Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Negotiating Tuition: Can It Be Done?

Negotiation – the hammer of the metaphorical legal tool box.  Used more often than most other skills taught in law school such as in contract law, mergers and acquisitions, and even criminal proceedings.  Why not learn how to negotiate early and begin with the payment of your law school education?  Thanks to an article by The Windsor Star, I stumbled upon a brave law student who attempted to do just that.

Canadian law student, Chris Rudnicki, examined the tuition costs at the University of Windsor law school both now and in the early 90s and compared the rate at which tuition rose with the rate of inflation.  He calculated that the cost of tuition today would be $3,500 if it had risen at the same pace as inflation.  The law school’s dean responded that the amount of financial aid the school disperses had increased from $50,000 in 1999, to $1.7million today, making it an important factor that was missed in Rudnicki’s report.  Unfortunately, Rudnicki lost the “negotiation.”  He and his classmates will be paying over $15,000 in tuition this fall. (Click HERE for the article.)

After reading this article, the dean’s statement stuck with me.  She’s right – the financial aid is an important factor, maybe the only factor.  If the law school would limit the amount of financial aid it offers, wouldn’t that solve all of the problems?  Fewer students would be able to attend law school without financial aid; thus, decreasing the oversaturation of the market, providing more job opportunity and tuition would cost less (based on her reasoning).  Of course, the other side is that only the rich could afford law school and the legal industry would potentially lose bright minds who couldn’t afford the education.  To put it bluntly, those bright-minded students are unlikely to afford the education even after they complete law school, based on the current job market and average salary. 

It’s doubtful that the law school would change its stance, which begs the question – can students truly negotiate the cost of tuition?  Maybe not an individual, but students as a population might be successful.  Like a negotiation for a price of a car, the buyer usually says, “Nah, I wasn’t that interested anyway,” and turns to walk out the door.  The car salesman quickly gives a lower price just to get the buyer to turn around, thinking a smaller sale is better than no sale at all.  As more students opt out of applying to law school – turning their back on the deal – law schools will begin to lower its tuition rates to get them back.  But if you really, really want that car, are you willing to walk away from it, taking the risk that you won’t receive it at all?  Alternatively, maybe if you leave and come back later a newer, better, more affordable car will be there for the taking.  No one said negotiation would be easy.

Law schools aren’t the only entity to negotiate with.  Try negotiating with lenders on their interest rates before signing by showing credit scores or other information.  Negotiate for scholarships before signing your acceptance letter.  As applications decrease, students have more bargaining power than they think.  If one school is offering you a scholarship, but your dream school is not, it doesn’t hurt to tell them you’ve been offered another scholarship and ask if they would do the same.  Negotiate summer associate salaries in order to pay on interest or part of your tuition.  Negotiate with yourself – do you really need the most recent technology, the trip to Vegas, or a fifth cup of the $7 Starbucks coffee?  Spend less and you won’t need to rely as much on loans to get through your legal education.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

6 Tips for Moving on a Budget

This week’s post isn’t as legally pointed as the others, but the supposed rule of writing is “write what you know,” so my upcoming move inspired this post – moving on a budget.  And, moving affects everyone from the pre-law student moving to their new law school location or the 3L transferring locations for an amazing job.

By the way, I hate moving!  It’s bitter sweet…I enjoy having an exciting, new place to conquer, but the actual process of moving sucks.  I usually wind up looking like a crime scene on CSI.  Bruised, cut, broken nails (a CSI agent would say I put up quite a fight), writhing on the floor in pain until I have slowly died from exhaustion – “cause of death?” the agent will ask - moving.  I miraculously recover about a week later, with a slight symptom of amnesia (obviously as I am moving again).  Anyway…I’ve been preparing for this move for a while and made a few notes on how to cut costs and even earn money during a move!

1.      Plan Ahead.  This is key.  The earlier you begin, the better your opportunities to save money and stick to a budget.  Planning early on will also give you a boost with the rest of the list.  For example, if you are moving across country and need to fly, you can save by knowing your dates in advance and booking early.  This applies to any hotel stay you may need, too.
2.      Create a Budget.  Try to think of any imaginable cost.  Will you have an overlap in your locations?  This could mean double rent/mortgage payments and utility bills.  Application fees, security deposits, realtors, etc. will add up in addition to your regular cost of living expenses before the actual move.  Not to mention, the actual move expenses such as supplies, trucks, traveling/gas, and help.  If you pack your kitchenware up early, you will have to account for food costs.  How much of these expenditures are you able to handle in addition to your current expenses? Can you make extra income or reserve money?  Create your budget and stick to it the best you can.
3.      Show Me the Money.  Start going through your belongings early.  Sell your textbooks back to the school bookstore and other books to Half Price Books (or an equivalent).  Sell furniture, appliances, and electronics to local consignment shops.  Take gently worn clothes to thrift stores (“one man’s trash, that’s another man’s come-up.” – Macklemore).  Try having a yard/garage sale.  Whatever you can’t sell, donate to charity.  Remember to grab a tax write-off form to get a deduction next tax season!  Getting rid of things you no longer use will lessen the amount of moving supplies and minimize the size of the moving truck, all while saving you money.
4.      DIY v. Hired Help.  As I mentioned before, I hate moving, but I always do it myself with the help of very good friends and family.  Have you seen the costs of hired help lately?  Hired help has its benefits – less likely to break things, no aches and pains afterward, and they will stay focused and stay until the job is done (because you’re paying them to).  However, if you have reliable help, it is the more affordable option.  You can usually pay them with food, beer, and/or a gift card for a small percentage of what you would pay a professional mover – even if you include the cost of renting a moving truck.
5.      Stretching Your Dollar.  Earlier, I mentioned the costs of food.  Depending on how far your move is, you will want to avoid two financial losses that food can syphon – money wasted from spoiled food and high fast food/restaurant prices.  Slowly limit your groceries nearing your move-out date.  Cook as much of your perishables as possible.  Tupperware them in advance and you can pack up your cooking supplies and just use paper plates and a microwave!  If you have prepared meals ready, you also will be less likely to purchase restaurant food.  If you are feeding your help, go for food that doesn’t need much prep work in case your kitchen supplies haven’t been unloaded yet.  Try preparing lasagna in a disposable pan in advance.  It feeds a lot of people, is affordable to make, and you only need the oven at the new place to heat it up!  Ordering pizza also has the same effect! Another way to stretch your dollar is by finding packaging materials for cheap or free.  Ask bookstores, bulk stores, and grocery stores for boxes.  Save plastic grocery bags to stuff in boxes for extra padding. 
6.      Get Your Money Back.  Who wants to clean a place they are never going to be in again – especially after a hard day of labor?  However, if you get some dollar store cleaning supplies and use some elbow grease, you may get some or all of your security deposit back.  In about a month, you’ll get a nice little reward for your effort!

It’s time for me to go pack!  If you have any extra tips, comment or send an email, and I can add them to another post.  Good luck on your move!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How Every Pre-Law and Law Student Should Be Spending Their Summer

Summer loving had me a blast? – maybe not so much for the budding lawyer.  Below are suggestions of “To Do’s” during each summer beginning with a junior in college through the newly graduated 3L student. 

College Juniors (rising seniors) – If you haven’t already scheduled a June LSAT test date, then schedule an early fall exam so you have time to retake it before applications are due in case you happen to bomb the first one.  Shop around for LSAT prep courses.  Research as much as you can about what being a lawyer is like so you can determine if it is right for you.  Intern at any legal place that will take you (even if it’s just to pour coffee) so you can get a feel for the lifestyle.  Research law schools and take note of application due dates, scholarship application requirements, and costs.

College Seniors (rising 1Ls) – Get your hands on your school’s summer recommended reading list and read as much of it as you can.  Already know your first semester courses?  Look for deals on supplements and start reading those to have a jump start on understanding the material.  Research the different bar prep courses.  Why so early you might ask?  If you lock in a bar prep course during your first year of law school (usually requiring a deposit) you can receive major discounts on the course as well as free outlines, supplements, and practice questions for your classes.  Intern or have summer employment at a legal office or courthouse.  Find a mentor/cheerleader/support system – these come in handy when you’re pulling out your hair during the first semester. 

1Ls (rising 2Ls) – Hopefully, you received a summer associate position.  This will put you on track to a potentially guaranteed job.  Work your ass off, get noticed (in a positive light), and lock in an invitation to return the following summer.  Apply for law review and/or moot court to boost employment opportunities.  Find out if your bar admissions office requires any forms or fees during 2L and get it done to avoid late fees or problems with your admission application later.  Read supplements for your upcoming courses.  Update your résumé and cover letters for fall recruitment.  Be aware of deadlines for fall recruitment.

2Ls (rising 3Ls) – Again, let’s hope you received a summer associate position.  Compete for offers of employment after graduation.  Update your résumé and cover letters in case you do not receive an offer and begin as early as you can to search for employment.  Send out cold employment queries just to get your name out there and meet potential employers.  Attend local bar association gatherings and meetings to meet employers.  Start preparing your bar application.  Register, study for, and take your MPRE.  Read supplements for your upcoming courses.  Check with the school to make sure you have or are about to complete all of the requirements to graduate so you have time to change your courses.

3Ls (new graduates) – Study for the bar.  Take the bar.  Pass the bar.  Celebrate!

Everyone:  Everyone should be determining costs for the upcoming year and creating a budget.  Make sure to hoard your money from summer employment to cover these costs and to make interest payments on your loans.  Everyone should be shopping around for student loan lenders and taking notes on who has the best rates and repayment plans, so when January applications come around you are prepared.  Everyone should be shopping around for their books to get the best prices – used books, borrowing books, and ebooks help to save money.

I do believe in the philosophy of “work hard and play hard.”  With any free time, please unwind, get sand between your toes, dive into a good book or find that summer love at last!  Be sure to check back next Wednesday for a new Barrister on a Budget Blog post!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A "Loud" Law School Anthem

         Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the stars of Chocolate Ghost House, the group responsible for the sensational YouTube parody “Law School” (sung to the tune of Maroon 5’s “Payphone”).  Andrew Loud refers to himself as “the other guy in the video who raps,” but this rapper does more than that.  Loud is a second year law student at West Virginia University School of Law and is on track to graduate in 2014.  He also wrote the lyrics to “Law School,” partnering with his friend Tyler Murray to bring the lyrics to life.

Many of the lyrics written by Loud mimic points and issues outlined in my book Barrister on a Budget (releasing Summer 2013).  I decided to chat with Loud about his inspiration to write the song and further investigate his perspective on the shape of the legal industry for new law graduates.

Q:  What motivated you to write and make this video?

A:  I’ve always enjoyed making parody songs, and when I found out about a law school music video contest through Above the Law, that was all the motivation I needed.

Q:  One line of your video says you’re “drowning in debt.”  Is the amount of debt you took on surprising or did you know what your financial obligations might entail before enrolling in law school?

A:  I may have taken some liberties with the lyrics as they do not all apply to me personally. I knew that some level of student loans would be necessary, but WVU is comparatively cheap as far as law schools go. I have a scholarship that covers most of my expenses, but I know that many students from my school and others constantly feel the financial pressure of law school.

Q:  What advice would you give a pre-law student about the financial obligations required of law students?

A:  Do what you can to make yourself a worthy scholarship candidate. Prepare well for the LSAT, as an exceptional score can erase other blemishes on your resume.  There are a lot of [scholarships] out there, and if you are willing to put in the work, whether before school or during school, it can go a long way.

Q:  Another line of your video says, “all of my job prospects are looking blue.”  As only 56% of the Class of 2012 were able to find full-time, permanent employment requiring bar passage, is that something you and your other classmates are worried about?

A:  West Virginia is a somewhat insulated job market, especially considering we are the only law school in the state. Our job placement rate is much, much higher than the national average. While some students may worry about this a little, I don’t think there is a prevailing sense of dread over the student body about our job prospects. This was another generalization meant to apply to all law schools; I know it can get pretty bad in some places.

Q:  Did you know about the state of the legal job market when you applied to law school?

A:  Yes, and I think that is something that most prospective law students should follow. Depending on where you are in the country, you may need to compete to secure your place in the workforce.

Q:  Your song also says that you “don’t have a degree to fall back onto” while holding up a mock diploma for liberal arts.  Are you finding that your friends/colleagues that received bachelor degrees in liberal arts are having the same difficulty in their job search as those who pursued an advanced degree or do you think the law school degree still gives students an upper hand in this economy?

A:  I have a lot of friends with bachelor’s degrees in less than practical subjects who have found the job market to be tough going. Many of them have jobs, but not in their area of study, and not with the earning potential they had hoped for. [T]here are still many opportunities [with a law degree] if you’re willing to go to them and earning potential is much greater.

Q:  Many are asking whether law school is still worth the investment.  What is your opinion?

A:  Law school may not be the guaranteed path to upper class that it once was, but it is still a solid investment.

Loud’s music video has recently been selected as a finalist for the Above the Law’s Law Revue Competition.  The winner is decided by popular vote, so please check out the video and vote here!  Voting ends at 11:59pm May 1, 2013.  To check out Loud’s other (non-legal) videos and music, visit his YouTube Channel!  Barrister on a Budget Blog posts every Wednesday!