Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Legal Job Market Turning a Corner?

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Has the legal job market finally turned around?  Almost.  According to the recently released National Association for Law Placement (NALP) study, the 2013 law graduates found it much easier to find employment within nine months of graduating than the last few graduating classes.  Specifically, 20.6% found a job with a firm employing 500 or more attorneys (aka Biglaw firm), which was 4.4% higher than those in 2011.  Even the National Jurist has found a certain group of law schools who have drastically improved their employment statistics from 2011 to 2013.
Although these statistics are encouraging, the NALP found a drop in overall law school grad employment; the lowest since the recession hit.  Their study showed the employment rate of the class of the 2013 fell a minimal .2% in 2013 to 84.5%; down from 84.7% in 2012.  This rate was still far from the 91.9% peak in 2007.  The drop in employment rate in 2013 was attributed to a historically large graduating class.
While the employment numbers saw a slight decline, the average salary saw a nice increase.  The NALP reported the median salary for 2013 grads was $95,000, which was $5,000 more than the class of 2012; likely due to the bump in Biglaw employment. 
So the numbers aren’t showing a huge change, and maybe if the graduating class were a normal size, the employment rate would have remained the same, but at least some indicators are pointing toward a recovery.  How can you take advantage of the upswing?  Look for in-demand practice areas.  Robert Half Legal expects litigation to generate the largest amount of jobs in the future as well as commercial litigation, contract management, and patent filing.  What will you need?  Experience.  Since the recession, employers are requiring 3-7 years of experience instead of the 1 to 2 during the pre-recession days.  Look for as many experience-building and networking opportunities as you can to help give you a competitive edge.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

5 Financial Aid Mistakes to Avoid At the Beginning of a Semester

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Did you know you can decrease your student debt burden significantly before your semester even begins?  Save yourself some money and a palm to the face by avoiding these common mistakes.

Mistake #1:  Avoiding the Financial Aid Office Like The Black Plague.  The financial aid office is there to help.  Yes, lines can be long and the discussion can be tedious, but it can help you save.  Have them make sure your filings are correct – you don’t want to take out extra loans if you don’t have to.  Use them to help you select the best loans available with good terms and competitive interest rates or no interest rates at all.  If you have questions about your terms, ask them for clarification so you can be completely informed about what you’re obligated to do.

Mistake #2:  Accepting the Tuition Bill As Is.  At most schools, you are able to opt out of some charges if you are uninterested in utilizing the programs.  For instance, the gym, computer lab, and athletic events are all things charged under the cost of tuition, and you’ll have to pay whether or not you use them unless you ask to opt out.  If you own a computer, prefer to run outside, and enjoy theater instead of sports, then why pay for the next 15 to 30 years of your life on things you won’t use?  By opting out, you can borrow less money.

Mistake #3:  Celebrating with Your Reimbursement Check.  It’s probably the biggest check you’ve ever received in your life to date.  Thousands of dollars just for you?  You’ll want to offer to buy the next round at the bar, but you shouldn’t.  Do you really need all of that money for cost-of-living?  Can you budget better, get a job, take your bike to classes, anything to reduce the cost-of-living to less than what the school estimated?  If so, you should return the check or whatever amount of the check you can do without.  Again, borrowing less money at the start will decrease your debt burden upon graduation.

Mistake #4:  Ignoring Interest Payment Bills.  Maybe your terms allow you to forgo your interest payments while you are in school, but you shouldn’t just crumple the bill up and toss it into the trash.  Interest payments are important to pay as soon as you can because it is likely that your loan agreement has compound interest.  What that means is that for every interest payment you miss, it accrues (or adds) to the original loan amount.  However, when the next interest bill is calculated it is off of that new outstanding balance.  So for every interest payment you miss, the larger the next interest payment is and the larger the outstanding balance becomes.  As you can imagine, the outstanding balance can spiral out of control pretty quickly and, thus, has caught so many new graduates off guard in the student debt crisis we have today.

Mistake #5:  Throwing Out Loan Information.  You’ll probably receive a ton of mail with statements and terms, but do not throw these things away!  Keep a file or scan them or ask for your documents to be sent electronically and organize it all on a computer file (that you back-up).  You’ll want to keep track of how much you borrow, the terms of your agreements, who your lenders are, and who your servicers are (which can be different than lenders).  This information will allow you to update your lender and/or servicer of any address or name change and help you avoid default when it is time to make repayments.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Beware: Student Loan Debt Scammers!

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We’ve heard about the Prince of Nigeria, the grandparent callers, ponzi schemes, and fake lottery winnings, but scammers are upping the ante by targeting those who are overwhelmed by student debt.  These swindlers are calling themselves “debt relief” companies.
Some of these companies have ads, promising to help people enroll in a non-existent program called the Obama Forgiveness Program; while others make phone calls claiming to be from the U.S. Department of Education.  Chuck Harwood of the Federal Claim Commission said in a recent article, “Some scammers will claim they can consolidate student loans and help consumers pay it off faster or make cheaper payments.  Some scammers will claim they can help students or consumers who are already in default get out of default.”
Illinois became the first state to file a lawsuit against companies such as these.  NBC News reported that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan was “cracking down on companies that can’t deliver on their ‘too good to be true claims’ to reduce or eliminate student debt.”  These companies charged people as much as $1,200 to help fill out paperwork, which people can do for free.
If you’ve got student loan debt, don’t look for an easy way out…there isn’t really one.  The best thing to do is to call your lender or service provider for your loans and try to work out a repayment plan that can best meet your needs.  Steer clear of groups who require fees or charge money upfront.  Be leery of groups who offer consolidation services as well.  If you consolidate your government loans into a private loan, you can lose special protections and repayment options.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

6 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting Law School

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George Bernard Shaw once said, “Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.”  Yes, we learn from our personal mistakes and grow from them.  Unfortunately for first year law students, the mistakes aren’t usually known until after the first semester exams have been graded.  So to save you time, here are a few tried and tested mistakes you should avoid.

Mistake #1:  Procrastination.  I’ll read it later.  I’ll catch up on notes later.  If you find yourself thinking or saying the word “later,” you’ll quickly realize that later doesn’t exist. Hundreds of pages of reading are assigned each week. It is important to read all of your assignments (including recommended reading and those tiny footnotes that your professors will love so much) BEFORE the class.  Take notes as you read and during lectures, organizing them into an outline on weekends.  By the end of the semester, as your classmates as scrambling to catch up or put together a study aid, you’ll be done and can focus on actually using your study aid to prepare for finals.

Mistake #2:  Relying on Student Notes/Outlines.  A used textbook with notes inside or a friend who lent you their outline from the semester before can do more harm than good.  Maybe the information is accurate, maybe it isn’t.  If you do the work yourself, you will better remember what you’ve read and learned throughout the semester.  If you have any gaps or misunderstanding, check with your professor during office hours or look into commercial outlines and treatises in your law library.

Mistake #3:  Forgetting That You’re Human.  A lot of students come to law school with the misconception that no sleep, no exercise, and vending machine foods are the only way to graduate with a JD.  This will likely cause you to be tired and susceptible to illness, which diminishes time for you to study and for your brain to absorb what you learn.  Treat law school like a person’s normal work day.  Your office hours are only for studying and class.  Leave the evenings for exercise and whatever helps you wind down.  Get at least a solid seven hours of sleep and three healthy meals.  You’ll be better off for it.

Mistake #4:  Overloading Your Time with Extracurricular Activities.  Within the first two weeks, law schools typically offer a club fair of some sort to allow 1Ls a chance to see the plethora of groups they can join.  Now, this isn’t something to avoid entirely.  Groups can be a good way to find a release, create a support system and maybe even form a study group.  However, over-involvement, especially in your first year, is not important enough to take away your time from studying.  What matters most is your GPA and class rank, not clubs.

Mistake #5:  Ignoring Bar Review Reps.  Oftentimes you can put a deposit on a bar review course and receive a locked in price or discounts.  Additionally, they usually offer free study materials that include outlines, practice questions, and tips.  Research which bar exam course will best fit your needs and try to lock something in to save money and help your skills.

Mistake #6:  Spending Beyond Your Means.  With finances and time management, planning is everything.  You only have so many hours a day and so much money in the bank.  Create priorities and budgets and stick with them.  Keep an eye on the big picture – graduating with a top rank and minimum student loan debt.  You’ll be thankful you did!