10

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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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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-

When internet memes attack…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 15, 2010 in Site Stats

What do “nom nom nom”, “::headdesk::”, and “#fml” all have in common?

Lots of people looking for nom-ing bunnies...

They’re all internet memes I’ve been using here on law:/dev/null for months now… and they’ve turned into a real headache when it comes to site maintenance :beatup:

I first noticed something was amiss when the blog got hit by a massive wave of spam comments back on July 11th. The pageview spike was so massive I had to leave out that entire day when updating these bar charts, otherwise the “Pageviews per Day” bar would be about 50% higher than it is now.

To highlight the spike, I created a new chart below graphing the number of spam comments against the number of unique IP addresses we had in a given month (higher bars == more spam comments per capita).

As I spent the next couple weeks re-acquainting myself with .htaccess directives for this spam prevention entry, I noticed something else odd in the log files: we had a trio of referrer URLs showing megabytes upon megabytes of data being transferred but with -0- corresponding pageviews. After poking around I realized the bunny picture from this old Contracts entry was being hotlinked all over the place for reasons I couldn’t figure out.

So I logged in to Google’s Webmaster Tools for the first time in months, and figured out what was going on — over 15,000+ searches on 30 different variations of “om nom nom” :crack:

July brought lots of spam...

Apparently when I switched how WordPress sets post URLs last month (from the old numeric “?p=1234” to the current setup), the search index for that Contracts entry went up high enough that the bunny picture became the #1 result for anyone doing a Google search with “nom nom” in it.

Not the entire entry of course. Just the bunny pic. :beatup:

Things have calmed down a bit now that I’ve started banning spambots and limiting the hotlinks. My guess is traffic will go back to a more-linear growth pattern for August. We’ll see what happens :)

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On the search query front, we had a bunch of duplicate searches but also some fresh ones. Here are 20 of the 100+ unique search terms that brought folks here in July:

  • chazz clevinger: worked with me as the Vice President of Legislative & Public Affairs for UNCASG two years ago. I haven’t kept in touch with him much since law school started, but he did good work for the students of North Carolina.
  • nc dmv 30 day tag for insurance lapse: cost me $63, and I didn’t even need one :mad:
  • nccu lsat score evening program: for 2009-10, was 151 for the evening program, with the 25th percentile folks at 148 and the 75th percentile folks at 155 according to the class profile.
  • blackberry messenger group nccu school of law ’11: exists, but I’m not a part of it since I’m in the Class of 2012 ;) Hit up one of the 3Ls for more info.
  • tdot surplus vehicles: HA! I wish I had surplus vehicles…
  • does duquesne law school give midterms?: I don’t know about Duquesne Law, but NCCU Law does :spin:
  • letter demanding payment from ex girlfriend: is probably not going to accomplish much of anything…
  • negative things about nccu law: vary depending on who you ask. I’m a huge NCCU Law fan, and my only real complaint is that the wi-fi can be spotty in certain areas of the building (like the Great Hall and the Fishbowl). Hopefully they improved that over the summer.
  • 2010 11 tuition north carolina: is unfortunately still going up by almost $1K at several universities, since state legislators decided to balance the budget on the backs of students :mad:
  • nccu law fall 2010 class calendar: can be found on the Law School Registrar’s TWEN page, or downloaded from the NCCU Law “Academics” page.
  • nccu school of law’s grading curve: follows a strict-C median, which I happen to enthusiastically support ;)
  • mary wright 1l advocacy competition: takes place every Spring semester for 1L students. You can watch the video of my 3rd place performance here.
  • daryl wade unc: is probably not the same guy as Daryl Wade, the former Student Body President at UNC School of the Arts who served as Vice Chairman of the UNCASG Council of Student Body Presidents last year. I’m sure the other Daryl Wade is still cool though… even if he goes to UNCCH :sick:
  • are 1l’s included in the 30 day delay for financial aid?: For the vast majority of 1Ls, no.1 This was actually one of the questions we had at my 1L Orientation last year, so you’re not alone in wondering :)
  • what percentage of nccu law school are white law students?: roughly 35-40% each class year. Another 45-50% are black, and the remaining 10-20% are spread across other races. We’re routinely ranked among the most diverse student bodies in the country.
  • nccu minority scholarships for white law students: “No, officer…”
  • nccu law fall 2010 book list: can be found above the academic calendar on the NCCU Law “Academics” page.
  • acpi:system state: could signal a dead motherboard :(  Take it to get looked at ASAP.
  • which computer apple or pc for law students: Apple. Hands down. Trust me. ;)

Definitely a different mix of search results getting here this month… :)

***

And finally, here are the Top 5 most-viewed posts for the month of July 2010, quite a bit different from past Top 5s due to the new indexing changes:

  1. On avoiding contract enforcement: Mmm Ks nom nom nom (02/16/10)
  2. On inexpensive résumé websites: Things TDot Likes: Persona Non Obscura (12/08/09)
  3. On post-1L class ranks: Learning what I already knew (07/12/10)
  4. On having a shadow: Spreading the (Law School) Gospel (02/17/10)
  5. On saving money: TDot’s Tips: Tips for the pre-L’s on $$$ (05/29/10)

*THANK YOU* as always to each of you for your continued support of us here at law:/dev/null! :D

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Past Site Stats entries:

  1. My understanding is that some international students who have never attended a U.S. school previously get included, but I don’t know enough people (translation: none) who fall into that category to know if that’s accurate :beatup:   []

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UNCASG Wins Student Tax Repeal!

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 29, 2010 in Student Government

Hey everybody! :D

Earlier today the North Carolina General Assembly gave preliminary approval to the state budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year — and included among the provisions is a repeal of the 8% student tax that I’ve mentioned in several entries here at law:/dev/null.

With the repeal soon to be final (a 2nd vote happens tomorrow), I wrote up a Facebook note with a chart in it. If you’re on Facebook, feel free to check out the original entry here. You should be able to access it even if we’re not Facebook friends… and if in the process you get the sudden urge to become an FB friend, you’re more than welcome to do so ;)

The note appears below in its entirety:

[Note: by default I’m tagging the ASG President and senior leadership, the NCSU SBOs, and a few extra people on the side. If you don’t want to be tagged in future editions of T Greg’s Tomes, just shoot me a Facebook message :) -TGD]

====================
Past Editions of T Greg’s Tomes:

====================

T Greg’s Tomes: UNCASG saves students $8.6M+ (a 4,019% return on investment!)

Folks who regularly read T Greg’s Tomes know I don’t exactly get along with student media, particularly the perpetual (and perpetually sophomoric) foolishness-disguised-as-punditry that emanates from the conservative-leaning Editorial Board at the UNCCH Daily Tar Heel (see Exhibit A and Exhibit B and Exhibit C and Exhibit D and Exhibit E and Exhibit F and Exhibit G).

I’m eagerly awaiting whatever backwards spin will get applied to this story now that UNCASG has saved students millions of dollars for the 2nd year in a row…

Earlier today the NC General Assembly gave preliminary approval to the 2010-11 state budget, which includes a repeal of the 8% student tax that was adopted in August 2009 (see line 32 on page 47 of the budget bill) — a repeal the delegates and officers of UNCASG spent most of our last session successfully getting enacted through in-person lobbying, phone calls, emails, and a Tuition Petition signed by over 22,000+ students.

Now even if we just count in-state undergraduates (since anything more complex wouldn’t fit into the graphic below), our work saved University students over $8,642,722.64. Compared to the $1/student fee that funds UNCASG’s budget, that’s a 4,019% return on students’ investment — meaning UNCASG could do absolutely nothing at all for the next 40 years, and students would still be better off financially than they would have been without the group’s work.

Or, put another way, the $1 fee could have been implemented on the very day UNCASG was created on September 22, 1972 and students would still be saving money.

I took the liberty of putting together the table below for everyone’s information and usage, compiling the tuition increase rates from the General Assembly, the Board of Governors alternative rates, and the FTE UG resident enrollment at each institution.

UNCASG wins $8.6M+ in savings

And remember the savings are actually more than this, because 100% of the tuition being paid will now go back to the universities where it belongs instead of going to the state’s General Fund.

For folks who question why I’ve dedicated the past 4 years to UNCASG and the NCSU Student Senate, this is why: in just the past 2 years alone — last year we helped repeal a similar student tax slated for 2009-10 — Student Government leaders have saved UNC system students over $25,730,590.64.

Overall, not a bad deal for the $2 apiece we each paid in. Remember that next time someone complains about your student leaders — and seriously think about becoming one of those leaders yourself ;)

And since I’m a big fan of data and tables, I also made another table showing those added-up savings over the past 2 years as a result of UNCASG’s work. Here are the results:

Savings over 2 years: $25.7M+

Now this isn’t a total victory of course. The authorization for an additional $750/student tuition increase I mentioned to y’all was included in the final budget bill, and odds are roughly 100% that every University in the system will jump on the chance to hike tuition under that authorization. So I don’t expect any UNCCH students, for example, to be grateful for paying $950 instead of $990.

But there are precious few total victories in life, and if that $40 (or $259.60 @ ECU) enables someone to stay in school who otherwise might have to drop out, I’ll consider it a success.

Especially when a budget of $215K saved students over $25.7M ;)

Have a great night y’all! :)

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State budget: House pillages universities

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 9, 2010 in Student Government

The psychological trauma of losing a fifth of your classmates is still sinking in for a lot of us, so tonight’s entry is going to focus on the state budget for North Carolina since I can write about it from memory with minimal effort ;)

Unfortunately the trauma with the budget is a bit more serious…

About a month ago I mentioned to y’all the Senate’s version of the state budget and its implications for students. I was pretty happy that Senators adopted UNCASG‘s request to repeal the 8% student tax enacted last year1 — a request highlighted on Forbes.com and endorsed by Governor Perdue after petitions were signed by 22,000+ students at our 17 constituent institutions.

The catch? The Senate also authorized the University system to unilaterally approve additional tuition increases of $750-per-student to offset budget cuts :surprised:

Unlike the student tax, the universities would keep the money raised from the tuition increases instead of it going to the state’s General Fund. But with no cap at all and no approval required by a campus’s Board of Trustees or the system’s Board of Governors, it essentially guaranteed tuition rates would go up nearly $1K apiece at many campuses… a ~25% increase in a single year for UNC Chapel Hill, which is already the most-expensive University in the UNC system (the % is even higher for other universities, including my alma mater).

Needless to say that’s a huge amount for a tuition increase in a single year. Those kind of jumps force students to drop out of school.

Well the House of Representatives had their turn last week, and the Representatives seemed to be perfectly fine with that :mad:

Historically the House has been unkind to the University, using draconian budget cuts to the university system as a bargaining chip with the Senate when the budget goes to a joint House-Senate conference committee for its final edition. But even knowing that as the backdrop, I was still totally floored at how aggressively the politicians pillage the people’s universities.

You can see the House version beginning on Page 25 of the House budget report on S897. The first entry alone blows my mind: ~$150,000,000 in permanent budget reductions starting this year, on top of the ~$100,000,000 in permanent reductions that began last year. That means the Legislature is chopping a quarter of a billion dollars (with a B) in less than 2 years’ time.

Representatives apparently weren’t content there, so they decided to follow up by providing only a fraction of the system’s request for need-based financial aid — the $$ universities will have to use to help kids avoid dropping out when the Legislature’s budget cuts inevitably lead to substantial tuition increases. Then the House decided to go a step further and cap enrollment growth to 1% a year, which will exclude thousands of academically qualified North Carolina students from the very universities their parents’ taxes are financing :crack:

I’ve seen the same House-Senate budget dance play out for 11 years now, but this really has to be the single most outrageous proposal I’ve seen. It will utterly decimate each of our universities for years to come.

So back on Monday I woke up, checked my email, checked Facebook, read the news… and decided I was sufficiently pissed off that I needed to vent publicly. I prefer doing work behind the scenes when it comes to politics and lobbying, but my blood was sufficiently heated that I fired off a letter to the Raleigh News & Observer. They were kind enough to post it on their Education blog, which got spread around via email among some chambers of the Legislature.

Here’s their entry:

A student voice on UNC budget cuts
Submitted by eferreri on 06/07/2010 – 10:45
Tags: Campus Notes | Erskine Bowles | Greg Doucette | N.C. Central University | N.C. State University | T. Greg Doucette | UNC system

Greg Doucette knows better than most just how tough it can be to pay your way through college.

Doucette, an N.C. State grad and current N.C. Central University law student, recently stepped down as the president of the Association of Student Governments, the group of student leaders from across the UNC system.

In that role, Doucette served on the UNC system’s Board of Governors, where he routinely put a face to the budget-cut issue by telling his own story about struggling with tuition payments while at NCSU. He dropped out for a while, putting his college career on hold for several years.

Now, he writes of budget cuts to the UNC system proposed by both the state House and Senate. The Senate spending plan, while generally easier on the university system, still proposes a $50 million cut and would increase tuition $750.

And the House budget calls for a far larger cut. UNC President Erskine Bowles says it would result in the elimination of 1,700 jobs across the public university system.

In a letter submitted to the News & Observer, Doucette lays out his concerns.

Here it is:

It was during North Carolina’s previous recession, roughly a decade ago, when the General Assembly last considered such deep cuts to our state’s public universities comparable to those now proposed by the House. Unsurprisingly, those cuts led to dramatic increases in tuition rates (similar to the $750+ per student increase now proposed by the Senate) to make up for the losses in revenue.

Also unsurprisingly, those huge spikes in cost forced students like me to drop out of college entirely. It took me 5 years working low-wage jobs in the “real world” until I saved enough to return to NC State, where I graduated with my degree in Computer Science last year — and where resident undergraduate tuition had surged 120% from the year I started until the year I came back.

How much more tax revenue would I have contributed to the state treasury had I graduated in 2004 instead of 2009? How much more tax revenue would the many students in my situation have contributed over that same time span?

I understand legislators’ impulse to protect K-12 education and the other areas spared by their current budget proposals; this is an election year, after all. But legislators should understand the cuts they’ve proposed to the University of North Carolina will condemn many students to years of reduced earnings (especially those who live outside of the Triangle or Triad), mortgaging North Carolina’s future economic health for the sake of re-election.

Students and their parents deserve better.

With warm regards,
T. Greg Doucette

The writer is a student at the N.C. Central University School of Law, and President Emeritus of the UNC Association of Student Governments.

God bless them for using my old profile photo from when I was President of the NCSU Student Senate — and still had hair ;)

In all seriousness, I can’t be the first person to point out the effects of these types of cuts and their attendant tuition increases. I spent 5 years working as a college dropout earning a salary of someone with a mere high school diploma, when I could have already wrapped up my J.D. and been earning a lawyer’s salary; or, in the alternative, skipped getting the law degree and been working as a computer scientist.

Either way, I would have paid far more in taxes to the state in just 1-2 years than I paid over those 5. And I know of at least a dozen students who dropped out of NCSU the same semester (indeed the same week) that I did, and there were undoubtedly dozens upon dozens upon dozens more — sufficient numbers that we undoubtedly would have covered the state’s marginal cost increase for teaching us.

We’re in a recession; I realize and accept that. Budget cuts needs to be made, which I realize and accept too.

But the University system already took a disproportionate share of the budget cuts last year, and the decisions at this point are going to reduce the long-term economic health of the state — and crush the dreams of hundreds of University students who, like me years ago, will find themselves forced to interrupt their college education and search for a low-paying job just to make ends meet.

Here’s the list of legislators who are on the House-Senate conference committee. If you happen to be a North Carolina student, or you’re a taxpayer who realizes this short-term budget cure is going to cause far more long-term budget harm, please get in touch with these conferees and tell them: students and their parents deserve better.

Your support is greatly appreciated :)

That’s it from me y’all. Have a great night! :D

  1. Essentially each campus’s tuition would go up by 8%, capped at $200… but the money would go to the state’s General Fund instead of the campus where the tuition money was paid :crack: []

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State budget: 2 steps forward, 1 @#$%ing *HUGE* step back

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 18, 2010 in Student Government

Good evening folks! :)

First, a quick explanation for the sudden spamming of your Google Reader and other RSS clients yesterday. I usually prep an entry daily but don’t actually post it until I’ve had a chance to go through and tweak it — make sure all the spelling is correct, all the links go to the right places, the paragraphs aren’t too long, etc etc etc. It’s a tedious process, and one I’ve occasionally forgotten about or put on the backburner while handling other priorities.

That happened most of last week, hence why you got a blizzard of 5 days of updates all at once :beatup: Shouldn’t happen again any time soon (hopefully) since class tends to keep my mind focused on routine. Please accept my apologies :oops:

Now to the day’s events: the North Carolina Senate unveiled their version of the state’s budget.

The good news is that they adopted UNCASG‘s position against the 8% student tax adopted last year, joining Governor Perdue in agreeing to the request of 22,000+ students — a request recently highlighted on Forbes.com.

The potential bad news? Buried in the text of the budget bill is language authorizing the University President — in the name of offsetting budget cuts made by the Legislature — to unilaterally approve extra tuition increases of up to $750/student! :surprised:

You can read the language yourself in the latest version of the bill (Edition 3 at the time this entry was posted):

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, for the 2010-2011 fiscal year only, the constituent institutions may, with the approval of the President of The University of North Carolina, increase tuition by up to seven hundred fifty dollars ($750.00) per academic year. This increase shall be in addition to other increases authorized for the fiscal year. These funds shall be used only to offset the institutions’ management flexibility reductions.

My gut instinct tells me this was a concession to folks from the Boards of Trustees at UNC Chapel Hill and UNC School of the Arts, who have both been particularly vocal critics of the UNC Board of Governors‘s policy of capping combined tuition/fee increases at 6.5% per year.  This tuition predictability policy has worked wonders for containing the rising cost of education in North Carolina, enabling students and their families to plan ahead for their college degree and — more importantly IMO — ensuring financial aid availability can keep up with the rising cost of attendance.

But some of our more-elite institutions have argued the policy is eroding their ability to stay competitive with peer institutions in other states, and they want to raise tuition substantially higher.

They’d get their wish with this particular provision of the budget, which would basically nuke everything the BOG’s 6.5% plan put into place. Take UNCCH as an example: tuition for in-state undergraduates for 2009-10 was $3,865.00.  Add in the $200 increase the campus requested (which would take effect instead of the 8% student tax). Then this $750 goes on top of it. Tuition for 2010-11 would now be $4,815.00 — essentially a 25% increase in a single year :eek:

The language also practically guarantees that the increases will go into effect. By incorporating the “[n]otwithstanding any other provision of law” verbiage, it essentially circumvents all of the checks and balances built into the UNC system in approving the increase.  A campus’s Board of Trustees doesn’t have to request the increase; the statewide Board of Governors doesn’t have to approve it. Based on this current language, the only person that matters in determining whether the extra increases happens or not is UNC President Erskine Bowles… who already announced back in February that he’s retiring at the end of this year.

It basically enables legislators to avoid hostile parents in an election year by saying the UNC system ultimately made the decision on whether or not to increase tuition. It enables the UNC system to also avoid those same hostile parents by saying it was the Legislature that cut university funding that led to the tuition increases.

I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for Erskine Bowles and what he has accomplished during his tenure as President of the UNC system, and I take him at his word when he says he’s “a ‘low tuition’ guy.” But I’d still prefer seeing this particular language stripped out of the budget when the House adopts their version, or at the very least have it watered down in the joint House-Senate conference committee so that a campus’s Board of Trustees has to request the increase and both the UNC President and Board of Governors have to approve it before it goes into effect.

At the very least hopefully then everyone will have time to realize how profoundly damaging a ~$950 permanent tuition increase — a 25% boost even at the most expensive public university in the state — will be to the accessibility and affordability of a quality college education in North Carolina.

My fingers are crossed on behalf of the 215,000+ students in the University that their legislators are listening…

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Looks like summer school

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 17, 2010 in The 2L Life

With a continued lack of success on the job front and the financial situation in the TDot household looking grim, I went ahead and signed up today for one of the few available summer classes for no-longer-1Ls-but-not-quite-2Ls-officially-yet.

It’s probably not the best investment of my time in light of the earlier comments about Fall OCI, but as they say in politics “you can’t save the world if you can’t pay the rent” :beatup:

I’m hoping to finagle my way into one of NCCU Law‘s clinic programs so I can at least rack up some hands-on experience in addition to the grade and loan $$. But now comes the challenge of making sure I get that financial aid lined up with only 48 hours before classes start so all my tuition & fees are paid :)

I’ll keep you posted on how it all turns out. Have a great night y’all! :D

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UNCASG Tuition Petition makes Forbes!

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 16, 2010 in Student Government

This apparently came out a few days ago, but I didn’t notice until I was catching up on Facebook wall posts earlier today.

Forbes notes the 22,000+ signatures gathered by UNCASG opposing the Legislature's 8% student tax!

UNCASG‘s work on tuition and fees has gone national — earning a mention on Forbes.com!

It’s only a tiny blurb, in an entry listing 10 public universities increasing tuition in the face of state budget cuts.1

But Forbes goes on to note “a petition signed by over 22,000 people objecting to the move”…

…which just so happens to be UNCASG’s tuition petition stack :D

Talk about vindication! ;)

  1. The University of North Carolina is included, courtesy of the 8% student tax the N.C. General Assembly enacted last August. []

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More vindication! :)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 20, 2010 in Student Government

Those of you who are long-time readers here at law:/dev/null may recall this mid-February entry on tuition, where I highlighted the tremendous response the UNC Association of Student Governments had gotten with its statewide tuition petition campaign to repeal a 8% tuition increase mandated by the North Carolina General Assembly…

…and gently pointed out that at least two parties (a certain administrator at UNC General Administration and the student newspaper at my alma mater) ended up eating their respective words of opposition, uttered back when UNCASG’s efforts with the petition first began ;)

More vindication came today while I was sitting in CivPro trying to pay attention.

Quick prefatory note:  the tuition petition campaign was just one piece of a multi-faceted plan of attack for the Association.1 Starting literally the day after the General Assembly adopted the budget — you can read an email from me to campus Presidents in UNCASG’s archives — we began preparing for the 2010 legislative session that starts next month.  Since August there have been numerous meetings between our folks and policymakers in Raleigh. Numerous meetings with policymakers in their home districts. Numerous phone calls. Numerous emails.

Oh and did I mentioned there were signatures from 22,000+ students? :angel:

The entire effort has occurred largely out of the public spotlight (which is just as well since the Daily Tar Heel’s Editorial Board would probably just complain anyway), but needless to say it’s been a tightly-focused, methodical, and consistent effort on the part of student leaders to get this student tax repealed.

And then this morning the Governor of North Carolina decided to say thanks by including UNCASG’s request in her budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year! :eek:

This marks the first public endorsement of our proposal by a high-ranking elected official since we started pushing the idea back in August 2009! :D

Now it’s true both chambers of the state legislature have already started work on the budget, so this is just one link in the chain. But it means (i) we’ve been promoting the right ideas all along and (ii) we’re successfully persuading the people who count.

Equally important: it also means the Governor’s lobbyists, the University system’s lobbyists, and the students’ lobbyists (me+UNCASG) will all be pushing for the exact same thing when legislators come back to town in May.2)

Now if only I could be right this often in Contracts:beatup:

  1. I used to work as a lobbyist back in the day. One of the cardinal rules of lobbying is to never fire all of your ammo at once. []
  2. Another rule of lobbying: build coalitions. You can’t beat somebody with nobody ; []

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