1

“Yes, but…”

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 11, 2010 in The 2L Life

Good evening folks! :D

I’ve got a draft entry with a cost-benefit analysis of law school that I’ve been meaning to finish, and depending on how tomorrow turns out it might (maybe?) finally get done. But tonight’s entry is on a somewhat-related variant that I think (hope?) might be useful to someone (anyone?)…

…and at the very least I promise I’ll link you to someone else worth reading if you think this post is subpar :P

Last night I was one of seven students at NCCU Law to serve on a panel entitled “What is law school really like?” — similar to the panel I was on at N.C. State back in the Spring — where we spent a couple hours answering law school-related questions from about two dozen undergrads.

In the middle of the Q&A, a young lady asked if she should just go straight into law school once she graduates from undergrad, or if she should take a few years off to work first. And the first three responses to her question were all along the lines of “I can’t answer your question. You have to know yourself to decide that. Etc.”

It was a perfectly legitimate response, but one that I think strikes too much of a balance — to the point of not being useful. If it’s what you really want to do, my $.02 on the “should I go to law school right away?” question is of the “Yes, but…” variety.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • Life doesn’t stop for law school. When we’re in undergrad slaving away in classes, it’s easy for us to discount just how much freedom we have to do what we want. As we get older we not only rack up bigger financial obligations — cell phone payments segueing to car payments segueing to mortgage payments (segueing to student loan payments) — but we also tend to fall in love with a spouse or children or a combination of the two. None of that stuff goes away when you decide to go to law school. I’ve got a number of Legal Eagle colleagues with families and/or sizable monetary responsibilities, forcing them to skip class in an emergency or work a side job to keep the bills paid or take time from studying to be parents / husbands / wives. It’s a testament to their tenacity that they can pull it off, but many folks also conclude the wall is too high for them to scale so they never go to law school at all.
  • “Now” money is more alluring than “later” money. Dove-tailing off the previous point, having readily-accessible cash flow is a comforting feeling. I didn’t make much money during the five years I was a college dropout, but I was making enough that I could keep the lights on in the apartment and food on the table. Any time something went wrong I knew a payday was coming up that could replenish whatever I’d have to pull from savings (or, more often than not, pay on a credit card :beatup: ). Giving that up for a lump-sum financial aid refund twice a year coupled with a ban from the ABA on working more than 20 hours a week is a big lifestyle shift, and makes the transition from the real world back into the academic world more challenging than it needs to be.
  • Law school’s not getting any cheaper. Speaking of challenges, the combined cost of law school tuition / fees / books isn’t going down. You’ve not only got basic economic inflation but also two sets of market pressures driving up rates: the war between law schools to boost their rankings, and the inflated volume of applicants caused by the deflated economy. Even public law schools, the bargains of the legal education arena, will find their tuition rates going through the roof over the next few years as federal stimulus money runs out and states look for ways to balance their ledgers. The longer you wait, the more money you’ll be paying up-front and through student loan interest over the next 20+ years.
  • It’s not getting less populous either. Law schools are also churning out thousands of newly minted lawyers every single year. That’s not going to change — the population might grow or shrink a smidge around the margins, but it’s safe to conclude they’ll continue to churn out thousands of new lawyers. every. single. year. These are the folks you’ll be competing with for jobs in the legal marketplace. Time spent in between undergrad and law school could just as easily be time spent as one of those newly minted lawyers, building experience in what’s going to become your career.

As for the “but…” part, despite everything I just told you, if you’re the type to get burned out it’s probably better to wait.1 Assuming you did a straight run through undergrad (instead of pulling a TDot) you’ll be in school for at least 7 straight years from the start of undergrad through getting your J.D. Remember having that feeling right around the 5th grade that you couldn’t possibly imagine having to go all the way through the 12th? That’s what you’ll be going through.

I also don’t want y’all taking this entry as a knock on the folks who decide (or don’t have a choice) to wait on getting their law degree. There’s a tremendous amount of value in the overly-clichéd topic of “life experience”; The Prophet actually penned an entry on that very subject just a couple days ago. And I can vouch for that reality: even though I absolutely hated being a dropout at the time, when I finally got back into school it definitely made me more appreciative of the education I was getting.2 The work experience I racked up has been a great help with finding employment and deciding what I want to do for a career.

And it gave me all sorts of colorful true-life stories to regale people with at parties :beatup:

But as beneficial as my experience was in hindsight, I’d never wish it on anyone. It wasn’t fun. There were many many days where I felt far-less-than-enthused with my life, where I was, and where I thought I was heading. And you can get just as much “life experience” as an attorney as I got being a random guy who only had a high school diploma ;)

So that’s my $.02 on going to law school now versus doing it later. Take it with the usual caveats, your mileage may very, I could be wrong, no express or implied warranties of any kind, etc etc etc — and have a good night! :)

  1. You could also avail yourself of a 4-year evening program, where you’d go to law school part-time at night and keep the rest of your day for working or being with a family. []
  2. In fact my first semester back was also the first (and only :beatup: ) time I made Dean’s List. []

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7

Things TDot Likes: Apple, Inc.

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 28, 2010 in Things TDot Likes

Hey everybody! :D

I took the weekend off so I could focus on the presentation I told y’all about Friday along with wrapping up my final exam for ADR Practices & Process. In between I went through the laptop to free up space, including shrinking my Bootcamp partition that contains Windows Vista.

Each of those experiences in some way reminded me how appreciative I am to have access to Apple products.

Some of Apple's Products

Yes folks: appreciative ;)

And I’m not talking about the new-fangled iStuff either. I can’t get an iPhone unless/until they come to Verizon Wireless,1 and although the iPads are flying off the shelves they’re not really my thing. I’m talking about good ol’-fashioned Macs running MacOS X.

I’ve been an Apple fan most of my life. Back when I was in elementary school, Apple IIs were all over the place. Then the Mac line came out and they were everywhere too — I still remember going to the library in middle school to type my papers on a Macintosh LC II, because I preferred ClarisWorks and seeing when I bolded or italicized or underlined my text rather than having to decipher what different highlighting meant in WordPerfect on a PC :beatup:

But by the time I hit high school Windows 95 was out and school systems were deploying PCs everywhere to save money. My parents bought a PC and that’s what I had to use at home, where BSoDs2 became a part of life and I screwed up the Registry on more than one occasion trying to use the uninstall scripts that came with most programs (Macs, by contrast, use packages that you can just drag to the trash bin). Apple was in its own death spiral back then, as CEO after CEO found ever more innovative ways to piss away millions of dollars.

Then Steve Jobs came back and knocked some sense into folks ;)

I didn’t have a computer when I started college at NC State, and one day in the spring I flipped through the Classifieds in the Technician (our school newspaper) looking for someone selling a PC that I could buy. It turned out that was the only day Apple ran an advertisement looking to hire a campus representative as part of a new Jobs-approved outreach program. I applied on a whim, got an interview, and for reasons I still don’t understand I was given the job. In exchange for being a general Apple enthusiast, salesperson, and IT support guy for the campus, I was loaned a 333MHz G3 iMac (Bondi Blue), was paid $200/week, flown out to California each summer for “Campus Rep Boot Camp”, and hooked up with all the latest software.

And I haven’t looked back :spin:

I had to quit being a Campus Rep when I dropped out, but since then QuietStorm and I bought another Rev. D iMac, then upgraded to an eMac, then when I came back to NC State I snagged a Mac mini and then got my trusty MacBook Pro. I’m now running MacOS X “Snow Leopard”3 and looking forward to upgrading my laptop to the latest technology.4

I’ve got a lot of experience with Windows and various Linux distributions as well, so I’ll sidestep the quasi-religious war some Comp Sci folks believe in. But for anyone planning on going to law school, I strongly recommend getting a Mac. Here’s why:

  • High-quality hardware. It took 4 years for the circuit board on my MacBook Pro to die, and that was after using it a solid 8+ hours/day nearly every day for that entire time. Most of my colleagues had to buy 2 (or even 3) laptops during that same timespan due to failing parts. Apple’s computers are solidly built and include a ton of high-end technology, making them cost-competitive to a similarly-configured PC.
  • It just works. I’ve got a partition on my laptop running Windows Vista that I use solely for taking law school exams with ExamSoft. When I loaded up Vista last night, it began downloading the dozens upon dozens of software updates that Microsoft spews out on a near-daily basis… and during the installation of some of those updates I got a Blue Screen of Death and had to restart the computer :crack: Something is awry when the total system failures I learned to accept in 1995 are still happening in 2010. I haven’t had a “kernel panic” — the Mac/Linux equivalent of a BSoD — on any machine since MacOS X Panther came out 6 years ago. MacOS X is built on top of crash-resistant Unix (dubbed “Darwin”), which also gives you the perk of virus resistance as well. Plus its Quartz graphic engine uses PDF internally, so it not only looks amazing but you can print anything to a PDF file — great for sharing papers, essays, projects and so on. With MacOS X you don’t get a feeling like the operating system is standing in between you and your productivity; it’s more like a partner helping you get things done.
  • The iApps are amazing. Apple has an expansive slate of software products, including its iCal calendar program, its Mail app, its Safari web browser, its iLife suite (iTunes / iPhoto / iMovie), its iWork suite (Keynote / Pages / Numbers), and on and on and on.5 These are some of the slickest and most user-friendly applications on the market, and for many of them there simply is nothing comparable on Windows or Linux. I’m a particularly huge huge huge fan of Keynote, Apple’s competitor to PowerPoint. Keynote was in-house software Apple developed for Steve Jobs’s use in preparing his keynote presentations at MacWorld Expo (hence the name). The features built into this thing make it trivially simple to put together excellent presentations. I’ve been using it regularly since 2006 — for English class, my Senior Design project in Computer Science, UNCASG presentations, the list goes on — and the hours of time it saved me between Saturday’s plea bargaining piece and my group’s two presentations for Race & the Law make it more than worth the price.
  • The other apps are amazing too. Run a website? Panic’s Transmit is one of the best FTP programs I’ve used on any platform. How about instant messaging protocols? Adium combines over a dozen chat protocols into one refined interface. And although you might not be able to tell from this post, I’m actually a big Microsoft fan: their 2008 Office for Mac is far more intuitive than the Windows counterpart, and makes using Microsoft Word and Excel a lot less tedious. There are thousands of other really cool apps out there, far more than I can highlight in this already lengthy post. There’s a website dedicated to tracking these applications over at versiontracker.com — head over there and poke around :)
  • And, for the switchers, Windows is only a few clicks away. I mentioned up at the top that I’ve got a partition for Windows Vista. What I didn’t mention is that I’ve also got Windows XP, Windows 7, and Ubuntu Linux on here as well — a side effect of the Computer Science education :beatup:

    Windows running inside MacOS X with VMWare Fusion

    If you’re a PC user switching to a Mac, you can ease into it by having Windows only a click away. Apple includes a program called Bootcamp that helps you add a full Windows installation alongside MacOS X, enabling you to boot your computer directly into Windows.

    But the really cool stuff happens when you use virtualization. A company called VMWare has a product called VMWare Fusion that let’s you run “virtual OSs” at native speed inside MacOS X. I’ve included a screenshot of my Windows XP installation running (along with my terminal running the Unix top program). You can share files between the operating systems, connecting to the internet “just works”, the list goes on. Although virtualization has long been the refuge of technophiles like me, it’s great to ease the transition from one OS to another.

I could go on even more about some of the other features, applications and perks6 but you get the idea ;)

Thanks for letting me preach a bit :) If any pre-Ls out there have technology questions, let me know! Until then have a great night!!

  1. Soon, I hope :D []
  2. The Blue Screen of Death, basically what happens when Windows crashes. []
  3. Also known as MacOS X 10.6.4… roughly 7 full OS revisions from MacOS 8.5.1 that was released the day after I started as a Campus Rep :beatup: []
  4. Which currently includes multi-core chips clocking well over 3GHz+… well over 10x faster than my first iMac :crack: []
  5. As a highlight of how long ago it was when I worked for Apple, iTunes v1.0 was really just a reengineered SoundJam MP — a program that I’ve still got on an installation CD! []
  6. Like using IPP to successfully print for free on a Windows-centric network :angel: []

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4

TDot’s Tips: More $$$-saving ideas

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 13, 2010 in TDot's Tips

Good evening everybody! :D

A couple weeks ago I posted a handful of tips for the pre-L’s on how to live within their means when they get to law school in a couple months.

Several of you sent positive feedback saying you thought the tips were useful, but a few folks complained they focused more on money management habits (making a budget, living like a law student instead of a lawyer, etc) instead of tangible ways to save $$$ while you’re in law school.

Luckily for y’all, I’ve got a few of those too ;)

Here are some suggestions I’ve used to live large without going broke:

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1) FIND A 2L AND PHYSICALLY ATTACH YOURSELF TO THEIR HIP
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Figuratively at least :)

2Ls can already give you great advice because they remember 1L year like it was yesterday — since it basically was yesterday for us, being only a couple months ago.

An added perk of 2Ls: they’ve got 1L books they need to sell, or know classmates who have them. Selling direct to a 1L gets them more cash than they’d get from the bookstore, and saves you a tidy sum compared to what you’d pay buying from the bookstore or Amazon.

*PLUS* you get the added perk of their text highlights. It’s like peering into the mind of someone who was in your class just before you, and can be a huge help for digesting cases.

In my own case, I bought 2 of my books from Delta the now-3L1 and a 3rd from a classmate she arranged for me to meet. The highlights in my Torts textbook were spot-on — I didn’t highlight a single thing the entire semester because I knew exactly what “take home” points to pull from the text. Same with CrimLaw.

And I saved $100+ in the process, which got used to pay my BLSA dues and buy a handful of class-related t-shirts throughout the year.

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2) CHECK STATE SURPLUS FOR OFFICE SUPPLIES
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With few exceptions, every state and local government across the country has an office or agency where they take surplus government property and sell it to the public. Many universities have them as well.

These are easily among the biggest bargains you will ever find on anything office-related ;) A few (like North Carolina’s state surplus office in Raleigh) even have surplus vehicles and fancy stuff seized from drug dealers and such.2

Things like computers and GPS units are quickly snapped up by folks who then resell them on eBay, so if you want the good stuff on those you need to be there early and on days when shipments come in. But for things like chairs, desks and filing cabinets, they’ll always have a constant supply that you just have to inspect closely.

For example, my desk chair is nicely cushioned, vertically adjustable, rocks back, has rolling wheels on it, etc. It was sent to state surplus because the left armrest was loose, which I discovered could be fixed with about 10 minutes of work adjusting the screw.3

Retail price: $110 + tax
eBay price for similar style and use: $30 + shipping
My surplus price: $5 cash
Savings: $25+ (83%)

The only catch for most of these surplus offices is that it’s a cash- or money-order business many times. Most don’t take checks, and many don’t take credit or debit cards because state laws typically ban paying the card vendor fees (and the card vendors ban merchants from directly passing the fees on to customers).

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3) CHECK CRAIGSLIST FOR EVERYTHING ELSE
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More well-known than trolling the surplus offices (but still an excellent spot to find good deals) are the CraigsList listings for your area.

I’ve used CraigsList three times since law school. The first time was finding someone who had just moved in and needed to get rid of their cardboard boxes — got a bunch of really good ones free of charge, and used them to move myself to Durham :D

雅雅 also helped me look for a bed, where we found a lady who had a full-size bed and box spring in a spare room. She was upgrading her own bed to a queen-size, her old bed was going to replace the spare room bed, and the spare room bed needed to be sold. She was incredibly nice and even agreed to hold the bed until the week before orientation so I could come up with the cash.

Retail price for same bed and box spring: $900 + tax
eBay price for similar style and use: $500 + shipping
My CraigsList price: $100 cash (plus she delivered it!)
Savings: $400+ (80%)

Great for football, Wii, and L&O:SVU marathons ;)

The last time I used it was actually a couple weeks ago, when I needed to find a TV for my living room. I had previously figured out how to jerry-rig a normal office projector to play video from the cable box, and got über-spoiled by essentially having a 110″ TV in the living room.

I found a couple who had just moved from California to Chapel Hill, and because of the configuration of their new place there wasn’t a suitable place to put their projector and still get a decent-sized picture. Their loss turned out to be my gain :D

Retail price for cheapest projector with comparable specs: $700 + tax
eBay price for similar style and use: $400 + shipping
My CraigsList price: $300 cash
Savings: $100+ (25%)

The risk with CraigsList is its popularity among scammers, and the fact you typically end up visiting the house of someone you don’t know… who could conceivably be a serial killer or stalker or something. So if you’re nervous grab a buddy and bring them with you.

And like the surplus offices, finding the really sweet deals require a certain level of diligence and luck — check the listings regularly throughout the day, and if you find something you want contact the seller ASAP.

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4) SEE IF YOUR MOBILE PHONE PLAN IS OBSOLETE
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I stumbled onto this one by accident, so you’re forgiven if you didn’t know about it already ;)

Mobile phone companies adjust their calling plans frequently, usually at least twice a year. They usually feature capacity increases for minutes (and data usage if you’ve got a smartphone), changes to other calling features, and occasionally price reductions.

If you’ve got a plan that’s been phased out, your mobile phone company will happily continue letting you keep that plan and continue taking your money without ever telling you. But they also like getting rid of obsolete plans when it makes sense for them to do so, since it cuts down on operational expenses the more people are in a “one size fits all” arrangement.

Periodically check with your mobile phone provider and see if your current plan is obsolete. If it is, see if they’ll let you change to the new plan without requiring a contract extension (or if you really like the provider, extend your contract with them).

Two years ago, back when I was both NC State‘s Student Senate President and UNCASG President at the same time, I needed to upgrade my phone plan so that I’d have more than the 900 minutes I was originally using. I found out my current plan was no longer offered and I upgraded to 1350 minutes a month for less money than I was already paying.

Now that I’ve retired from both positions, I actually need to downgrade… and lucky for me it turns out the 1350-minute plans are no longer offered, so I can downgrade back to 900 minutes, pay less $$, and don’t have to extend my contract :spin:

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5) CHECK FOR YOUR UNIVERSITY’S DISCOUNTS
====================

While we’re on the topic of mobile phones, this one is a potential gold mine :)

Almost every school of law in the country is affiliated with a public or private university. And almost every university in the country works out special deals with all sorts of vendors so their students and employees can get discounts on a variety of products and services — anything to help lure people to the institution.

For example, back when I was at NC State everyone affiliated with the University was eligible for a discount on their Verizon mobile phone service: 20% per month, for the life of their account. All I had to do was present my student ID and a University-affiliated email address.

My mobile phone savings: ~$300/year

NCSU had a large variety of other discounts too, I just never used them. It seems very few students actually know about the discounts, especially in the graduate/professional schools where you didn’t have the opportunity to go through the university’s orientation they give the undergrads. Check with your University’s student affairs folks or the business office to see if they have anything similar, or just ask the companies you use if they have student discounts for your university.

The worst they can do is say no ;)

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6) ALSO CHECK FOR GROUP-RATE DISCOUNTS
====================

Similar to the discounts that universities negotiate as perks for their students and employees, many state/national fraternities, sororities and trade organizations have similar discounts as well.

Consider car insurance.

Back when I used to work as a paralegal for a personal injury attorney, I saw entirely too many cases where accident victims were left with debilitating injuries and future medical expenses that would never be covered because the tortfeasor was uninsured or had a low policy limit while the victim had minimal underinsurance coverage (used when the tortfeasor’s policy is nonexistent or maxed out; you make a claim against your own policy).

Out of paranoia I amped up the limits on my auto policy to the max most companies offer in North Carolina “over the counter” without drafting special contracts: $100K/$300K personal injury, $100K damage, $5K medical payments, etc etc etc.

The problem is that much coverage is @#$%ing expensive, even when you have a flawless driving record :mad:

Turns out the North Carolina Farm Bureau, an advocacy group I’ve been a member of for the better part of a decade, has its own insurance company. In exchange for the mere $25 a year in dues I was paying to the organization, I was able to cut my auto insurance bill in half for the same policy limits.

Your mileage may vary (pun intended) depending on where you live and your group affiliation, but it can’t hurt to check :)

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7) ADJUST YOUR THERMOSTAT TO YOUR STUDY HABITS
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We’ve all probably seen or read at some point the various public service announcements on TV or in magazines about the money you could save by tweaking the temperature in your house up or down a couple degrees depending on the weather.

If you haven’t done that before, law school is the time to start ;)

Particularly if you’re the type of person who will spend a lot of time at school, you won’t be in your apartment all that much during the week. Set your temperature a few degrees cooler in the fall/winter months so your heat comes on less frequently when you’re not at home to enjoy it. Do the opposite in the spring/summer.

How much you save will depend on a number of variables (including living space, type of heating/cooling, the weather, etc) but using my own apartment as an example I’m running about $15/mo less than the previous tenant. It’s not much, but it adds up.

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8) WATCH YOUR EATING HABITS
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Food tends to become an afterthought when you’re trying to read through dozens of cases a night. My (admittedly unscientific) observations suggest the overwhelming majority of law students I’ve met fall into 2 groups: (1) folks who forget to eat and then grab fast food on the way home, and (2) folks who get bored out of their minds while reading and frequently snack on junk food to break up the monotony.

My stomach and I happen to span both groups :beatup:

In addition to the unpleasant health side effects — I’ve got several classmates who ballooned during the semester, dropped a ton of weight during winter break, gained it back during the spring semester, and are now starving themselves to lose it again — constantly eating fast food and junk food will eat up a lot of cash (pun intended here too :* ).

Now I’m not going to parrot other folks and tell you to eat fruits and veggies and all that jazz. It’d be great if you did, but I’m not gonna give y’all advice that I don’t follow myself ;)

You might want to learn to cook at least a little bit; see this TDot’s Tips entry for more, and also check out TDot’s Treats for some recipes. In terms of food-per-$, that’s the cheapest route to go by far.

But if you don’t have time to cook or forget, try to stick to the low-cost value menus if you go to a fast food place. Not only is the food cheaper, the portions are usually smaller but still filling (limiting the 1L weight gain).

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9) AND WATCH YOUR OTHER VICES
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All of us have our own “guilty pleasures.” Some folks like to buy shoes, others prefer video games, still others hit the bar every night of the week. In my case it’s DVDs — you could probably guess from the projector :beatup: — an unnecessary expense I justify to myself as a reward for being amazing.

No matter how well-deserved that reward may be ( ;)) the costs add up quickly.

Try to keep a close eye on how much you’re spending to indulge those habits. You might even want to put a line item in your monthly budget for the occasional splurge.

Especially in the beginning of the semester when cash is plentiful, it’s real easy to dig a financial hole without realizing it… and one you’ll have to fill in right around the time final exams get here. Not a good situation, but one you can easily avoid :)

***

That concludes my list of things to help save you money!

Hopefully all of you will find at least 2-3 items on this list that might be useful — and if you’ve got tips of your own, share them in the comments! :D

—===—

Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. I need to change Delta’s tag btw; I’ll knock that out some time soon. For now just remember she’s officially a 3L. []
  2. The office in Raleigh once had a diamond-encrusted pool table from a drug dealer. The diamonds alone were worth $50K+ :crack: []
  3. Work which I concede I still haven’t done because I just don’t care enough to fix it :beatup: []

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2

More Pre-L Advice Around the Web

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 6, 2010 in Randomness

Good evening y’all! :D

Sorry for the 3-day mini-hiatus. I wish I had a good excuse for you, but in all candidness most of that time has been spent reading for summer school classes and cleaning up the apartment :beatup:

The reading shouldn’t surprise any of you, but the cleaning might be so let me explain briefly.  Even though my place is fairly tiny compared to many of my law school colleagues (a mere 650ish square feet), I’ve got a really bad habit of letting things slide until I get über-annoyed and go on a cleaning spree.

I hadn’t substantively cleaned anything since final exams,1 so today was spent going through numerous piles of old outlines, old cases, and miscellaneous other papers stacked high in the living room.

It also reminded me of the sheer volume of magazines and other @#$% I get from the ABA for being a student member :crack:

Anyhow, based on some of the feedback I’ve gotten it seems like folks actually found some value in our TDot’s Tips entry on $$$.  If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do — Ricky Nelson and Va. both had detailed comments on some things I hadn’t considered. Also much thanks and appreciation to ImNobody over at Thanks, but No Thanks, to Brent at Caffeine Review, and to the folks at ClearAdmit for sharing the entry with their readers.

I’ve got more cash-related tips to share in the next few days, but Brent actually rounded up a lot of recent pre-L advice and I thought I’d follow his lead. Here’s a handful of suggestions from across the web over the past couple weeks:

  • Brent’s roundup of 1L advice (Caffeine Review)
  • Part 1 of a 3-part series, Law School Ninja on the importance of enjoying your pre-L summer2) (Law School Ninja)
  • Part 2 of that series, this time on orientation, the curve, and study time (Law School Ninja)
  • Mariel with a thorough entry on school supplies, from computers to desk chairs and everything in between (Fresh Thought Soup)
  • Ricky Nelson with some housing advice for soon-to-be renters (Legally Questionable Content)
  • And some suggestions for soon-to-be bloggers (Legally Questionable Content)
  • Then there’s Dennis Jansen’s advice repository — it’s not as recent as these other entries but definitely falls in the “must read” category (Dennis Jansen)

I’m also told from the panicky status updates in my Facebook mini-feed that tomorrow is June LSAT day. As someone who didn’t take the June LSAT precisely because I had too much going on to focus, I’d encourage those of you planning to take the test tomorrow to read this entry from Ann Levine — if you’re not 100% comfortable and able to get into your “zone” definitely consider skipping the test tomorrow and knocking it out in October instead.

That’s it from me tonight folks, I’m off to continue reading for my ADR Practices class before heading to bed so I can get up early — allegedly the waiting for grades ends tomorrow :eek:

Have a great night!! :D

  1. “Substantively” meaning anything beyond the bare minimum necessary to ensure I’ve got clean clothes to wear, clean dishes to use, and the ability to shower without feeling like I’m bathing in mold :beatup: []
  2. Because you will not be able to truly prepare. Trust her. And me. And pretty much everyone else you’ve ever read who has finished 1L year ; []

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5

TDot’s Tips: Tips for the pre-L’s on $$$

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 29, 2010 in TDot's Tips

Judging by some of the search queries bringing folks here to law:/dev/null, those of you accepted into the Class of 2013 are scurrying around online looking for law school advice before orientation starts in a couple months.

First, CONGRATULATIONS! :D I was just in your shoes not too long ago, I remember what it was like, and I’m excited for you!

Second, chill out ;) See this post from Law School Ninja — use this summer to relax, not to try and prepare for law school. Preparation is not gonna make a lick of difference, I assure you :)

Third, assuming you’re going to ignore that previous paragraph, use the summer to learn how to manage your finances. I’ve met a lot of law students from a lot of law schools who barely know how to balance their checkbooks.1  Law school is stressful enough without being worried about money.

Here are a few tips I’ve put together that might be able to help you in your first year:

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1) CREATE A BUDGET
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A simple sample budget

This one probably seems like common sense, but it’s probably the most important thing you can do financially — make sure you’ve got a decent idea of how much money you’ve got coming in, and how much you’ll have going out.

I’ve seen simple budgets sketched out on a piece of notebook paper; I’ve seen needlessly complex budgets using crazy functions in Microsoft Excel that I didn’t even know existed :beatup:

No matter what level of complexity you use, the important thing is to try and stick to the budget whenever possible.

To the right is a sample budget I put together for this blog entry, which I’ll probably end up using for the upcoming year. The main thing is to have an easy-to-reference sheet where you can see your major expenses and income sources.

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2) SET ASIDE $$ IN SAVINGS
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You might notice in that sample budget that I’ve included “Deposit to Savings Account” as an expense.

One of the weird things about 1L life is that you’re strongly strongly strongly discouraged from having any outside employment at all.2 That means if something unexpected happens, you don’t have the option of working overtime or extra shifts to make the $$ for it.

So if you’re living off student loans like most of us, your financial aid refund is all you get for the entire semester. Set aside a chunk of it early (I’d suggest 10%) into a savings account or some other safe spot, before you get tempted to spend it.

That way if something unexpected does happen, you’re covered. And if not, you’ll have extra money to use on whatever you want later on :)

And put it explicit in the budget so you actually remember to set it aside, rather than forgetting it’s supposed to be saved and then inadvertently spending it on something. Like highlighters ;)

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3) RENT THE LEAST EXPENSIVE PLACE YOU’RE COMFORTABLE LIVING IN
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Most of the expenses you’ll have in a given month will be in the sub-$100 range, and a good chunk of them (e.g. cable TV, fast food, etc) can be given up if you get into a real financial bind mid-semester.

That’s not the case with the rent ;)

As you’re searching around your new city for an apartment, make sure to do a comprehensive comparison among your options — then pick the least expensive place you’re still comfortable living in.

I’ve got a classmate who I’ll leave nameless, but who definitely isn’t stupid. When he signed his lease back in August, he picked a newer apartment complex up the road from me with all kinds of fancy amenities — gated entrance, nice pool, nicer gym, detached garage, etc etc. A really swank place, about $75/mo more than mine.

Then when late November got here, he was running short on his funding and was stressed out trying to figure out how to cover his December bills… right as he had to start studying for final exams :beatup: Luckily for him everything worked itself out, but you don’t need that pointless stress.

For that $375 he paid more than me over the 5 months of Fall semester, he used the nice pool all of 0 times, went to the nice gym just the first month before studying took up his free time, and spent a good chunk of his life at the law school while his detached garage was empty. Plus his summer internship is in another town so he’s trying to find someone willing to sublease for just a couple months (thus far no takers).

Now if a potential apartment just screams to you “LIVE HERE!“, then by all means go with it. Preferably after getting psychiatric help for thinking your apartment is screaming to you :* But if you can handle a smaller pool or gym, or forgo the entrance gate, consider giving up those amenities for the $$ you’ll save over the course of the year.

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4) USE YOUR REFUND TO PAY DOWN YOUR CREDIT CARDS
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By the time folks reach law school, odds are good they have at least one credit card. An April 2009 study found graduating students on average have 4.6 cards carrying $4,100 in debt.

Despite the high interest rates many credit cards charge, they can provide an invaluable level of financial flexibility. I’ve had to use mine on more than one occasion for textbooks or tuition when financial aid didn’t stretch far enough.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t trim the amount of interest you’re paying for that flexibility :D

If you get a financial aid refund, throw it all at your highest interest rate credit card(s). You’ll end up using your cards throughout the semester for basic purchases and paying bills, but you’ll be paying less in daily interest than if you kept the $$ in your checking account while making minimum payments on the credit card(s).

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5) “YOU’RE A LAW STUDENT, NOT A LAWYER”
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No matter how you handle your finances, or whether you follow any other money-related tips you come across, remember: you’re a law student, not a lawyer ;)

The mansion, home theater, luxury car, yacht and all the other accoutrements of being an attorney will come to you in due time. But that time isn’t going to be the 3 years while you’re in law school3

Live like a lawyer now and you’ll end up like my friend, stressing over cash flow when you need to be studying for Contracts. Live frugally and you’ll still have the resources to still enjoy yourself :spin:

***

That’s all I’ve got for this post — hopefully you’ll find at least one of these tips useful!

Good luck to all of you, and congratulations again on your acceptance! :) If you have any questions on anything, let me know! :D

—===—

Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. It’s even more amazing considering some of these folks will be managing finances for their law practices… []
  2. To underscore the point, the ABA actually has a rule saying you can’t work more than 20 hours a week :surprised:  []
  3. Unless you hit the lottery. Don’t hold your breath. []

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7

TDot’s Mailbag v5.0: What Law School’s Really Like

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 14, 2010 in Mail

This was originally a TDot’s Tips entry titled “Tips for the Pre-L’s” — until I started writing it Monday afternoon, when Delta the 2L sat down next to me in the Fishbowl and wanted to know what I would be doing at 7:00pm that night.

I’ve learned the only acceptable answer when she asks me that question is “What would you like me to be doing Delta?” :beatup:

Turns out the Pre-Law Students Association at my alma mater was holding a panel discussion titled “What is Law School Really Like?” and she wanted a partner from the N.C. Central University School of Law to help rep for the Legal Eagles.

Since I came at law from a non-traditional angle I had to say yes. Besides, y’all know how I am about competition :angel:

There were about 30 undergrads in the audience, and the panel turned out to be a solid mix of folks with 3 students from Campbell Law, 3 from UNCCH Law, 2 from Duke Law, an alum from Wake Forest Law, and of course Delta and I from NCCU Law.1 I think 6-7 of us were 1Ls, but the 2Ls/3Ls/post-Ls were represented by at least 1 person apiece.

The questions covered a wide range of topics that you’d expect from aspiring law students: workload, types of classes, “gunners” and competition, and so on. But some panel members did tend to commandeer the discussion and recognize new questioners before folks had a chance to answer the previous question, and yesterday one of the sophomores in attendance shot me a message.

Rather than do the usual Q&A format for past mail entries, I figured I’d post what he sent me and offer my $.02 from there.  Here’s what I got:

Overall, I enjoyed listening to the panel and attending the event. I do wish the the questions/answers had been more organized so that each student from each law school could have given a more direct answer and that every student could have been given the chance to answer each question.

I would have liked to have learned more about the admissions process from the students also. I believe the bar exam was only mentioned once or twice in the whole forum; from what I have heard the bar exam is one of the top things that law students are trying to make sure they pass, that was one dimension that was almost forgotten about….and I’m not quite sure why?

It seemed like the whole time all of the students were all up tight and bashing the amount of work load and la la la the whole time. I was like okay I get the point that law school is a lot of work, I’m aware of that now, I am more than willing to put in the time and effort, enough with the talks about how much work it is, tell me more about WHAT LAW SCHOOL IS REALLY LIKE – tell me about the professors, tell me about the elective courses you can take, tell me about the mock trials you can participate in, etc etc.

I fully understand, and *commend* every single law student out there for the amount of work they have to put into law school; but this forum was not meant to whine about the work load if you get my gist.

Let me preface my thoughts by pointing out I’M NOT NORMAL. You hopefully figured this out at some point amid (i) Student Government being my preferred hobby, (ii) picking a T4 as my first-choice law school despite higher-ranked options, or (iii) deciding to go the law route at all after getting a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. I’m strange, I’m upbeat about my own law school experience, and I’m even optimistic about the future prospects for the legal industry.

I’m also apparently one of the very, very, very few who feel that way :beatup:

So before reading on, I’d encourage you to check the other bloggers in the list at the right of this page. Dennis Jansen in particular has a ton of advice well worth reading — I read it myself before starting law:/dev/null, that’s how legit it is.

Now back to that email…

Admissions
Admissions was actually something I studied quite a bit as a side project when I was an undergrad.2 I’m not an expert by any means, but here’s some of what I’ve learned both in NC and nationwide:

  • The admissions process is going to vary by school of course, but pretty much everyone uses some form of indexing in their decisions.  Essentially take your undergraduate GPA and multiply it by a given fraction, take your LSAT score and multiply it by a different fraction, take whatever “special” factors your chosen school considers (e.g. legacy status, socioeconomic status, etc), add all those numbers up and you get your Academic Index score. Students above a certain number get in automatically, below a certain number get rejected automatically, and the folks in the middle get a closer look at your actual application to decide if you should be accepted, rejected, or waitlisted.
  • Any school that tells you they read all the applications is lying to you. There are simply too many applications for every school, and your typical admissions committee is roughly 3-5 people — usually 1 or 2 administrators, and the rest senior faculty. In other words they’re all busy people, and are simply not going to read 1,000+ essays or more per person. Period.
  • Apply early! Most schools also use “rolling admission,” which means they start accepting students throughout the application cycle — including those folks with the high Academic Index scores.  Typically that means by the time the advertised “deadline” approaches for a given school, all of the seats have admitted students filling them and you’re competing for spots that only open up when the accepted folks go somewhere else. The odds already are not in your favor; they get precipitously worse by the deadline.
  • Consider applying at public law schools in your state (if they’d be a good fit for you of course). Most state-supported institutions have caps on out-of-state students, making it comparably easier to get in if you’re in-state. For example, UNCCH Law limits out-of-state students to 25-30% of the student body even though out-of-staters typically make up 75%ish of the applications received. Private Duke Law, by contrast, had over 80%+ of its Class of 2012 coming from outside North Carolina.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I call this the “nontraditional” approach to admissions: if you know someone who’s an alum from your school, or back when you were a kid you used to mow the lawn for one of the professors, or one of your parent’s coworkers knows a friend of a friend who plays golf with the Dean, see if they have any advice they can offer to help you be as competitive as possible. The era of a well-placed phone call to the right person securing your acceptance has largely died off, but there are always “intangibles” in every process and there’s no harm in trying to line up as many as you can in your favor.

Bar Exam
At most undergraduate universities, when you finish all your required courses you’re usually entitled to graduate, get your degree, and start working in whatever field you studied.

Not so with law.

After you graduate, you’ll sit and take a bar exam for the jurisdiction where you want to practice. This is essentially a 2-3 day affair featuring multiple choice questions, essays, and similar tests on a variety of subjects to verify your competence to become a lawyer. Pass the bar, and you get to jump through the next set of assorted hoops to get your law license (“character and fitness” reviews, etc). Fail, and you get to wait 3-4 months to try again while desperately trying in the interim to find some way to pay your bills.

Training you to pass the bar, enabling you to become a competent attorney, is the #1 job of a law school. It’s also not easy — so make sure you pay attention in your law classes, because that info will be coming back in a few years.

The Work
There’s not much I can say here that will be useful to any of you, since I honestly don’t think the work in law school is that hard.

Why? Because I was horrible at my undergraduate major :beatup:

As a result I was/am already accustomed to sitting in one place in perpetuity (e.g. at a desk) doing the same thing for hours non-stop (e.g. debugging code) and giving up certain necessities of life (e.g. sleep and a social life) to get projects done on time. Law school has been a cakewalk by comparison, since the only “project” is generally a midterm and final exam — and reading case law for a few hours is infinitely easier than tracing Java code looking for an elusive bug.

Trust me ;)

Law school is a sizable volume of work, for certain. You’ll want to read all the cases you’re assigned so you’re able to understand the discussion taking place in class, which in turn will make it easier to digest the material and study for finals.

But law school is also a huge mind game. If you go in knowing you’re going to have a large volume of work and you take a disciplined approach to getting that work done, you’ll be fine — and should even have time for sleep and a social life :D

Professors
They’re all different, and it shows. MDG and Professor CrimLaw both have witty and disarming personalities — and are merciless graders who force you to know your material. Professor Torts takes a more disciplinarian approach. Professor Ks represents the “new school” and is more laid back than the others, while The Traveling Professor holds it down for the “old school” with her regal demeanor.

One unifying characteristic of the professors is that they’re all smart people. And the vast majority are friendly, approachable, and go out of their way to help students succeed at learning the law. After all, even these folks were 1Ls once upon a time.

The key is to not let yourself get intimidated — as your legal elders they’re entitled to a certain level of deference, but not to the point where you’re afraid to talk to them.

Electives
I’m not really qualified to say much here, simply because for almost all law schools your 1L year will be set in stone for you and cover “core” classes like Property, Contracts, Torts, Civil Procedure, Criminal Law and Constitutional Law.

If you want to browse around, NCCU Law has most of its electives posted online. Typically law schools will have electives on a huge range of topics (intellectual property, bioethics, veterans law, etc) and offer law clinics for students to experience first-hand different areas of the law where they might be interested in practicing.

But given the breadth of offerings and the differences between each law school, the best I can recommend here is to check out the individual offerings for every school you’re interested in.

Extracurriculars
This is another area where the philosophies of law schools tend to differ,3 but at many schools 1Ls get to participate in most of the exact same stuff as their upper-level colleagues.

Speaking for myself here at NCCU Law, I took part in 3 different mock trial competitions just for 1Ls, signed up for the 1L Moot Court competition (before realizing it conflicted with a UNCASG meeting), participated in an ABA-sponsored client counseling competition, played on the 1L basketball team in the annual Law Week tournament, attended several events for the Black Law Students Association, and got elected Treasurer of the Student Bar Association.

And there are literally dozens of other groups and activities that I could have done if I had other interests (or more time).

Most law schools will have class councils that throw parties, hold forums, host speakers, and so on. You’ve got legal fraternities like Phi Alpha Delta and Phi Delta Phi. You’ve got BLSA and HLSA and undoubtedly other LSAs I don’t know about. You’ve got liberal orgs promoting things like workers’ rights, conservative ones promoting things like constitutional originalism, and everything in between.

So as far as extracurriculars go — at least in my admittedly limited experience — law school is as much a full-spectrum experience as college.

“What would you do differently?”
If I could change one single thing about my experience here at NCCU Law, I wouldn’t be as nervous.

Those of you who are long-time readers at law:/dev/null might recall the comedy of unforced errors that was my orientation experience. I’ve taken my Socratic beatings too. But you know what I found out over the course of the semester?

Everybody experiences the same thing at some point.

All the 1Ls are going through the same trials and tribulations. Some folks are more adept at it than others, but there isn’t a single person out of the 50ish in my section who haven’t been flummoxed by a professor. Rather than the “gunner”-filled atmosphere you read about, most of your classmates will be on Facebook or Gchat or “whispering” hints at a slightly-above-whisper level,4 all trying to help you succeed — because they’ve either (i) been there too or (ii) will be soon.

So don’t be nervous. Go in confident, know you’re going to slip up at some point, and take it all in stride. It’ll make your law school experience far more enjoyable ;)

—===—

That’s my $.02 on what law school is really like, at least on those few topics :) Feel free to hit me up if you have any other questions!

Until then, have a great night everybody! :D

  1. The other 2 law schools in North Carolina are fairly new and only provisionally accredited: Elon Law and Charlotte Law. []
  2. Particularly the relative weights given to racial minorities (which are routinely criticized or banned) and “legacy” children of alumni (which are routinely not criticized or banned) and the effect of those weights among institutions of the 17-campus University of North Carolina… most of which were segregated until 50 years ago, giving a de facto race-based advantage to the white children of white alumni. []
  3. For example, the Campbell Law panelist said they don’t allow 1Ls to participate in extracurricular activities so they can focus on their studies. []
  4. The folks MDG fondly calls “the drunk whisperers” []

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Good luck to the pre-Ls!!

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Dec 5, 2009 in Randomness

I know, I know — the whole “I’ll try to keep posting regularly throughout finals” thing isn’t working out very well :beatup: The CivPro final is today @ 2pm, and I’m trying to overperform in my strong classes to compensate if I do poorly in Ks and Torts :P

But even my exam-induced study marathon couldn’t detract me from one thing: wishing good luck to all my pre-L readers taking the LSAT in about an hour! :D

Remember not to stress and you’ll do just fine — the fact you’re a reader here at law:/dev/null already sets you ahead of the curve ;)

(jk jk jk :* )

GOOD LUCK! :D :D :D

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3

Friday Drive-by #5

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Oct 23, 2009 in Friday Drive-by

North Carolina’s schizophrenic weather decided to bless us with high-70s temperatures after a frigid week in the low-50s, so I’m currently enjoying the evening air out on the the deck finally throwing together this week’s Friday Drive-by.  Here are a handful of sites I used to kill time this past week :)

Enjoy the weekend everybody :D

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