for it).
  5. Pace yourself. You’re going to hear the saying “law school is a marathon and not a sprint” at least a half-dozen times between now and when you graduate. That applies to exams too. Definitely study aggressively, practice frequently, and so on and so forth. But also make sure you take time to relax, sleep, get out of your apartment (or study carrel), exercise, bathe, waste time on Facebook, or whatever else you do in your free time to stay sane. If you’ve got 48 hours of potential study time between now and your next exam, there’s no harm with using 16 of them for sleep and taking an hour or two of the 32 left to relax. You’ll be happier for it, and more inclined to remember the stuff that you studied :spin:

This entry’s running a bit long so I’ll cap it here, but I hope it helps! Make sure to read through the other tips too — and GOOD LUCK! :D

—===—

Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. Apparently prompting some people to think I looked down on them… []

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The final lap (of Fall 2010 at least)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 29, 2010 in The 2L Life

The Fall 2010 semester at NCCU Law is now officially over! :D

9 days and 3 final exams — in ConLaw, ZombieLaw, and Evidence — are all that stand between yours truly and a solid month of not having to read casebooks every day…

…at least until the Spring semester starts :beatup:

On an unrelated side note, I also found out that I will officially be tutoring the §103 1Ls in CrimLaw next semester B-)  And on top of it should have a 2nd telephone interview with these folks on Wednesday.

If it goes well, I will firmly be in the “embarrassment of riches” category as far as jobs go — they won’t be paying much, but anything is greater than $0 ;)

End of the semester. One job in hand. Another (hopefully) en route. All in all not a bad day.

Off to go straighten up the living room in anticipation of studying for finals. *GOOD LUCK* to all of you with exams! :)

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2 down, 3 to go…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 28, 2010 in The 2L Life

Finally put the finishing touches on my brief for DV Law and set to turn it in tomorrow morning. With my last day of Legal Letters happening earlier this week, that means I’m now officially done with 2 of my 5 classes this semester :spin:

If any of you get bored and want to read through the brief I wrote for the class, you can download a PDF copy here.

Spending the rest of the night catching up on reading for ConLaw. Have a great night y’all! :D

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Week #68 in Review

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 27, 2010 in Weekend Roundup

I disappeared again, sorry! :beatup:

Out of the 144 weeks from the time Orientation started until I get my J.D. in May 2012, something about the 2-day class week before Thanksgiving triggers a feeling of “omgwtfshootmeplzkthxu”.

Out of curiosity I checked the law:/dev/null archives for this same time last year, and sure enough there was this entry on panic setting in before finals. I’ve got the same feeling a year later, so blogging took a back seat for the week.

But, today was game day again — which means I got absolutely nothing productive accomplished and could properly get things updated here. Plus it gave me an excuse to tag an entry for the Weekend Roundup category for the first time since Week 8 ;)

Here’s a week-in-review look back at what’s happened in my life over the past 7 days:

  • As I hinted before my disappearance, last Saturday was spent with 雅雅 as we watched the N.C. State Wolfpack stage an amazing comeback to defeat the Baby Blue Powder Puffs of the University of Non-Compliance at Cheater Haven — for the 4th time in 4 years :D We ended up winning by a score of 29-25, which included one of the most improbable touchdown catches I’ve ever seen in college football; check around the 2:13 mark of this NCSU-UNX highlight videofor the whole play. After the requisite celebrating and trash-talking, we headed out to go see Harry Potter VII Part I… and I was generally unimpressed. No hate mail please :P

    My SBA colleague after her team lost last week

  • Got to spend Sunday afternoon picking out a Wolfpack shirt for the SBA secretary, who happens to (1) be a UNCCH graduate and (2) have an affinity for making outlandish bets on losing sports teams ;)  The rest of the day was used to revise my brief in opposition to the State’s motion in limine for DV Law, then frantically figuring out what on Earth I was going to say during oral arguments.
  • Monday was compartmentalized into three distinct phases. Oral arguments took place Monday morning and turned out fairly well, even though I didn’t get to use several of the pre-packaged zingers I had prepared just in case :(  The afternoon was spent being annoyed about this UNCASG news piece in the Daily Tar Heel — and for once it wasn’t because of what the DTH printed. Bear in mind there is nothing at all whatsoever in any of ASG’s governing documents that dictates what amount (if any) officers have to be paid, yet these people are amending its Constitution and eliminating a constitutionally-mandated financial oversight position, purportedly to save money they’re not required to pay in the first place. “We mismanaged our budget, so let’s eliminate one of the key people responsible for making sure we don’t mismanage our budget” is the unspoken message being sent to the UNC Board of Governors and the other political players in North Carolina.1 :crack: Then Monday night was right here in front of the laptop banging away at my last Legal Letters assignment of the semester until the wee hours of the morning.
  • Tuesday was my very last Legal Letters class ever, which called for celebration.  Even though the professor was cool the material was just mind-numbingly bland and no amount of caffeine / cash / illegal narcotics could keep someone awake in it :beatup:  I also had an interview with the tech company I mentioned last week, which I think went well but honestly I’m not sure; I’m supposed to get a call this coming week with a thumbs up or thumbs down. The prospect of getting the job has me insanely nervous because everything I’ve done up until this point has either been trivially easy2 or difficult-but-practically-a-hobby.3 This would be a combination of being totally new, probably difficult, and sufficiently not-a-hobby that I’d be fired if I screw up. Which I don’t think I will, but you get the point. I’ve always been a high-risk/high-reward type of person, but I still get butterflies in my stomach in the process…
  • In anticipation of Thanksgiving, I used Wednesday to finally clean my apartment thoroughly for the first time since the semester started getting crazy. Washed all my clothes, cleaned up the wasteland that was quickly becoming my kitchen, and so on. Stocked up on food for the holiday, donated $$ I didn’t have to the Durham Rescue Mission to help those who aren’t as lucky as I am, then went home, put all the food away… and ended up falling asleep in the recliner watching TV :oops:
  • Thursday of course was Thanksgiving. It was only me this year, but I was blessed to have a handful of folks offer up their own meals if I wanted them — I declined though, because I wanted to experiment with cooking my very first turkey without potentially killing anyone ;)  It turned out well for a first attempt4 so I was happy. Followed that up with the obligatory mashed potatoes and gravy, some steamed broccoli and cheese,5 and a few rolls. The only downside is that I will be eating turkey-related leftovers for weeks :sick:  In between cooking and eating, also spent about 8 (non-contiguous) hours sending personalized text messages to folks wishing them a happy Thanksgiving. Maybe a little crazy, but cheaper than sending a bunch of holiday greeting cards no one reads…
  • And then yesterday was pretty much spent banging my head against the desk in the hope that something useful would fall out for this Evidence memo due on Monday. It’s ostensibly optional extra credit, but when (1) you’re graded on a curve and (2) a majority of your classmates are going to turn something in, “optional” isn’t really optional :beatup:  I’m in the position of defense counsel in a criminal case (sound familiar?) trying to block the State’s effort to get evidence introduced under FRE 404(b) about prior bad acts allegedly committed by my client. The only problem is that pretty much every case I’ve found that holds any weight for this particular factual scenario says the evidence needs to come in, and the more exotic theories I’ve come up with are even more thoroughly refuted :mad:  I’m going to come up with something, but doggone it I hate making losing arguments…

NC State got Ron Cherry'd on UMD's 4th and 1

Which brings us to today. My Wolfpack disgraced themselves in College Park, Maryland, losing to the Terrapins by 31-38. We actually played far worse than the box score indicates, scoring 14 points in the first 9 minutes and 14 points in the last 4 minutes — making only a 3-point field goal during the 47 minutes in between. NC State got screwed when Maryland was given a first down they didn’t earn on 4th and 1 with under a minute left (see the photo), but the truth is we played so horribly that we pretty much deserved to lose anyway.

I’m not in a position to complain since I predicted we’d end the season at 7-5 and we’re actually 8-4, so I’m just gonna be happy with our bowl game and look forward to next season :spin:

The rest of this evening has been spent trading critiques with EIC about our various papers due tomorrow (Evidence and DVLaw for me, both of those plus Race and the Law for her). And finally writing this blog entry :D

All in all it’s been a good week… and now exams are upon us :eek:  GOOD LUCK to everyone facing finals, and if you have a few prayers to spare feel free to send them my way ;)

  1. And that’s not even touching the fact they’ve supposedly burned through more money in less time than I did during either of my two terms, despite me making over 115+ separate campus visits in addition to the group setting three separate attendance records while making do with more-expensive travel options (reimbursing rental cars over paying straight IRS mileage rates) and a smaller budget. And yes, I realize I’m retired and at some point I really should stop caring, but considering massive tuition hikes are on the horizon for everybody it’d be nice if the students’ representatives could get their act together… []
  2. Paralegal work, teaching Intro to Java, etc. []
  3. Being a research intern at the Legislature, leading the single most-distinguished student deliberative assembly ever conceived in the State of North Carolina, etc. []
  4. Ever-so-slightly overcooked, but nothing a little gravy couldn’t fix :beatup:  Also, props to Butterball for having mini-turkeys for small Thanksgiving meals :D []
  5. My first time cooking broccoli too! []

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Heads up: possible indecent content tomorrow

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 19, 2010 in Wolfpack Athletics

This is NCSUUNCCH football weekend, a point I hinted at in yesterday’s entry. Anyone who tells you it’s not one of the biggest rivalry games in the ACC is either (a) delusional, (b) clueless, or (c) lying to you ;)

I come from an apparently-bygone era where it’s still possible to appreciate a person/group/institution and what they do, while still trashing them habitually in certain competitive eras like athletics (or mock trial competitions). So, for example, while I’ve got a few colleagues who hate anything and everything that is Duke Law, I don’t have a problem with them or their students — just the trial team, which couldn’t litigate its way out of high school detention without professional help1 :angel:

By that same token, I have no doubt the University of Non-Compliance at Cheater Haven is a fine upstanding academic institution 6 out of 7 days of the week. But the rest of the time they’re typical blue-blood white-wine elitists who got where they are today courtesy of mommy’s and daddy’s trust fund.

Oh, and the wealthy white alumni $$$ that came with excluding blacks for 160 years.

So it was in that spirit I’ve been exchanging trash-talk with one of my colleagues in the NCCU Law Student Bar Association, who happens to be a UNCCH alum. That in turn led to the inevitable taunt of putting a friendly wager on the game. I proposed the loser cooking the winner dinner and wearing a t-shirt touting the victorious school.

She saw my bet and raised by taking it a step higher: social media :surprised:

If, by some cosmic coincidence, the Baby Blue Powder Puffs manage to eke out their 1st victory in the past 4 years over my beloved N.C. State Wolfpack, I have to change my Facebook and Twitter avatars to something UNCCH-esque and write an entry here at law:/dev/null praising them for their victory :sick:

Even though Vegas has my Wolfpack as a 3-point underdog… and we’ve whipped them 3 years in a row so they’re due for a win… I accepted :beatup:

So this entry is just to give y’all advance warning that if things don’t turn out the way I want, you might want to avoid stopping by the blog tomorrow — and if you happen to ignore my advice, make sure you read #6 on the Disclaimer first ;)

  1. And even so, I’m sure they’re fine people outside of a courtroom and I’d happily get drinks with them :* []

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Random Musings

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 18, 2010 in Randomness

Law school life is hitting über-crazy status as we get into the final days of class before the Thanksgiving holiday… followed the next week by final exams :eek:

So rather than a properly edited entry, you get a few random bullets that crossed my mind today:

  • Wednesdays this semester seem to be the day I just totally forget law:/dev/null exists — sorry for constantly bailing on y’all the same time every week :beatup:
  • I’m appreciative y’all still stop by though!  Barring an unexpected outage (or a complete and total lack of all interest) we should cross the half-million pageview milestone today :D
  • It took 10 months to rack up our first 250,000 pageviews, and only 5 months for the next 250,000. I doubt that growth trend is going to continue given my sporadic absences but it’s still pretty cool :spin:
  • After she read the N&O article on my less-than-stellar academic performance in computer science, one of the senior academic folks at N.C. State sent me an incredibly kind email with her thoughts.  Amid the other remarks was this snippet: “In light of your comments regarding yourself as a computer science student, I thought I would pass on what a computer science professor told me when he realized I was one of your fans. He told me that you were one of the best and finest students he had ever had in computer science.” I have no clue which professor she was referring to, but is it bad that my first two thoughts were wondering (1) what that professor must have been smoking to come to that conclusion, and (2) if I could find a hearsay exception to get it admitted in case I ever had to prove that I really wasn’t that incompetent? :beatup:
  • I also got a snarky email from some random person about that article. Might make it a separate mailbag entry just so I can be snarky in response. We’ll see :angel:
  • If you haven’t done so already, I want you to check out two blog entries that continue last week’s posts on the value of law school:  Keith Lee over at An Associate’s Mind has this entry on performing your due diligence, and Jack Whittington of World Wide Whit has this piece on how *not* to persuade people. They’re both excellent entries — and it makes me feel better not being the only one in the “realistic optimist” camp anymore :)
  • Speaking of realistic optimism, in the span of one hour Wednesday morning I randomly got contacted to schedule two different job interviews — one in the CrimLaw arena, the other in the CSC-related intellectual property field. It was a reminder to me that I really need to figure out wtf I’m going to do with my professional life after law school. Look for an entry on that topic soon.
  • My draft motion in limine for DV Law was the highest grade in the class… and now I have to pretty much re-do the whole thing :beatup:  I’m in the role of defense counsel (again) and the facts for my case suck (again). Even so, I thought I had a pair of exotic-but-still-pretty-compelling arguments — until the prosecution from a different team unintentionally ran a tractor trailer-sized hole through one of them during her own performance this morning. Back to the drawing board…
  • I can’t wait for Saturday ;)

Have a great night everybody! :D

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From the people who brought you “hotchpot”…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 16, 2010 in The 2L Life

…we now have “woodshedding” :roll:

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not terribly impressed with some of the word choices attorneys use in various fields like ZombieLaw. But I didn’t expected that I’d have to consult Google reading through the rules of TYLA’s National Trial Competition that I’ll be competing in for NCCU Law next semester :beatup:

Now I’m familiar with the noun form of a woodshed, a shed where (you guessed it!) folks store wood. I’m even familiar with the phrase of taking someone “to the woodshed” or “behind the woodshed” — in both cases, it’s generally used when you’re berating or criticizing someone discreetly outside public view (since woodsheds are typically far from houses in case of fires).

I didn’t realize that there was a verb form of woodshed… or that its verb form actually has nothing at all to do with its meaning in a trial practice context. Apparently the normal meaning of “to woodshed” is to practice a musical instrument.

So what do lawyers mean when they use “woodshed”? Are we talking about musical instruments? Yelling at witnesses in pre-trial meetings? Storing firewood in the corner conference room?

Of course not, that would be too simple :P

Keith Lee of An Associate’s Mind offered me this definition via Twitter, which was basically a less-vulgar edition of the same thing a few other trial attorneys sent to me:

“woodshedding” = prepping witness to testify, with the intent to carefully skirt ethical issues of suggesting testimony, etc.

I don’t even want to know how some presumably-bright attorney decided one day that a completely new and totally unused definition for “woodshed” would be an appropriate colloquialism for witness preparation… :crack:

But I still love the law :D

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Maybe it’s something about November?

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 15, 2010 in The 2L Life

So the original title of this entry was going to be “Serendipity”… until I did a search through my previous posts, and found out I already used that same title a year and four days ago :surprised:

I’m now becoming convinced that instead there must simply be something about November in the space-time continuum that leads to events converging just right.

Here’s the deal: our Dean for Career Services at NCCU Law sent me an email earlier today about a company looking for a law student to help with some contract review work. Now, aside from the fact that it’s an opportunity to earn experience or $$$ or both, it was an otherwise-inconspicuous proposition. Especially for a guy whose confidence in Ks was rocked until I started getting my academic life together this past summer.1

But then I found out that this company is in the information technology field…

And their headquarters is based at my alma mater

And they’re e-Partners with my department

And their CEO gave a presentation last November… that I attended… the night before that previous Serendipity post :crack:

::cue mini-“omg omg omg” freak-out session::

Needless to say I’ve gotten -0- done on a paper I have due in Legal Letters at 9am tomorrow morning. Instead I’ve been re-tweaking my résumé for the n-th time, reaching out to friends who work for or with the company to get background info, trying to cobble up something for a cover letter that doesn’t sound totally inane, debating whether or not I should reach out to the hiring person on LinkedIn before the Career Services folks have sent my résumé (thoughts??) — the list goes on.

And the craziest part? I wanted to intern with these folks when I was in undergrad! But my Computer Science GPA was toast because I was investing all my time serving students through Student Government (since I was planning to go to law school instead of working in the IT field professionally) so I never applied. How totally awesome would it be if I got a chance to work here in a law-related capacity?!

And yes, I fully realize I’m getting totally carried away and haven’t even gotten to the point of being interviewed yet, much less getting a job. But still. Talk about a crazy confluence of circumstances…

I’m off to go work on this paper, but just thought I’d share in light of the job-related discussion that’s been taking place over the past two days on the “Is law school really worth it?” entries :)

Have a great night everybody! :D

  1. I just realized I never did provide a post-summer session breakdown on grades like I did for the Fall and Spring — that’ll be coming up soon! []

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Is law school really worth it? (Part II)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 14, 2010 in Unsolicited Commentary

Good evening y’all! :)

Yesterday I finally finished editing this entry on the monetary costs-vs-benefits of law school, which pulled together some easily-accessible data based on my own work history, ADA salaries in North Carolina, my tuition and fee payments for both N.C. State and NCCU Law, and so on.

Recognizing that it only took me about 2 hours for the data gathering / spreadsheet making / graphic creating / writing / editing, I didn’t tout it as a comprehensive panacea of analysis — even going so far as pointing out “[d]ata-driven analyses like this are, in a word, pointless. There are simply too many variables involved to produce anything useful[.]”

But that didn’t stop the comments on the post from being uniformly negative :beatup:

All the commenters raised points worth considering though, so rather than limit discussion to the comments section of that particular thread I figured I’d do a copy/paste in a separate entry with my responses.

For clarity, I’m using the same snippet-by-snippet response style I ran with in deconstructing the Pope Center’s hit piece on me way back in March. If you haven’t already done so, I’d encourage you to read yesterday’s entry and the comments yourself just so there are no concerns about me misrepresenting what was said :D

Here we go…

—===—

Aaron Massey: Since we’re both American, this might be completely anti-cultural, but I think you’re calculations are still significantly off because you’re not accounting for retirement savings plans. The head start on retirement that both the HS diploma and the BA/BS degree would have can make a big difference once you start factoring it in. A higher income is nice, but so is compound annual interest/stock appreciation.

I didn’t include any mention of retirement savings in my post, because it’s simply not relevant to the discussion :)

If you take a look at the “caveats” section of the entry, my only requirement is that any money earned during college or law school can’t go to defraying education expenses — done solely to artificially magnify the cost of that education for the purpose of the analysis.

The vast majority of college students work, which is why the common categorization of years in school as a true “opportunity cost” barely holds water (and retains even less). If a freshman wants to set up a 401(k) and put money into it from his side job, he wouldn’t run afoul of my analysis. Similarly, there’s nothing stopping a law student from taking a chunk of their financial aid refund or earnings from a summer associateship and socking that into a retirement plan as well.

Now in both cases they’d be better off financially by paying down their student loans, since their long-run net return on investments will likely be less than the 8% loan interest rate I’m using. But if they did that I couldn’t artificially inflate the student loan interest for the analysis ;)

If we assume students can and do work (but simply don’t defray education costs), a corollary question may be “Will they be putting away as much as someone working full-time?” And the answer to that is “It depends.”

Unlike the full-time employee, typically students get to have their living expenses (rent, electricity, etc) rolled into their financial aid package; it’s why economic analyses typically show traditional college-aged students having the highest discretionary income of any age group. Under those circumstances, a student could easily put away a comparable amount for retirement if they had the inclination to do so.1

Since planning for retirement isn’t precluded by my analysis and could easily be done by all three hypothetical students, I think for this particular analysis we’d lose more from the confusion inherent in tackling too many issues than we’d gain from discussing 401(k)s and related savings plans :)

***

Aaron Massey: Also, I also think you’re generic approach to the four year college degree is a little difficult to justify. Some degrees (like computer engineering) have starting salaries that average about $60,000. Others are almost half that.

Could some folks start out making more money? Of course. But similar to bringing in the discussion of retirement savings, expanding the analysis to include a litany of possible starting salaries for the BS/BA track adds a lot of noise without much signal.

For example, if we’re going to differentiate degrees like computer engineering to account for the higher salaries, it’d only be fair analytically to also differentiate the law track to rely on that expertise — an attorney doing IP-related litigation before the US Patent & Trademarks Office will be making far more than the ADA salaries I included ;)

Synthetic Work-Life Earnings Estimates by Degree

The generic approach also has the benefit of its reasonableness being reviewable against aggregate data compiled by the government. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau produced this compilation titled “The Big Payoff” analyzing data on average salaries and synthetic work-life earnings by education level, gender, race, and so on.2

Based on the government’s compilation, I’ve overestimated lifetime earnings of the diploma-only worker by ~$150K, underestimated the BS/BA earnings by only ~$53K, but underestimated professional degree earnings by ~$1,698K (aka $1.7M). The rhetoric about them being “difficult to justify” notwithstanding, my numbers are generally in line with the government’s except for the legal salary (that I’ve gratuitously underestimated).

So while a more-nuanced approach might provide a minimal amount of added clarity (at the expense of a lot more reading), I’ve already tilted the numbers so far in favor of the non-law school route that doing so isn’t particularly meaningful.

***

Aaron Massey: Still, the most important problem with this sort of raw calculation is that your disclaimers in the preliminaries are far more important than the rest of the post. “Worth it” is a question of happiness, which is often not at all about money. Sometimes, life happens and no amount of money will help.

I wholeheartedly agree, 110%. It’s why I linked to Jack Whittington’s entry on that very topic, and why the “I’d have more fun doing law” argument was central to my email to BL1Y.

But since Jack already covered the “Happiness is important” route, and BL1Y covered the “You’re not going to be happy” route, that left me with only the financials :beatup:

***

Aaron Massey: Realistically, the best advice anyone considering law school can receive about whether it is “worth it” is this: “Don’t just think that you’re going to be better off financially; run some numbers using some potential scenarios, including one in which you abandon law altogether. Also, don’t just think that more money will actually make you happier; be honest about what your life goals really are.”

I agree with everything here except the first word — strike “Realistically” and replace it with “Ideally” ;)

Realistically, almost no one’s going to do that level of analysis… which is why I did it for them :angel:

—===—

BL1Y: A lot of the trouble with students going in to law school is that they look at data like this and see law school as an investment. It’s not.

If you sit on the couch eating potato chips every day, your JD doesn’t bring in any money. If you go back to your old job, your JD typically won’t get you a raise (especially if compared against 3 lost years of seniority). A JD is merely a credential on your resume that may, or may not, make certain new job paths available to you.

What many law students don’t realize going in is how much work is then required. The JD doesn’t bring you any extra income, you do. You have to work for it.

I’m not entirely sure there’s a point here.

The same complaints you’re levying against a JD are also true of a BS/BA, but I don’t think that means we make the leap to saying folks should avoid giving up 4 years and various sums of $$$ to get a college degree.

***

BL1Y: And, for many people, the stress, boredom, long hours, and shitty atmosphere are not worth the increase in salary.

And, what makes law school a particularly shitty “investment” is that until you start working after graduation, you really have no idea whether you’ll like it or not.

This is a perfectly fair criticism, though I think you overstate the ability to figure out if someone would like law or not before going to law school.

There’s nothing preventing an aspiring law student from performing a little due diligence by trying to get a job in the legal arena and/or talking extensively with current practitioners. Is it going to be a perfectly accurate representation of actually living the life of a BigLaw associate? Not at all. But it should provide at least enough of an idea that it would remove “Am I going to be content / not hate my life?” as a concern before going in.

And once they’re in, if for some reason they haven’t done their research beforehand, at the very least they should learn whether or not they hate it through summer associateships or clinic work or something similar — hopefully in time to bail out before tacking on another 2 years of student loan debt.

If they haven’t done any due diligence at all before or in law school, or they have but pride stops them from getting out even though it’s not for them, they can’t then turn around and claim unfair surprise when they enter the job market and hate what they do for a living. As Professor Ks said last year, “Laziness is not a defense.”

***

BL1Y: The huge rates in depression, drug abuse, and suicide indicate a very high risk of being stuck in a job you hate. In fact, it’s probably easier to get a job in Big Law than to get an enjoyable one.

I concede I’ve got rose-colored glasses on this one, having already “enjoyed” the life of a homeless college dropout myself. I’d happily trade a sh*tty work environment that at least keeps bills paid over having to sleep in a shelter next to Bob the Crackhead and wondering if my personal effects will be pilfered by Methamphetamine Jane by the time I wake up ;)

But, more broadly, concerns over work environment are applicable to the BS/BA folks and the diploma-only people too. That’s the nature of just about any marketplace.

My suspicion is that the higher incidents of the various pathologies you noted are more the result of higher reporting, since lawyers play higher up the socioeconomic ladder — it’s easier to be an addict when you’ve got the money to spare, and to hire a therapist to talk about your depression when you actually get health insurance benefits and vacation time that you can take without wondering how your rent’s going to get paid.

—===—

Va.: I was really looking forward to this post, but I’ve got to say I’m a little disappointed with the methodology.

It was a quick post by a current student cobbled together on ACC football Saturday — cut me some slack :P

***

Va.: I also think that your analysis doesn’t really capture the “worst case” scenario that I’m seeing play out among people I know. Your expectations of being able to obtain a job after law school are certainly reasonable (or at least they should be), and you seem to have no illusions (unlike many law students) about how easily $160k jobs are to come by. However, despite applying for any and every job they see (including ADA positions), many people I know aren’t employed. I know people who graduated in 2008 who are still doing temp attorney contract work. Some can’t even get that. A lot of people aren’t doing what they set out to do or have had to make geographic compromises that take them away from friends and family. Although I certainly hope you find a job before graduation or soon thereafter, being unemployed for 6 months to a year or more can start you off in a financial hole that can be pretty difficult to get yourself back out of. The uncertainty is stressful and “settling” for jobs you don’t want lowers your quality of life.

Unemployment is a legit point, and one I thought about when I was writing the entry.

But I opted to exclude it as the “worst case” scenario because the overwhelming majority of people still find jobs. Even acknowledging the games law schools play with their employment data, few schools have 6-month employment rates below 80%. It didn’t make sense (to me at least) to tailor the analysis toward the other 20%, particularly when the economy will likely be turned around by the time 2013 gets here.3

If we want to factor in unemployment, though, it can be done fairly easily from an economics perspective by weighting the results. Essentially we’d take the projected work-life earnings and multiply by the percent probability of being employed, e.g. the $2.7M x 80% if we assume permanent 20% unemployment for the person’s entire work-life.

Doing comparable calculations for the other two columns makes law school less attractive from a marginal cost-benefit standpoint, but still a financially better option than just high school or just college even factoring in law school costs.

I’m less sympathetic on the “they’re not doing what they want yet” argument, but that’s also out of my own personal bias than any rational reason. My first job after dropping out of N.C. State was loading UPS trucks from 3am-8am Monday-Friday; it didn’t pay much and definitely wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it kept a (non-crackhead-containing) roof over my head and helped shore up my financial foundation while I looked for better work. The same principle applies to the law grads — I know it’s not much consolation to the people stuck in that situation, but where you start isn’t where you end up :)

***

Va.: And a good chunk of law schools are private and have much higher tuition than you do.

Very true… but a point that doesn’t necessarily change my conclusion ;)

On the one hand, I concede that plopping in cost data for other law schools affects the lucrativeness when using my salary numbers.

On the other hand, students have a choice in what law school they attend as far as cost is concerned. Using me as an example, NCCU Law was my first choice because UNCCH Law charged twice as much despite similar bar passage rates and employment prospects in North Carolina (which is where I’d prefer to stay professionally).

And on the third hand, in many cases the more expensive schools also have better employment rates and salaries — a point you yourself made to me back in January :P :)

***

Va.: Anyway, I think your conclusion should probably be a bit more cautious in tone. If you don’t get the job you want, or any job at all (god forbid…), then the evaluation would certainly change.

This is probably true. But would any of y’all still read this blog if I wasn’t flippant most of the time? ;)

Besides, if I don’t end up where I want maybe BL1Y will let me join him, Namby Pamby and Nando in the Cynics Club :spin:

—===—

So that’s my rebuttal y’all :)

Have any comments / criticisms / witticisms / thoughts of your own? Please post them below :D

  1. And inclination is really the crux of that particular issue: even a non-trivial chunk of full-time employees don’t save for retirement thanks to the “consume first, save later” philosophy instilled in people’s minds by our cradle-to-grave welfare state :roll: []
  2. I concede up front that the Census Bureau’s document is now 8 years old, but if you’re inclined to spend the time over at the Bureau of Labor Statistics website you’ll find that the values haven’t changed much in inflation-adjusted dollars, even with the recent recession. []
  3. Granted that might be excessive optimism on my part, but the idea of us being in or near a recession for 5 straight years is practically unheard of in the history of the American economy. []

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9

Is law school really worth it? My $.02

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 13, 2010 in Unsolicited Commentary

Just over a month ago, I shot an email to BL1Y as part of his open-ended challenge to defend reasons for going to law school.1 I wouldn’t characterize his counter-argument as bulletproof, but I doubt it was meant to be — BL1Y has staked out his niche as a sardonically dismissive critic of the legal arena (“Defunct Big Law Associate” as he puts it) and he excels at it, so he’d be stepping out of character to offer anything beyond a cursory rebuttal.2

I’m comfortable letting the man own his chosen niche ;)

But then a few weeks ago Jack Whittington over at World Wide Whit posted an entry on the non-monetary side of law school’s value. It’s a good read, and prompted a colleague to remind me of the BL1Y entry and ask me for my thoughts on the financials.

Fast forward past my weeks of slacking on the blog posts, and you get this entry :beatup:

Is law school really worth it, just looking at the money involved? To borrow the title of Thursday’s entry, “Yes, but…”

====================
I. THE PRELIMINARIES
====================

Data-driven analyses like this are, in a word, pointless. There are simply too many variables involved3 to produce anything useful for more than a couple people in a very narrowly-defined set of circumstances.

Anyone that tells you otherwise is lying to you. Period.

But with that disclaimer out of the way, having the data to look at it can still provide some insights — particularly if you happen to fall in that narrowly-defined set of circumstances :)

For this entry, I’m using myself: a mediocre student at an unranked Tier 4 law school interested in becoming a prosecutor in the same state.

====================
II. THE CAVEATS
====================

As you’d probably expect, there are a lot of these :beatup:

Here goes:

  • Generally, these stipulations (and even the data itself) are intentionally focused on producing the worst-possible case for law school.4 If law school’s still “worth it” under this worst-case analysis, by default it’s “worth it” under normal circumstances.
  • This is also a “cash only” analysis. On income, I’m only counting salaries and excluding benefits since they’re difficult to value.5 On costs, I’m only counting tuition and mandatory fees; optional expenses are excluded since they’re… well… optional :P
  • All of the income scenarios assume someone starting at 18 years old and “retiring” at 55 years old.
  • The starting point for each income column is based on the data sets in Section III below.
  • For the diploma-only column, it assumes a +$2K/yr raise over each of the first 5 years. My rationale is that a non-degree-holder will usually get very close to their (generally low) salary limit in the marketplace fairly early in their career.
  • In terms of inflation / cost-of-living raises, after the initial 5 years the diploma-only column assumes a 2% raise per year. For the BS/BA column, it assumes a 2.5% raise per year. And for the JD column, it (i) uses the 20-year step structure the state government uses for salary increases in the first 20 years, (ii) assumes no additional salary range increases during those 20 years,6 and (iii) projects a 1.1% salary increase for each year after maxing out at the top step.
  • Feel free to quibble with me over the percentages :)  Regardless of the specific rate, each of the 3 columns would be adjusted in tandem — and since this is a differential analysis, that limits the significance of any rate changes.
  • I assume the student either (i) isn’t working during the years in college and law school, or (ii) if they are working they’re putting $0 towards defraying the cost of education (e.g. you spent all of your summer associate earnings on hookers and blow :devil: ).
  • On the cost side, the law school column includes an extra $21,000 per year in student loans taken to help cover living expenses in place of a job. This amount is roughly comparable to what North Carolina law students can take before maxing out under the U.S. Department of Education standards.
  • The “Tuition & Fees Total” row can be considered a proxy for total required student loan debt (plus the extra $63K for law school living).
  • For the student loan interest row, I’m using a 30-year repayment at 8.0% interest. This is done intentionally — revisit the first bullet point — to maximize the amount of interest that would have to be paid out. Realistically you’ll want to refinance at a far lower rate on a shorter repayment term ;)

====================
III. THE DATA SOURCES
====================

In terms of data collection, I gathered info from a few sources:

  • First, I used my own tax returns from when I had dropped out of N.C. State to help approximate earnings for someone without a college degree.
  • For the BS/BA column, the starting amount was based on a survey of several of my friends who are alumni of N.C. State’s Department of Computer Science along with about a dozen other alumni from various disciplines (including the lower-paying humanities degrees common among law students).

    NALP salary data for 2009

  • On the law column, I downloaded all of the ADA salaries in North Carolina from the News & Observer’s Data Central portal that includes a list of all state employees and their salaries. To check the reasonableness of using this data, I also grabbed one of the spiffy graphics from the National Association for Law Placement on reported salaries in the legal industry. For salaries reported to NALP this past year, 95%+ of attorneys make $40,000 and up. Their curve correlates well with the ADA salary data, which tops out around $120K for some ADAs who’ve been around for 30ish years.
  • For the undergraduate cost info, I used the tuition and fee data from my last year at N.C. State multiplied by four years. For law school I did the same thing, using this year’s rates at NCCU Law and multiplying by three years. In both cases these end up producing overestimated expenses — since tuition and fees were both cheaper last year, and the cheaper still the year before — but the difference isn’t significant enough to matter.

====================
IV. THE EARNINGS
====================

Putting all of this together, here’s the chart of annual salaries over time:

Raw salary data from 18 to 55

The green cells are years where someone is working. The red cells are “in school” / opportunity cost years, where the student either isn’t working at all or is working to pay for stuff other than their education. And the yellow cells depict how long it would take to “pay off” the cost of education if 100% of the salary was devoted solely to paying off education-related debts.

Remember the latter item is an artificial construct for illustration only — realistically folks will be repaying student loan debts for years, not putting their entire salary toward it. And we’re intentionally using a 30-year repayment schedule to artificially inflate the cost of law school :)

Also remember this chart is for “providing a common starting point for talking” purposes only. It has -0- predictive value.7 We all control our own destinies; if someone’s not making enough money, they can find a way to make more — it just might involve making decisions they’re not comfortable making. But in general no one is stuck doing the same thing for 30 years if they really want to do something else ;)

====================
V. THE ANALYSIS
====================

So now we have roughly what our hypothetical earnings would be if we worked until 55 years old with (i) just a high school diploma, (ii) a college degree in an average major, or (iii) a law degree working as an ADA in North Carolina.

Now let’s bring in the cost data and do some comparison. Here’s a quick chart showing how things shake out:

Even after repaying law school, the JD earns more than the BS/BA

So under this model an average college graduate can reasonably expect to make an average of ~$18K more a year than someone with just high school diploma, enabling them to “pay off” their education in 3 years and 1 month. Factor in the cost of repaying that schooling and the net advantage over a diploma-only worker drops ever-so-slightly to +$17K/year, or roughly $605K over a 33-year career.

Using this same model, the soon-to-be-ADA can reasonably expect to bring in ~$409K more during his career than his baccalaureate-bearing friend — even after the 3 additional years of “opportunity cost” and the expense of paying off student loan debt that’s almost 6x more (and working 3 fewer years to boot).

====================
VI. SO IS LAW SCHOOL REALLY WORTH IT?
====================

It certainly is for me :)

Even with working a government job and staying there permanently, I’m looking at making at least $1,000 more per month than I would with just my college degree. And that’s making the (hopefully false) assumption I’m not competent enough to earn more. It also doesn’t include any assistance from foundations like NCLEAF, which provides $$$ for student loan repayment for lawyers working in the public interest arena.

And, as Jack noted in the post I linked up at the top, I’ll be doing something far more enjoyable to me than being a script monkey in a cubicle ;)

But, as with all of these things, your mileage may vary. If you don’t like law but think it’s a quick way to get rich, doing law school is probably a bad idea. If you’re determined to go to an expensive law school but will be tempted by suicidal thoughts if you’re one of the majority of lawyers not pulling in $160K+ a year, it’s probably a bad idea. Etc etc etc.

****

There you have it folks. I’m sorry it’s so long, feel free to commence with the TL;DR comments below :P

The moral of the story is, for me at least, deciding to pursue the law route was definitely a good idea — and I’ve got the data to back it up :D

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the rest of your weekend everybody!

  1. If you’re not familiar with BL1Y’s blog, you’re missing out — agree or disagree with the content, but either way it’s still pretty damn funny. []
  2. Especially for a guy that ignored the same cost-benefit warnings against law school that he now doles out ;) []
  3. Your law school, your grades, your interests, your work ethic, your tolerance or aversion to risk, your people skills, the people you know, the list goes on and on and on (and on). []
  4. Short of being totally unemployed. If you can’t find any job anywhere at all, either your standards or your risk aversion need an adjustment :heart: []
  5. For example, a healthy 25-year-old puts far less value on something like health insurance than an equally healthy 45-year-old. []
  6. Even though these range increases happen almost every year. Again, I’m trying to intentionally slant the data against law school for the sake of argument. []
  7. The JD column is a limited exception, since the 20-year step structure of salary increases is standard HR practice in state government. []

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