i The Frugal Law Student | law school

Law School
Frugality
Personal Finance
Productivity
Nutrition

Is Law School Worth The Cost?

Written by Mike

Given the economic crisis that is going on, the difficulty new lawyers are having getting jobs, and the soaring cost of law school, I’m doing a little analysis to see if law school is worth it for many prospective students. A lot of people go into graduate or professional school believing the debt and time spent will pay off in a more rewarding/higher paying career. While this may be happen for some, it’s by no means a guarantee.

Let’s break this down by numbers:

Cost of tuition (three years): $60k up to $140k depending on the school.

Opportunity cost of not working (three years, let’s assume $50k a year, which is by no means a guarantee but I think is a fair average assumption): $150k

So if you’re going to a state school, you’re looking at about $210k cost, and most private schools closer to $300k. Assuming a 30 year career (again a major assumption), it would seem law school would have to make you $9-$10k+ over a regular job to justify the cost. Of courese, this doesn’t assume the interest on the debt (and the interest you could theoretically make from your savings working a normal job), so it’s likely more around $15k+ a year.

The thirty year horizon also neglects that people often shift careers a lot. If you end up just using that law degree for 10 years, you really need to be making $35k+ a year from law school. That’s something that just won’t happen for most people.

Going to law school isn’t just a brunt calculation of future earnings. Most of all, it matters if you want to actually be a lawyer (or at least go to law school). But I think it’s a good question to ask yourself if that law degree really will open significant doors for you to justify that sort of cost.

Why Every Law Student Should Blog

Written by Brett McKay

I started blogging at the Frugal Law Student during my first year of law school. When I started it, I just thought it would be a fun way to share with my friends and family the ways I’m saving money in law school.

But my foray into blogging has actually helped advance my legal career. That’s why I think every law student should have a blog. Here are two specific ways a blog can help you.

1. It’s a great job marketing tool. A blog is the ultimate marketing tool for law stuents. When you go into a job interview, employers are looking for what distinguishes you from the dozens of other applicants they’re interviewing. On paper, most applicants look the same, especially when you apply for large firms. You and everyone else will be in the top of your class, you’ll all be on law review, and you’ll all be active in extracurricular activities.

One of the questions you’re guaranteed to get during the interview is “What do you do when you’re not doing law school?” You could give a vanilla answer that everyone gives like “I like to exercise” or “I like to read.” Or you could give an answer like this: “I author a blog that focuses on international environmental law; I’ve done guest contributions to the blogs of several environmental law scholars; and I’ve managed to attract a large enough following that I have commercial sponsorships for my blog.” Which answer do you think will stick in your interviewer’s mind?

The second answer packs in a lot more information than the first one. By blogging, you tell your interviewer that 1) you’re serious about environmental law; 2) you’ve networked with other attorneys and legal scholars in that field; 3) you know how to leverage technology; and 4) you know how to market yourself.

When you leave, the person who interviewed you is going to check your site out. They’re going to be thinking about you after the interview, which is good. By checking your blog out, they can get a better idea of who you are because your personality will show through your writing. They’ll probably send a link to the other attorneys in the firm.

All things being equal, who do you think is going to get an offer for a summer job? The person who just said they like to read or the person who said they blogged? I think the answer is obvious.

A blog can be a successful marketing tool even if you don’t write about law related stuff. Find something you’re passionate about and start writing. If you like to run, (one of those vanilla answers) start a blog and track your progress and share your tips on running. Then when you’re asked what you like to do outside of law school you can say, “I enjoy running and I write a blog offering tips on how runners can improve.” Your interviewer will be impressed with your tech saviness. When they check your site out, they’ll get a better idea of who you are.

Of course the effectiveness of a blog as a marketing tool depends on a few factors. First, while you can be less formal on a blog, remember that potential employers might be reading it. So don’t use vulgar language, don’t post pictures of you after a Thursday night partying, and don’t discuss your sex life. Be personal, but stay professional.

Second, edit! Your blog is basically another resume for employers to use to determine whether to hire you or not. If your blog posts are full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, it reflects poorly on you.

2. It improves your writing. Blogging has definitely helped my legal writing. When you write for a blog, your audience consists of internet users who have the attention span of a gnat. You have to capture their attention and maintain it through good solid writing. When you write on a blog, you want to use short sentences and paragraphs; you want to tell a story that draws people in; and you want organize your writing with headings that make it easier for the reader follow.

Do these tips sound familiar? It’s the exact same thing you’re supposed to do in legal writing! By blogging consistently, you can improve your legal writing immensely.

Also, knowing that hundreds or even thousands of people may be reading your posts forces you to edit it carefully. Producing content that’s free of mistakes shows you respect your reader. When you prepare a trial brief or a research memo, you’ll want to show that same respect. Blogging can help you get in the habit of editing more carefully.

Health Supplements For Law Students

Written by Brett McKay

vitamins.jpg

Photo by DRB62

Law students not only need supplements for their classes, they need supplements for their health.

Law school is taxing both on your mind and body. A law student can easily put in a 12 hour day of non-stop studying. When I was working on my law review article last semester, I often worked from 7 AM to 10 PM to get it done. If you’re not taking care of your body, all this work and stress can land you in the hospital. (Note: That’s what happened to me last year.) A law student cannot afford to miss a week of classes and studying!

In addition to exercising regularly and eating well, law students should consider taking a few nutritional supplements to help them make it through the law school experience. Vitamin/herbal supplements used in conjunction with exercise and diet can not only keep you from getting sick, they also might help you perform better come exam time.

Here’s a run down of supplements that I’m currently taking to keep me healthy and to boost my brain power:

  1. Vibrant C. Vibrant C is a drink mix full of vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals. I start drinking this during cold season in order to boost my immune system. I don’t have time to be sick in law school, so any way I can prevent coming down with something is welcomed.
  2. Daily Vitamin Supplement. While eating a well balanced diet to get all the vitamins and nutrients you need is ideal, sometimes law students don’t have time to eat healthy. That’s where a daily vitamin supplement can come in. You’ll get all your daily recommended vitamins in one little pill.
  3. Ginkgo Biloba. Studies have shown that regular consumption of Ginkgo helps improve thinking, learning, and memory. In law school, that’s all you do. Taking Ginkgo won’t turn you into a super genius, but every little thing helps. Studies also show that ginkgo helps ward off depression. This is particularly useful in law school where depression is unfortunately quite common.
  4. Fish Oil. Fish oil is full of omega 3 fatty acids. Research has shown omega 3 fatty acids have several health benefits. The benefits that law students should be interested in include better brain function and less depression. Omega 3 improves memory, recall, reasoning, and focus; all important skills on law exams. There is some evidence it boosts the immune system as well.
  5. Yerba mate. Yerba mate is a tea made from a shrub in South America. The benefits of yerba mate are similar to those of green tea. I’ve been able to kick my soda habit by switching to yerba mate. I get the benefits of the energy boost from the natural caffeine, along with health benefits from all the antioxidants. Plus it energizes you without the jittery feeling coffee or energy drinks can give.
  6. 5 Hour Energy. If this stuff was cheaper, I would take it everyday. It is an energy drink that actually lives up to its claim. It makes you feel energized, focused, and ready to take on the world. All without the jitters or the crash when it wears off. I take one of these shots before all my final exams and they power me through those stressful 3-4 hour periods.

Bouncing Back From Less Than Stellar Law School Grades

Written by Brett McKay

depressedcat.jpg

By now, most law students have gotten their grades back from last semester. I didn’t do too hot last semester. It wasn’t horrible, but I know I could have done better. If you’re like me, you want to do better this semester. So, how do we do it? Here’s a few things that I’ve done so I can bounce back from my less than stellar fall semester.

1. Visit your old professor
Make an appointment with your professor as soon as possible to go over your exam. The key to make these appointments successful is to go in without a chip on your shoulder. Go in with the attitude that you really want to know what you did wrong and how you can improve. I know several students who go in to try to argue with the professor. That’s not going to get you anywhere, so don’t waste your time.
Go in with specific questions. Did you miss issues? Was your analysis not thorough enough? Did you do better on the essay or multiple choice? Ask for suggestions on how you can improve.

2. Visit your new professors
After visiting last semester’s professors, make an appointment to see your new professors. Go in a few weeks after the semester has started to ask some questions you’ve come up with from their classes. The visits have another purpose other than getting answers to your questions. You also want to get as much information about how they give exams and what they’re looking for in an answer. Each professor is different. Some just want you to spot all the issues, while others want deep analysis with lots of policy arguments. Find out as soon as possible so you can start preparing for their exam.

3. Write down what went wrong last semester
Take a few minutes to sit down with pen and paper to write what you did wrong last semester. Start from the beginning of the semester and work your way to the day of the exam. Did you spend less time outlining? Did you not do enough practice exams? Were there any outside factors that could have affected your performance? Be as thorough and brutal as possible. If you don’t know what went wrong you won’t know how you can improve.

4. Make a plan for this semester
After you de-construct last semester, make a plan for this semester. If there were outside distractions that may have affected your exam performance, make plans to eliminate those distractions. If you didn’t have enough time review your outlines, plan to finish your outline earlier this semester.
Also take into consideration what each professor is looking for on their exam and plan accordingly. Are the tests closed book? Plan for more time to memorize your outline. Do they use lots of objective multiple choice questions? If multiple choice gives you hard time, then gather as many practice multiple questions as you can.

5. Forget last semester
After you’ve made your goals and plans for the upcoming semester, forget about last semester. There’s nothing you can do to change your grade and dwelling on it will only you hold you back this semester. Forget that past and focus on what you can do on the future.

What do you all do to bounce back from bad law school grades?

Image by studio-d

When Mind Hacks Won’t Work: Brute Force Memorization

Written by Brett McKay

dreamstime_1127573.jpgI’m always on the lookout for new ways to make my studying and learning more effective and efficient. I’m a big fan of the peg system, image linking, and mindmaps. Unfortunately, I’ve found these techniques useless for memorizing 40 page law school outlines filled with abstract legal doctrine.

The Brute Force Memorization Process

While reading aloud the sentence of the thing I want to memorize, I’ll type it in my computer. I’ll repeat this process five times with each line of data I want to memorize.

I’m getting visual stimulation by reading and auditory stimulation be reading aloud. Writing things down is one of the best ways to remember things. These three done simultaneously produce a trifecta of memorizing power. Repetition crams the info into your brain. If I’m having trouble memorizing a particular piece of information, I’ll keep repeating the process until I’ve got it down.

It’s not pretty and it’s not efficient, but it gets the job done. I’ve been doing this for years and it has always helped me remember those pesky details I’ve needed to know on exams. I make sure I leave myself plenty of time before the test to do this.

Caveat: I don’t completely abandon memorizing techniques while doing this. I often incorporate them in the process when I see they would work. For example, I include mnemonics to help memorize a list of elements to a crime. But when I have to remember the definition of “connivance” or “proximate causation”, my brute force technique steps in.

I use text editor for writing the information. I have a friend who uses a similar technique but prefers writing it by hand.

Bottom line: This technique works for me. But do what works for you.

What are your memorization techniques? Drop a line in the comment box and add to the conversation!

If you liked this article, please bookmark it on del.icio.us or vote for it on Digg. I’d appreciate it. :)

27 Holiday Gifts for Law Students That Are Under $25

Written by Brett McKay

With Christmas just a month away, its time to start Christmas shopping. If you have a law student in your life and are having trouble coming up with frugal holiday gift ideas, here’s 27 thoughtful gift ideas that cost less than $25.

Supplies

A box of pens. Every semester I buy a box of Pilot G2 Mini. By the end of the semester, I’ve used them all up. The G2 mini writes well and are small enough to carry around in a pocket easily. This would make a great stock stuffer. Cost:$5 for a pack of four.

Highlighters. Law students read. A lot. And they go through highlighters like gangbusters when reading. Office Depot sells a big tube of 24 highlighters for about $15. This would definitely last the entire year.

Thumb drive. Thumb drives come in real handy at law school. Law students use them all time to transport digital files to other computers. Cost: Varies on the amount of storage space you buy. You can get one with 2GB for about $13.

A yearly planner. Part of effective time management is writing things down. Help your law student start the year off right by buying them a planner for the new year. There are tons of planners to choose from. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Cost: $10-$20. At-A-Glance makes great planners for about $13.

Stapler. My mother-in-law gave me a stapler last year as a stocking stuffer. It was one of my favorite gifts I received. I use it all the time in law school. Cost: $10. Swingline always makes a great stapler.

Personalized stationary. This past semester I wrote a lot of thank you notes after my job interviews. It would have been nice to have some personalized letter head or thank you cards to send to my employers. Over at VistaPrint you can get 30 custom made thank you cards for $20.

Books

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Success in law school depends on effective time management. Getting Things Done by David Allen is a great book that sets up an efficient and effective time management system. The idea behind GTD is clearing your mind of all the stuff you got going on in your life and capturing it somewhere else. Once you’ve collected all your information, GTD sets up an efficient system so you can process it all and get things done. I got this book last year and found it to be extremely helpful. Cost: $8
Law School Confidential (Revised Edition): A Complete Guide to the Law School Experience: By Students, for Students. This a great book for the soon to be law student. The author covers every aspect of the law school experience-taking the LSAT, surviving first semester, internships, the bar, and finding a job. In addition to describing what the law school experience is going to be like, the author gives practical tips on what a student can do to succeed in law school. For example, the author has a section in which he gives advice on how to study for exams. Cost: $10.
What Can You Do With a Law Degree?: A Lawyer’s Guide to Career Alternatives Inside, Outside & Around the Law. Some people aren’t meant to be attorneys. Many find this out while in law school. This book suggests tons of career options one can take with a law degree that doesn’t involve being an attorney. If you know someone who’s in law school, but doesn’t want to be a lawyer, this is a great gift for them Cost: $10.
Legal Writing in Plain English: A Text With Exercises. Good legal writing is supposed to be so simple that any non-attorney could read a lawyer’s writing and understand it completely. That’s hard to do. This book can help. In addition to the great tips it gives, it also has exercises you can do to help lawyers write more clearly. Cost: $10
Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time. Success in the legal profession requires effective networking. This is probably the best book I’ve read on networking. Lots of great practical advice. Cost: $14

DVDs

I’m suggesting if you by DVDs, buy them used. There’s no need to buy new. They won’t care. Prices on used DVDs vary on Amazon, but generally they’re about $5.

Legally Blonde 2 – Red, White & Blonde (Special Edition). Reese Witherspoon plays a stereotypical blond who gets into Harvard law school. Hilarity then ensues. This is a fun movie to watch when your brain needs a break from studying. Cost: $5 used
The Paper Chase. This is a good movie to give to soon-to-be-law student if you want to scare the bejesus out of them. The Paper Chase is about a Harvard law student who finds himself the adversary of the school’s most harsh professor. The professor tears students to shreds with the Socratic method. The story becomes more complex when the student learns he’s fallen in love with the daughter of his nemesis, the contracts professor. I haven’t had any law professors like the one in the Paper Chase, but I think the movie does a good job in showing how engrossed law student can become with the law. Cost: $5 used.
The Rainmaker. The Rainmaker, starring Matt Damon and Danny DeVito, is based on the John Grisham novel of the same name. This is your typical David v. Goliath story. Matt Damon plays a young attorney who, having just passed the bar exam, represents a family whose son is denied treatment for leukemia by their insurance company. I’m sure you can see where this is going. Cost: $5 used.
A Civil Action. A Civil Action, starring John Travolta, is actually based on a true case. The story revolves around industrial pollution in a New England town that has contaminated the drinking water. Consequently, children start getting sick and die. John Travolta plays the attorney who takes on the polluters. The movie does a good job portraying how civil procedure can be used win or lose a case. Cost: $5 used.
A Time to Kill. A Time to Kill another movie based on a John Grisham novel. The film stars Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey (I think he keeps his shirt on the entire time during the film), Samuel L. Jackson, and Kevin Spacey. Set in Mississippi, Samuel L. Jackson plays a father who takes justice into his own hands and kills the two men who raped his daughter. Sandra Bullock plays an idealistic law student who assists Matthew McConaughey in defending the vigilante father in this racially charged court drama. Of course you can expect Samuel L. Jackson to yell alot, because that’s what Samuel L. Jackson does best. Cost: $5 used
The Pelican Brief. Hey! What do you know? Another lawyer movie based on a John Grisham novel. A law student (Julia Roberts) discovers evidence of a conspiracy to kill two Supreme Court Justices. She teams up with an investigative reporter (Denzel Washington)and the two are hunted down by those who don’t want the plot revealed. If only being in law school were this exciting. Cost: $5 used
Rounders (Collector’s Edition). Matt Damon plays a law student who likes to play high stakes poker. He tries to quit so he can focus on law school and his girlfriend, but we know that’s not going to happen. Cost: $5 used
Inherit the Wind.This is a classic lawyer movie about the Scopes Monkey Trial. It’s a fictionalized account of the trial, so you can expect some over dramatization. Lots of good actors in this one: Gene Kelly, Fredric March, Spencer Tracy. Even Daren from the classic TV show Bewitched is on it! Yeah! Cost: $8 used
12 Angry Men. This is a dramatic tale of standing up for what you believe in, even though everyone else is against you. Henry Fonda plays a juror who somehow convinces his fellow jurors that a murder suspect should be acquitted. In the process, Henry Fonda breaks the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Cost: $5 used
To Kill a Mockingbird. Movie based on the popular novel by Harper Lee. You can’t help but get pumped up to defend truth and justice after watching this film. Atticus Finch is the man. Cost: $5 used
Runaway Jury (Widescreen Edition). This movie’s got a stellar cast. John Cusack, Gene Hackman (the man), and Dustin Hoffman. The story is about jury manipulation in a gun case. Cost: $5 used
The Client. Brad Renfro (what happened to that guy) plays a kid whose life is in jeopardy after witnessing the death of a Mob lawyer. An attorney (Susan Sarandon) decides to look after him. Cost: $5 used
The Firm. Tom Cruise plays a recent Harvard grad that takes a job at a prestigious firm. Associates at the firm start dying and the Feds ask Cruise to spy on the partners. Begin suspense. Cost: $5 used

Just For Fun

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney If your law student owns a Nintendo DS, then get this game for them. The games consists of five cases that Phoenix takes on. Present findings from the investigation, listen to testimonies, examine witnesses, and determine the truth to prove your client’s innocence. Cost $20 used.

5 Cubes of 24 Pack of Diet Mountain Dew. I love Diet Mountain Dew. It’s the nectar of the gods that keeps me going in law school. I’ve noticed that a lot of other law students enjoy drinking it as well. What better gift than to give your law student boxes of the drink they love! You can buy a 24 pack of Diet Mountain Dew for about $5 each. With our $25 budget, you can buy 5 cubes. That’s 120 Diet Mountain Dews! That’s enough to last an entire semester if your law student just drinks one a day. Awesome. Cost: $25.

Magazine subscriptions. Law students do a lot heavy reading during the day. Every now and then its nice to read the fluff you find in magazines. You can find some good deals on magazine subscriptions on the internet. Here’s a quick list of places you can check:

Once you make the subscription, go to book store, buy a copy of the magazine, wrap it in a box, and put in a note telling your law student that you’ve given them a subscription. You’ll be their favorite person. Cost: $10-$25

Any other frugal gift ideas for law students? Law students, what kind of gifts would you like to have sitting under the Christmas tree? Drop a line in the comment box!