For decades, you paraded around like a crazy bitch
Wretchedness, your lucky charm
Hung on a bracelet displayed on your arm
All we saw is not how you are
Caught a glimpse of you
In an unselfconscious smile
Didn't we deserve a look at you the way you really are?
Don't judge me for posting Shellac lyrics again. They were appropriate for #24 and they are appropriate for #26. There are three interpretations to make of this reference: (1) we deserve a look at the way law schools (and legal jobs) really are; (2) you deserve a look at the way I really am; (3) we deserve a look at the way all the anonymous scam-bloggers really are.
Not for decades, but for nearly a decade, we have all paraded around like crazy bitches, trumpeting inflated employment statistics, selling our desperate souls for a pittance, blacklisting alternative voices. The time has come to take off the mask.
I have never worn a mask. But I have taken off my make-up. Let's see if you can take off yours.
BLS was #67 on The List when I accepted. Now they are #78 (and list their tuition as $1,795 per credit). This isn't that egregious of a decline, but I've seen a graphic that the median LSAT of incoming students has, in fact, egregiously declined. I read once that top 50 schools were first tier, schools 50-100 were second tier, and everything after 100 was third tier. I disagree and think most people know the top 14 schools are first tier, 15-50 are second tier, and everything after 50 is third tier. But then I have heard the whole tier system has been purged. Regardless, I like referring to BLS as TT. So that is the working title for my fourth book.
The book will mostly be about social life, but it is certainly aimed squarely at my debt and the need to relieve myself of it. So I will not comment on that here, except to say that Pepperdine struck me as being like a high school, when I overheard or observed the students interacting. I did not want that. BLS ended up being its own version of high school. Regardless, while I regret basically everything that happened in my life between the years of 2010 and 2013, I do not regret, for one second, any of my interpersonal relationships from that period. Ironically I have about two friends in Chicago, so a whole lot of good my BLS friends have done me, updating their status, allowing me to compare myself unfavorably. I am happy that I will not run into certain classmates in court, but I miss most of them very, very much. They were all intelligent, open-minded, curious, and inspiring. I could tell them everything and never feel ashamed. I feel the need to write TT to honor my love for them and the memories we shared, before any more of us are lost in unfortunate accidents.
Nothing more about BLS, except that their employment statistics are grossly inflated. I believe they have changed their disclosure: their website now links to an ABA-stamped employment summary. However, only 44 out of 478 defined themselves as unemployed. So when they said 91% employment before, it wasn't untrue. But it was probably highly misleading. Supposedly, there were only 33 law school funded positions. All I know is, I filled out that employment survey, and my CTA post-graduate fellowship counted as "employed." But if you knew what my life was like from November 2013 through May of 2014, you would not feel "employed." (I do have to say though, that these numbers do not look that bad, and that maybe I am unnaturally disappointed because BLS has zero pull in Chicago.)
I never had BLS on my radar until they solicited an application from me with the fee-waived. This was warning sign #1. Plenty of schools do this, but it is nefarious.
Oh, you haven't heard of our school? It's free to apply! What is it going to hurt?
Inevitably, these schools end up offering tempting scholarship packages.
I picked BLS over Loyola Law School. I've written about this before, and I'll be writing about it again. Neither BLS or LLS would have been a smart decision. LLS gave me slightly more money, subject to finishing in the top 33% of the 1L class. BLS gave maybe $6,000 less, but only subject to a top 40% finish. BLS also coordinated student housing, and this ultimately won the day for them. LLS has a beautiful campus with beautiful architecture, though it is not in the best neighborhood. BLS must have one of the ugliest law school buildings in the country, but it is in the fanciest neighborhood in the hippest borough. I couldn't pay too much attention to the quality of the faculty, but for what it's worth BLS did have a more impressive "sample class" than Pepperdine, DePaul or LLS (though LLS was definitely #2). If it's not already clear to you, I regret going to BLS. Given that I live in Chicago, I wish I had gone to DePaul or Loyola University. I also wish I had gone to LLS, but there it was more apparent to me that I was making a huge financial gamble - I'd have enough to afford first and last month's rent, and a security deposit, but not 12 months of rent, and I was not going to have a job. A loan, untied to the school's bursar, frightened me. Of course in retrospect, I would much rather have given government-borrowed money to a landlord than an institution [at least partly] responsible for my demise.
I think that's all we need to say about that.
You deserve to know that I work for a wage--not a salary--but if you attend work perfectly, logging the maximum 37.5 hours per week, staying late Tuesday through Friday to make up for the 7.5 hours you can't work on the dozen or so holidays throughout the year, perhaps using your accrued vacation days (1 per month), billing 52 weeks, it would work out to $26,949.
I'm wary about spilling too many details about my job, except to say I am a crime-fighter and building-doctor. I do not practice criminal law, but I am put into a position where I have to request that criminal offenders be banned from their place of abode. It can be pretty unsavory at times, and I'm not really sure it's providing any transferable experience. What I do is very niche, and the only option might be to "go to the dark side"--i.e. the solo practitioners or bank-funded midsize firms we meet in court and AH. I could say a lot more about this, but again, do not want to call undue attention to what I do. Even with all of my frustrations about my job, I mentioned in the previous post that this year felt better than last probably because of my professional situation. You probably deserve to know how that has changed, too. But before I get there, let me just say, while I may hate a lot of things about my job, I do not hate my job. It's a tremendously depressing experience, but it has lent me a certain stability.
I nearly had a job, and I'm not sure I've ever written about this here. But, to cut to the chase, I pretty much decided to move back to Chicago after spending my 2L summer here in 2012. Still, I interned at Legal Aid when I got back to Brooklyn that fall, and apparently got my "guaranteed" interview. Just about two years ago, I went up to the Bronx and delivered a summation in defense of a woman who had been caught shoplifting from a Target, to two attorneys. It went well, I suppose, because I received an invitation to interview a second time, in lower Manhattan on Water St., across the street from a building I lived in for the first half of the summer, 11 years earlier. Interviews never go well for me, so this was something.
The second interview didn't allow me to show off the more dramatic side of myself, and I guess I came across as a dullard. No offer came. At that point, I decided to withdraw from the NY Bar Exam. I was fully refunded, which I will never forget. Illinois, however, charged me $1,550 to register ($1,450 for "really late" registration, and $100 for the computer fee) at that late date, and I guess that's when I really started feeling the sting for how outrageously Illinois will gouge you on everything, particularly if it has to do with practicing law. Just curious, but how much is it to renew your bar license in NY? $395? Higher? And now there is all sorts of talk about slapping a sales tax onto legal services, as if the poor people and generally poor attorneys (unless of course there is no exemption for large firms, which would be surprising) that will bear the brunt of this revenue boosting measure can afford that little extra ding.
I put out all the feelers I could when I moved back into my parents' house in August of 2013. I would only live there a couple months before it would be foreclosed upon and short-sold. Miraculously, the moment I found an apartment, I got offered a short term document review job. It only lasted six days, but I made over $1000 on it after taxes, and that would cover the rent for the next month and most living expenses. I would also be starting my post-graduate fellowship at CTA, which would pay $1000 per month for 20 hours per week.
I do not want to say too much about CTA except that it was a mistake to do the fellowship there. About a year ago, I interviewed with the Cook County Public Defender. If I had tried to do my fellowship there, I would still have been an "employee" at the time of that interview, and might have been a more impressive candidate. I wrote about this when I reviewed Defending the Damned (which technically was before last year's 6th anniversary post, but should now be mentioned as a notable read), but here I wanted to make that clear. I wanted to do my post-graduate fellowship with an organization that could build on my past experience. I had worked for New York City Transit Authority as my first internship after my 1L year. It had been a very positive experience for me, and at one point I was falsely led into the anticipation of a job after law school with them. They gave me free rides. I never used them, because the building was three blocks from my apartment, but I could go anywhere that summer for free. I also got paid $5,000 for three months.
Compare that to $4,500 for 5 months at CTA. And despite the fact that law school interns were not only paid directly by CTA, but also given the benefit of free rides, I was not given any such special treatment as a "volunteer attorney." I asked my fellowship coordinator if she could argue my case to the General Counsel, in light of this disparate treatment. She said she did, but the decision remained the same. I still wonder how hard she had advocated for me. Might it have been better just to knock on the GC's door myself?
So I was working for a pittance with an end date in sight. An Assistant FOIA Officer position became available, and I applied immediately and got the interview. It would have paid $50,000. I interviewed over the phone on a conference call with a woman who worked on the same floor as me. Clearly I could have come down in person, but they needed to keep it depersonalized, I guess not to show any favored treatment. I didn't get it. Another girl, who had a very similar resume to mine, but had done FOIA work for the Law Dept., got it. I applied later to be a representative for the labor division, working with grievances from the union, but did not get an interview. Nor did I get one for the associate attorney position in the torts division.
I started doing part-time work. One day I worked for a solo attorney in Schaumburg. She paid me $20 per hour to do minor paralegal type work for 6 hours. I was in at 9, out by 3, and had a check for $120. Moreover, she had been cool. She had given all kinds of insight into what it was like to be a solo attorney, and how some months were good and others were not. I remember one case she was trying to get a settlement from an insurance company for a client who had broken their tooth on a rock in a yogurt cup. It was freezing cold that day but I remember driving back the long way from Schaumburg, east through Oak Park into the city, down North Ave, going to the Aldi on Milwaukee Ave. and then to the Citibank there to deposit the check, then going home and having a drink and being very happy.
I also covered cases for a foreclosure defense firm. They paid $20 per hour too, I think. Maybe $25. I had to drive out to Kane County a couple times for that, covered another couple cases at the Daley Center. I stopped doing it after too long, because my current position prohibits outside representation. And also ironically because it was only the cases in Kane County that were worth it, since you could bill for commuting time and get $0.50 per mile in gas reimbursement. 100 miles round trip, plus a 15 minute appearance signing, might net $150 or $175.
I also got a job at a small firm, which gave me a place to go when my fellowship ended in late April or early May. They paid $15 per hour. I worked there for about a month, and the work environment was less than ideal. All of my co-workers were very nice, but it was a very disorganized place. I took a doc review project (I had worked another one, also, from February through April, taking a leave of absence from CTA so I could make the hours) and made decent money, maybe about $6,000 in six weeks. But it was during that doc review job that I got offered a start date at my current job. I took it, and was sad I was taking an almost 50% cut from my doc review wage. But, this job offered health insurance, and paid nominally less than $15 per hour, so I talked with the partner at the small firm, and he agreed it seemed like the best move for me. I have since seen him in court and prosecuted a case against him. He's one of my very few "connections" to the legal community of this city, and I will always be grateful that he kept me from fearing homelessness.
There's not much else to say except that I am happy to live in and work for this city. It's a really terrible place, but it's my really terrible place, and no matter how fucking frustrating it gets, I am going to try to make things better.
My loans are up around $98,000 right now and I have paid $0 back. I will be renewing PAYE next week with an AGI around $25,500. I think some people pay about $30 per month on our salary, and it just sucks because you are not even covering the interest at that level. That's only $360 a year, so it's amazing. But my interest is going to climb at like $7,000 per year. So it's just going to escalate, and the only way out is through forgiveness. If I stay on track, and if Congress doesn't try to fuck even further with our economic "promised-land," I will be debt-free in about 9 years. I will consider these 9 years to be better than those spent in a prison, but I am not going to stay in my position forever.
Some of my colleagues have stayed more than two years without having a conversation about their future there. I will go ballistic if I hit that point and the powers that be still feel it's reasonable to ask me to live on this salary.
I have heard one of my colleagues turn down a job offer of $40,000 per year (it may have even been $45,000 per year), because it would change the loan treatment. I agree that the value of public service, over a long term of loan repayment, is high, but it's difficult to measure. You have an extra 10 years of payment on the expanded form of PAYE now, and the dreaded "tax bomb." Still, I would probably go for $40,000. I can understand not wanting to leave, though, because our positions are relatively more stable and less stressful than those of young associates at small firms. An extra $1,000 per month in pay would be nice, though.
And I think that's all we need to say about that.
We deserve a look at the anonymous bloggers and commentators who have told me to swallow a shotgun, who have called me ugly, who have kicked me while I was down. I have zero problem with them calling out law school as a ruinous life choice, but when someone personally attacks you for making such a stupid fucking awful decision, it hurts,
In case it is not already crystal-clear, I hereby disavow any pollyannish statements previously made about BLS or other law schools generally. They are overpriced, and their outcomes are not good.
In the event that you hope to have a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress against the institution that harmed you, you must prove that you have done everything in your power to achieve a good result.
Did you pass, or even take, the bar exam?
How high was your GPA and class rank?
Did you work for a journal, or moot court?
Did you do internships or externships or clinics (or whatever you want to call them) every semester?
Other questions might be pertinent (i.e. foreign language fluency, previous law firm experience), but there is no talisman for success. I have known people that were spectacular students at BLS and could not get a job, and people who were mediocre students and still managed to get a decent public interest job. While I understand that the risk/reward is rarely justifiable, it is not fair to lump everyone else together with you when you just suck, or give up without really trying.
I sucked. I had a 3.28 and finished in the bottom half (top 65%), no journals, no moot court. I did do do internships every semester, but after 1L year I had a 3.14, and my Property professor [strongly] suggested that I take a year off and work on my writing, since I said that was what I really wanted to do. My Constitutional Law professor, by contrast, said he didn't mean to be pollyannish, but he had a student that didn't do so well her first year, and came back and finished near the top of her class (though nothing about her getting a great job). I remember another reception, early in my 3L year, when our Dean highlighted one particular student from the class of 2012 that finished at the very top--maybe 2nd or 3rd--but still had no job. It was an alumni reception and he exhorted everyone there to give the student a job, plugging some cute acronym initiative.
So maybe my fate isn't all that unusual.
In summation, while the lawsuit naming BLS claiming negligent misrepresentation was dismissed, and while my claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress may not prevail, this is not a clear case of contributory negligence or culpable conduct. Numerous bad actors have unwittingly collaborated on my demise. Blame BLS. Blame the U.S. government. Blame my friend who went to Cardozo and planted the seed. Blame my dad for wanting to tell people his son was an attorney. Blame Bush and/or Obama and/or greedy Wall St. bankers for the recession. Blame the ABA for failure to warn. Blame baby boomers for saying that all you need to do is get your foot in the door. Blame as many parties as you can name. But do not blame yourself.
Unless, of course, you suck.