The NYT on The Law School Debt Crisis

In yesterday’s Sunday Review section of the New York Times there was an editorial, “The Law School Debt Crisis”.

The editorial – which I’ll quote here at length – begins:

In 2013, the median LSAT score of students admitted to Florida Coastal School of Law was in the bottom quarter of all test-takers nationwide. According to the test’s administrators, students with scores this low are unlikely to ever pass the bar exam.

Despite this bleak outlook, Florida Coastal charges nearly $45,000 a year in tuition, which, with living expenses, can lead to crushing amounts of debt for its students. Ninety-three percent of the school’s 2014 graduating class of 484 had debts and the average was almost $163,000 — a higher average than all but three law schools in the country. In short, most of Florida Coastal’s students are leaving law school with a degree they can’t use, bought with a debt they can’t repay.

If this sounds like a scam, that’s because it is. Florida Coastal, in Jacksonville, is one of six for-profit law schools in the country that have been vacuuming up hordes of young people, charging them outrageously high tuition and, after many of the students fail to become lawyers, sticking taxpayers with the tab for their loan defaults.

The editorial also states that:

In 2006, Congress extended the federal Direct PLUS Loan program to allow a graduate or professional student to borrow the full amount of tuition, no matter how high, and living expenses.

The consequences of this free flow of federal loans have been entirely predictable: Law schools jacked up tuition and accepted more students, even after the legal job market stalled and shrank in the wake of the recession. For years, law schools were able to obscure the poor market by refusing to publish meaningful employment information about their graduates. But in response to pressure from skeptical lawmakers and unhappy graduates, the schools began sharing the data — and it wasn’t a pretty picture. Forty-three percent of all 2013 law school graduates did not have long-term full-time legal jobs nine months after graduation, and the numbers are only getting worse.

Much can be said about the editorial, which I would encourage you to read in full. My own thoughts turn to those who are considering applying to and attending law school.

If the editorial is correct, the government has made it easier for large numbers of students to accumulate more debt than they can handle. You might think that if you can get the loans, you must be ‘a good risk’; yet, the opposite may be true. Just because the loans are available isn’t a sign that it makes sense to take them.

If the editorial is correct, law schools have taken advantage by raising tuition fees, and by being less than forthcoming about what incoming students can expect once they graduate. It is understandable to think of educational institutions in only positive terms, but don’t romanticize them. Yes, they should (and hopefully do) provide knowledge and help lead to opportunities. But it would be naïve to think that their interests and yours are the same.

This isn’t to say that the government and/or law schools are ‘bad’; rather, it should impress upon you that you’ve got to think and look out for yourself.

It takes work, but you can do a lot beforehand to get a good sense of whether becoming a lawyer would be right for you or not. An important part of the equation is money, but the considerations go far beyond that.

As I wrote quite recently, if you’re interested in law school:

Learn everything you can to make the best decisions for yourself.

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All blog posts are for information purposes, and should not be considered as legal advice.

A Divorce Mediation Case – Part 4 of 4: Agreements Reached & Reviewing the Costs

Bill and Angela have come a long way in handling their own divorce.  We have been with them through: The Decision to Try Divorce Mediation and the Consultation (Part 1); the Sessions on Parenting, Income & Expenses (Part 2); and then the sessions dealing with Assets (Especially the House) and Debts (Part 3) in which perhaps their biggest disagreement emerged, along with the strong emotions that came with it.  Here we will a) be with them briefly as the mediator helps the parties deal with remaining issues; and, b)    conclude by taking a look at the money the couple spent on mediation.

February 25th, 2016 – Session #5

  • After getting a value for the house, the spouses talked about other matters regarding the home. Now that the question of how much the house was worth had been answered, a serious disagreement remained about how much of that value belonged to Bill and to Angela; Angela was arguing for a 50/50 split, while Bill believed that he was entitled to a higher percentage due to work he had done on the house, and the increased value that resulted from that work.
  • Angela said that Bill was just making things difficult; that he knew she could buy him out at a 50% split, but couldn’t at any more than that. Bill denied this.

 

  • The mediator asked if they wanted to take a short break; neither one did. Then the mediator asked for more information that might enlighten the discussion. More information was shared, but no agreement on the house was reached.

 

 

  • The mediator brought up other matters, including:  filing taxes, whether/how to share in the case of a tax refund, or an audit; how to handle costs for writing the agreement, review attorneys and the court filing fee.  Angela and Bill reached agreements on these issues relatively easily.  though both were still upset, and Angela especially was concerned about dealing with the house.

 

  • The session ended, both still upset, and with Angela especially concerned about dealing with the house.

 

March 10th, 2016 – Session #6 (the last session)

  • On March 10th, Bill and Angela reached an agreement on the house, and tied up the remaining loose ends. Bill acknowledged the importance of the house not only to Angela, but to the children as well. And since Angela would probably be keeping the house for many years, during which time some expensive repairs were likely (on things that Bill didn’t have the skills to fix, though he was willing), he could come down on the percentage that he was asking for.  Angela expressed appreciation for the work Bill had done on their home, and for his willingness now to accept a lower percentage (than he had demanded earlier).
  • After further discussion, Angela proposed that either: a) Bill walk away with more of the assets than they had already agreed upon; or, b) that Bill take a small percentage of the house upon its eventual sale, which would likely be after their younger child graduated from high school. Angela agreed that she’d have to pay Bill that percentage from some other source of money that she would hopefully have at that time, or sell the house to pay him while incurring the expenses to sell the house.
  • The spouses reviewed their assets and talked further, ultimately deciding that Bill would take a greater share of the assets; an amount that Angela agreed she could live with.

And so, the mediation ended.

As previously mentioned, the “separation agreement” will need to be written. Bill and Angela have been advised by the mediator to each meet with a lawyer to review the separation agreement with them before signing it, which they have agreed to do.  Shortly after that, the separation agreement can be filed with the court.

So what did it all cost?

Mediation Fees:

  • $     50        Consultation
  • $3,300        11 hours @ $300/hr

$3,350        TOTAL

 

Other Expenses:

$1,500        Separation Agreement (needed whether people mediate or not)

  • The fees charged by an attorney to review the separation agreement should be relatively low, as this review is the only job that the lawyer will be doing for the client. There are no court motions, no depositions, no trial (and so no trial preparation), etc.
  • Court filing fee (needed whether people mediate or not)

In mediation (as in litigation), there can be other expenses, such as when spouses decide to hire an expert, such as a financial planner.  But, contrast a mediated divorce with a litigated one, and the difference in cost is often quite dramatic.

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A Divorce Mediation Case – Part 3 of 4: Assets (Especially the House) and Debts

In my previous posts, I wrote about The Decision to Try Divorce Mediation and the Consultation (Part 1)  and the Sessions on Parenting, Income & Expenses (Part 2).  I continue here as the mediator assists Angela and Bill in regard to their assets and debts.

January 7th, 2016 – Session #3

  • The next session takes place over a month after the previous one.  Meeting earlier hadn’t been possible, or at least practical.  Bill had a lot of financial information to gather in regard to assets and debts (Angela also had, but less), and then there were the holidays.
  • The mediator asks about what has been happening over the past six weeks. Learning that there haven’t been what either party considers significant changes or problems, the mediator asks Angela about the clothing expenses discussed at the last session. Angela gives a new (and lower figure), which Bill accepts as accurate.
  • With income and expenses taken care of, the mediator works with the couple on their assets, again writing the figures on a flipchart. Angela and Bill both say that the numbers are correct. They quickly come to agreement on how to deal with the bank accounts, retirement money and other investments. There is a small dispute over the cars they own, which the couple quickly resolves. The big issue is the house. Angela would like to keep it, but buying out Bill may not be possible. Bill says that Angela can have the house, but she’d need to pay him a fair price. There is some discussion regarding the house. The mediator asks whether Angela has checked into getting a mortgage. Angela says she hasn’t, and Bill says that since a buy-out may not even be possible, maybe it would be best to go on to the next issue; Angela can do some investigating, and then they can come back to the house question. Angela says that is fine.
  • Having reviewed the asset information, and having reached many tentative agreements regarding their assets, Angela says that she wants to continue with the session, but only for another fifteen minutes, as she has to pick up their daughter from a friend’s house. Bill agrees and over the next quarter of an hour, the mediator begins helping them share the numbers on debts/liabilities.

January 28th, 2016 – Session #4

  • The spouses arrive.  They continue sharing information on debts, and then review it with the mediator.
  • They reach a decision on how to handle the credit cards, the biggest debt aside from the mortgage on the house. They agree on several other debt-related issues as well.
  • Angela begins to talk about the house, saying that she would be able to get a mortgage. Discussion continues on the house, when a disagreement arises concerning the value of the house. Two disagreements, actually. One dealing with the actual value of the house – the fair market value; the other with what percentage of that value should go to Bill; Angela had assumed that they each had an equal share, but now Bill is asking for more.  Angela’s surprise quickly turns to anger.  The mediator intervenes when it becomes clear that a productive conversation about the  matter isn’t possible at this times.  He helps the spouses turn their attention to finding out the house’s actual value, which both agree is necessary.  After a lengthy and somewhat heated discussion, Bill and Angela agree on how to have the house valued, in a manner that they can both accept.
  • The spouses say they would like to talk about child support. They’ve managed to discuss this on their own and have come up with a plan. The mediator says that this is good news, and asks for the details. The mediator also tells them about the Child Support Guidelines; that NYS requires parents to learn what amount of child support the guidelines would require; even if the parents decide not to follow the guidelines. Angela and Bill share their proposal. They learn from the mediator about the guidelines and decide that their own agreement is better for their family.

Next time:  A Divorce Mediation Case – Part 4 of 4:  Agreements Reached & Reviewing the Costs

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A Divorce Mediation Case (Part 2 of 4: Sessions on Parenting, Income & Expenses)

In my previous post , I introduced Bill and Angela who had decided to get a divorce.  Angela called and learned more about mediation, and shared the information with Bill.  After further discussion, they decided (Bill, a little reluctantly) to schedule a consultation, at which they got a sense of who the mediator is, and had more of their questions answered.

Here, I continue with both their first and second sessions.

November 10 – Session #1

● With the spouses permission, the mediator turns the discussion to parenting.

● Angela says that she wants ‘full custody’. Bill becomes defensive. They argue for a few minutes.  The mediator listens and considers whether the verbal exchange is constructive, and then raises a question.

● The mediator asks each to answer, “What do you mean when you say ‘custody’?

● The mediator listens and checks that s/he understands what each has said. The mediator then suggests that maybe the question isn’t “Which of you will have custody?”, but rather, “What agreements can you reach so that you can be the kind of parents you want to be to your children?”

● There is further discussion, some of it angry.  The mediator helps the spouses to fully express their concerns, and asks clarifying questions.  The mediator believes that, though Bill is having difficulty really listening to Angela directly at this point, he is able to hear her through the mediator’s restatements of what she is saying.  The focus is forward looking.  Each party acknowledges that the other has an important role to play in the children’s lives; neither wants to ‘take the children’ from the other.  With his fear of ‘losing the children’ alleviated, Bill especially becomes less tense, and the conversation is less strained.

● Bill and Angela agree to talk about parenting arrangements; at least for now, they are willing to leave the legal designations aside.

● Angela and Bill talk about the children: where they attend school, what they enjoy doing, their usual routines, and so forth.

● The mediator helps them to set out different possible parenting plans, which are discussed.

● The parents reach a tentative agreement on a schedule for the children. And, on how decisions involving medical, educational and religious matters will be handled in the future.  (The latter comes easily for them.)

● The mediator gives each spouse a blank form for setting out financial information.  Angela and Bill are both confident that they can fill in the information about their respective incomes and expenses within a week to ten days.  With that in mind they schedule the next session for two weeks later; if either needs more time to complete the income/expense parts of the form, they will let each other and the mediator know, so that the date of the next session can be rescheduled.

● The session ends after two hours, and Bill and Angela each pay $300 of the $600 fee.

 

November 23 – Session #2

● Angela and Bill arrive.  The mediator asks how they and the children are, and whether anything of note has happened since the last session.  They briefly discuss Thanksgiving plans.

● Angela asks a question about property.  The mediator gives the spouses a brief overview of Marital and Separate Property (and Debts), and makes a point of saying that this information is not “legal advice”. For instance, if either/both wants to know what a judge might decide regarding property, they are welcome to contact an attorney to get that advice. Both respond that they don’t see a need; instead, they’ll each meet with a ‘review attorney’ to review the separation agreement before signing it.

● The mediator then begins setting out Bill’s and Angela’s respective income and expenses. This is done using a flip-chart, so that all three of them can see the figures that the spouses supply.

● Bill questions why Angela is paying $400 month for clothes for her and the children. Bill isn’t angry; he just thinks the number is high. In discussing the matter, it turns out that Angela based her calculation on her September credit card statement, which has higher costs than average due to purchasing back to school clothing. Their daughter needed a lot of new thing because of how much she has grown over the past few months. Angela says that before the next session, she will look at her statements over the past year, which she can find on the computer, and take the average of that twelve month period. Bill thinks this is a good idea. The mediator makes a note to come back to this question.

● Angela asks if, since money will be tight, Bill can cut down on his recreational spending. Bill bristles at the suggestion, but looking at where his money goes, decides this is reasonable. In particular, Bill says that he can spend a lot less on sporting events and movies. Bill does a quick calculation, agreeing to reduce this spending by 10% each month, starting this month. He is confident that he will bring it down further, but feels comfortable starting at 10%.  The mediator, noticing Angela’s facial expression, asks if she wants to say something.  She answers that, “Well, I have mixed feelings.  I think Bill could do more here.”  (Bill immediately becomes upset.)   “But,”  she adds, “Bill is willing to commit to this, and says he’ll do more; and I believe he will.  (Turning to Bill)  And maybe it’s a good idea that you start with 10%; that way, you won’t feel deprived.  If you spent less now, you might hate it, and be angry with me, and we’d be worse off.  So, good.  Do the 10% for awhile.  Then, we can talk about it again in month or two.  Can we do that?”  Bill is still annoyed, but he also knows (and feels) that he is being heard by his wife.  He says, ‘Yes’.  They discuss what to do with the money that will be saved. Bill wants to use it to pay down a credit card, and Angela agrees to this.

● In regard to expense and income figures now displayed on the flipchart, the spouses agree that the numbers are pretty accurate.

● Bill raises a concern he has about the parenting agreement. He says that he has what is a minor change in mind that would allow him to spend more time with the children during the summer, if Angela would be ok with it. Bill shares his thought. Angela says that the change would be alright with her, if another small change can be made when it comes to the Thanksgiving holiday break, starting the following year. Bill tells Angela that he is willing; while he likes the Thanksgiving break and doesn’t really want to change the schedule they had agreed to, the change over the summer is a much bigger deal to him, and he thanks Angela for going along with his suggestion.

Next time:  Assets (especially the House) and Debts

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A Divorce Mediation Case (Part 1 of 4: The Decision to Try & the Consultation)

In a moment, we will meet Angela and Bill, a couple about to go through a realistic though hypothetical divorce mediation.  They will pay (combined) $3,350 for divorce mediation services. By contrast, in many actual litigated divorces, each spouse pays more than twice that amount ($7,500 or more) for the lawyer’s retainer.  $15,000 between them, and very often that is just the beginning of the court process.

But in going through mediation, many spouses are like Bill and Angela in regard to the fees they pay – incurring costs lower than $3,500 for their session.  For couples who split the cost in half, that is $1,750.  [This assumes the mediator charges $300. If the process takes eleven hours – more time than the large majority of my cases take – that is $3,300.]

Note:  When I say ‘going through’ and completing mediation, I mean that parties have reached agreement.  The agreement then needs to be written and filed with the court (both of which are also necessary for spouses who choose not to mediate).  There is still some work (and expense) once mediation is over; but when spouses have reached this point, they have gone a very long way in the overall divorce process.

Now, let’s meet Angela and Bill.  In this post, and the next three, we will follow them over the next several months, as they deal (sometimes heatedly) with their conflicts, assisted by the mediator.

Bill and Angela have been married for ten years, and have already decided to get a divorce. They have two children, ages six and nine. They own a home, some other assets and a couple of credit cards.  We could add many more facts, but using these should be enough to illustrate a fairly representative divorce mediation case in which the spouses have a few strong disagreements that they need to address.

 

                               Dates/What Bill, Angela and the Mediator Are Doing                                       

October  19th, 2015

Angela calls the mediator, who answers several of her questions.

 

 

October 20th, 2015

Angela tells Bill what she has learned about mediation. She tells him that:

● this mediator charges $300/hour;

● the mediator would work with both of them, together;

● they can split the fee (and Angela says she is willing to split it);

● there is a consultation that they would both have to attend together, which costs $50.

● in mediation, the mediator is paid at the end of each session (unlike most attorneys who require a retainer upfront).

● the two of them, Bill and Angela would be the ones making decisions about their children and everything else; the mediator wouldn’t decide for them.

● if they were to begin mediation, either Angela or Bill could end the process at any time.

October 25th,2015

Bill and Angela discuss trying mediation.

● Angela wants to try it.

● Bill is reluctant, thinking of it as a touchy-feely waste of time.  But, since the consult is $50, and he would pay $25 of that, Bill agrees to the consult. If it doesn’t work out, not a big deal.

● They look at a calendar and choose two dates/times that they both will be available.

November 3rd, 2015

Angela and Bill attend the consultation and learn more about mediation.

● They both like the idea of saving money – as opposed to what litigation costs.

● They would like the process to be amicable (as much as possible), especially as they have fairly young children – meaning that even when divorced they’ll have to interact with each other for many years.

● The mediator won’t guarantee anything, but tells them that many couples complete mediation within 6 – 12 sessions.

● Having children, and owning a home and other assets – and having some major disagreements on a few very important matters – the mediator offers that the case will probably take longer than 6 hours. “Let’s say it takes 10 hours,” the mediator suggests, noting again that it could be shorter or longer. “That would come to $3,000, plus the $50 for the consultation.”

● The mediator adds that, finishing mediation doesn’t mean couples are divorced.  There are things that come after:

  • “Whether you mediate or go to court, you’ll need a document that in New York is called a ‘separation agreement’; it is essentially all of the agreements spouses come to, written up in a format that the courts require.”
  • “A lawyer will be needed to write that agreement; if you’d like, I can do that for you. I charge $1,500 for that service. But you are free to choose another lawyer, if you would like to.”
  • The mediator informs Bill and Angela that “I always encourage people to each meet with their own ‘review attorney’ to go over the agreement before signing it.  Remember, as a mediator, I would be working to help you both.  Your separate review attorneys would each represent one of you.”  (“If you would like, you can certainly hire a lawyer to consult with at any time before or during mediation.”)
  • There is also a ‘filing fee’ that people need to pay to the court, again, whether they mediate or litigate.

● Angela and Bill read the “Agreement to Mediate” form, which largely sets out in writing how mediation works and other things the mediator discussed with them. They sign the form.

● The spouses schedule a first working session with the mediator for the following week.

● Bill and Angela pay $25 each to cover the mediator’s $50 consultation fee.

Next time: The Sessions on Parenting, Income & Expenses

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Should I go to law school? (Part 3 of 3)

The decision to attend law school is life changing for many who do so.  You should know what you’d be getting yourself into.  Please see Part 1 and Part 2 of this post if you haven’t already read them.

Learn about what practicing attorneys really do:

Think about what areas of law might interest you, as Ms. Cohn has; and then learn what you can about them.  How does a criminal defense lawyer typically spend her day?  You can be sure it is very different than how a contract attorney spends most of his time.

What environment would you like to work in?  A small firm?  Large firm?  Government agency?  Non-profit?  Start your own practice?   Do you think that you would like to be a litigator?  Visit a courthouse and sit in on cases that are open to the public.

Ms. Cohn is fortunate in that she has a close relative who is a long time lawyer.  Though living in another part of the country, she can have the experience of reviewing documents and engaging in research for him.  Plus, that of discussing actual cases.

She is also giving a lot of thought to applying for an internship, which can be a great way to get experience.  (This will take time, and probably won’t pay much, if at all; but weigh that against learning that you are on the right path (or not), gaining knowledge and confidence, and maybe even making good contacts, and an internship makes sense to me.)

Ms. Cohn and I talked about other ways to find people to learn from as well.  With Facebook, Linkedin and other sites, you can pretty easily reach out to those doing what you’d like to know more about, just as Ms. Cohn did in contacting me, though we were strangers to one another.  It is understandable if you are nervous about taking such a step.  All I can say is that, in my experience in reaching out, many people have been happy to speak with me on the phone, or even to meet.  I, too, try to make time for those who reach out to me.  (Some people will refuse; a few may be less than pleasant; it isn’t a terrible thing.  Be courteous and respectful of the person’s time, know what you want to discuss, and don’t ask for a job.  You will probably find a good number of people who feel flattered and are willing to share information.)

I wrote earlier that the practice of law is changing.  As it turns out, Ms. Cohn’s relative who is offering to help her gain experience is a general practitioner, and has been one for decades.  From what I’ve read, there aren’t too many of those left; most lawyers by far have a specialty these days.  So, even if Ms. Cohn wanted to become a general practitioner, that option may not be realistic in today’s world.  When you speak with people, ask what they expect to see in their practice areas in five and ten years from now.

What job opportunities will be available?

Are you open to spending over (maybe a lot over) $100,000 for your law school years?  Don’t assume you’ll earn that much coming out of law school.  Every year, there are graduates who do; but, many more don’t.  Are you aware that there may be too many lawyers and not enough legal jobs?  That many law graduates who want to practice aren’t able to, and so have taken non-legal positions?  That the debt for at least some law school graduates is crushing?

Fewer people have been applying to law schools recently, because the legal job market has been tough.  That should help those who do apply; but when and how much are questions worth exploring.

Conclusion:  I would never tell anyone whether to go to law school or not.  It is a personal, and sometimes a family decision.  I hope that this post can get you thinking about important factors that may not have previously occurred to you.

Finally, I would say that students should really be committed to becoming attorneys; they should really want it.  (If you’ve read this far, maybe that’s you.)  It is not something to do on a whim, or because you don’t know what you want to do, or because one of your parents did it.  If you do it, do it for the right reasons.  Discuss it with your family.  Learn what you would be getting yourself into.  Have in mind what it will realistically cost; and, what you’ll realistically be able to earn afterward.

As for Ms. Cohn, I wouldn’t be surprised to get a call from her again – letting me know that she has been admitted to a law school’s graduating class of 2019.

As for you, please let me know whether this post has been helpful, share your comments, and tell me what you decide to do.

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Should I go to law school? (Part 2 of 3)

Yesterday, I posted Part 1 about the question of whether to apply to and attend law school, a step that for many has enormous financial and other implications.  Part 2 continues here:

Examine your own feelings and attitudes realistically

Do you have any idea of what attending law school is like?  If your interest/excitement stems in large part from movies, TV shows or novels, your view is distorted.   Are you interested in taking the time and effort to get a more accurate picture?

Speak with lawyers and current law students.  Hear what they have to say.  I encouraged Ms. Cohn, and encourage you, to check as to whether it is possible to sit in on a few classes at a law school to get a sense of what they are like.

Consider the different strengths that various schools have:  Cardozo Law School (in Manhattan) where I went is a leader in Alternative Dispute Resolution (mediation, arbitration, negotiation), amongst other fields.  Ms. Cohn told me that she might like to practice for the government or at public-interest law – areas that I believe the City University of New York (CUNY) Law School is strong in.

Are you willing/is it possible to commute to a school?  Take a test run, and then imagine the hundreds of times you would be making the trip, which isn’t cost free either.

If you have, or were to get the grades needed for acceptance at a “top” law school, but tuition would be much more than at a less well-known institution, what would you do?  Ms. Cohn and I discussed this, and here are my personal thoughts – which if nothing else, may prompt you to do more research on the question.

I believe that graduating from a top law school can open doors in terms of getting a job.  The school’s name and perhaps the alumni network can prove to be of great value, especially perhaps, if your goal is to work at a large law firm.  (Law schools keep data, and you should be able to learn more on this from them.)

But is the education better than at a lesser-known school?  So much so that it is worth the extra money?  Just speaking for myself, I generally don’t think so, especially if money is already a concern for you.  Of course, not every school offers the same quality of education.  Due diligence on your part is required.  A school with a low tuition that offers a poor education isn’t worth much.

On the other hand, if you have a chance at that dream school, and the alternatives aren’t much less expensive, I can imagine the extra cost being well worth it to attend the ‘better’ school.

Next:  Part 3 – Learn about what practicing attorneys really do

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Should I go to law school? (Part 1 of 3)

Over the years, many people who are/were considering law school have asked me to share my thoughts about getting a degree and practicing law.  Most recently, Melanie Malka Cohn, a woman who had read a blog post, contacted me with regard to these questions and others concerning mediation.  With her permission, I am sharing some of what we discussed, (as well as that she is 44 years old, with five children, and in line with her personal beliefs, “decided to have a family first and then pursue a career”), since it may be of interest to others as well.

I will preface this post by saying that many lawyers do wonderful things and change the world for the better through their efforts. One example that comes to mind is a professor I had while in law school, Toby Golick, a nationally recognized leader in legal services and education.  Among her other accomplishments, Professor Golick has for decades practiced and taught others to work in the areas of elder law and welfare law, serving those who would likely have no recourse without her expert assistance.

And lawyers don’t have to serve the elderly and indigent to be doing something worthwhile. Attorneys can, and do, represent all sorts or clients, responding to diverse needs in an ethical manner. Additionally, many people who leave law practice (or choose not to go into it after graduating) are still very happy to have had the education, along with the opportunities that may have come with it.

All that said, law school isn’t for everyone, and perhaps this post and the ones to follow will help you as you decide whether it is right for you.

Attending law school is, of course, a major commitment.  Generally, it takes three years to complete, and comes with large tuition fees and other costs.  The job market for attorneys is uncertain.  The nature of the practice of law is changing.  Are you contemplating a legal career?  If so, I would urge you to:

  • carefully assess your current situation (financial and otherwise);
  • examine your own feelings and attitudes realistically;
  • learn about what practicing attorneys really do; and,
  • conduct research, to the extent possible, as to what job opportunities are likely to be available upon graduating.

In other words, learn everything you can so you can make the best decisions for yourself; what is referred to in mediation as ‘informed-decision making’, a subject I’ve been blogging about.

Your current situation:

A good place to start may be to assess where you are now.  If you don’t already have a budget, it would probably be worthwhile to create one, so that you are fully aware of your incomes and expenses.  Your assets and debts may also figure into your ultimate decisions.

Look up the cost of law school tuition.  Most schools charge a pretty hefty fee.  Financial aid may be available; but it doesn’t make sense for everyone. Aid in the form of loans can lead to debt that may be difficult to repay, as the New York Times reminded us once again last week (Student Debt Is Worse Thank You Think, Oct. 7, 2015).

Ms. Cohn has a pretty good handle on these questions, and told me that she wants to find out about the City University of New York (CUNY) law school, which has a price tag that is a bargain, relatively speaking.  She’ll be attending the school’s open house to learn more.

In addition to fees, other obvious costs are for food and housing.  Would you be paying more than you do now to live at or near the school?  Would you go to restaurants more often and do less cooking – which would add to your food budget?   Check on other school-related expenses, such as for books, and less obvious ones like buying a good suit.

Where will the money come from?  How are your expenses likely to change – up or down – over the next few years?  Are you already in debt, due to undergraduate studies or for other reasons?   Could you live with your parents to save money?  Would you be willing to?  Would they?

Are you in a relationship?  Have you discussed with your partner what getting a degree involves?  Do you have children or other family members who depend on you?  The first year of law school especially takes up a lot of time; and it may well be that your partner has to pick up the slack when you’re not available.  Many parents, single and married, turn to day care, a very important service that can be pricey.

Next:  Part 2, Tomorrow:  Examining your own feelings and attitudes realistically

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All blog posts are for information purposes, and should not be considered as legal advice.

Children of Divorce Love Differently

Reading and writing a lot about divorce has an unintended – but obvious and almost unavoidable consequence for me; I think a lot about divorce.  Sometimes more than I would like to.

Today, my own divorce comes to mind, though many years past.  I’m aware, in some painful way, of the waste that came with it, as I finally shred and throw out papers that I haven’t looked at in over a decade.

I remember an article I wrote, Easing the children’s transition from living in one home to two homes, which is especially meaningful for me because in it I shared some of what I did to minimize the hurt to my own child.

I look at two articles with almost identical titles:  14 Ways Children of Divorce Love Differently, and 16 Ways Children of Divorce Love Differently.  One was shared over 157,000 times, the other over 300,000.  I’m glad that there are so many readers for these, because the subject is important.  Hugely important.

Maybe it is just my mood, but I find that I can’t read these articles word for word.  Rather, I scan the bold type, thinking, “I don’t know if my daughter feels that,” or “Well, don’t a lot of people feel that way, whether their parents stayed married or not?”

I know that in some ways, the divorce has made my daughter stronger.  But, in the mood I’m in, this knowledge isn’t terribly consoling as I wonder – as perhaps many of you do as well about your children – how the divorce has affected this wondrous young woman, and will affect her, in ways that I may never fully understand or even realize, though I tried so hard to make the changes easier.

Why Mediation is Faster than Going to Court (Litigation)

Why Is Mediation Faster than Court?

Divorce isn’t easy, and divorce isn’t quick. But if the marriage is ending, you and your spouse can decide between a process that will take months (mediation) and one that very often takes over a year at a minimum, and which not infrequently takes several times that long (going to court/litigation).

[I am not talking here about an ‘uncontested divorce’. That is a different story and a different blog post, and an option to be considered for couples with a very ‘simple’ case and one without disagreements.]

Why Mediation is Faster

Mediation often takes between six and twelve hours to complete. That’s it.

Sessions usually run from one hour to two hours.

When dealing with parenting issues, spouses frequently meet with the mediator over consecutive weeks.

When dealing with financial matters, sessions may be scheduled for every other week (or with a longer interval) to allow the spouses to obtain information about the value of a house, business, pension, or other assets; or, let’s say, to work out a budget.

Of course, the spouses may need time between sessions because of travel for work, holidays or for other reasons. The mediator may also have a conflict.

In practice, many spouses successfully complete mediation within three – six months.

[When I say that parties have reached the end of the mediation, I mean that they have reached all of their agreements. But just as when going through the court process, the agreements need to be written out and filed with the court; then, there is the wait for the judge to sign the document.]

Why the Court Process/Litigation takes Longer

A spouse meets with an attorney; the other spouse does the same. A four-way meeting (with the couple and the lawyers) takes place. In many instances, though not all, these meetings bring out strong disagreements. Any of a number of motions (requests to the judge to make a decision) may be filed with the court. There is the first court appearance.   Over the course of a case, there will probably be at least one and maybe several adjournments (postponements), and the court appearance will need to be rescheduled.

In many cases, depositions are taken, where the spouses are questioned by opposing counsel during a multi-hour process that is recorded.

For four people to schedule a meeting can be a challenge and cause delay. Adjournments can be for six weeks or more.

And at this point, the court case is just getting started.

Most court cases require quite a few court appearances, not to mention a possible trial.

If there are children involved, a New York judge will likely appoint a forensic psychologist to meet separately with each family member. Think of the scheduling for that. After, the psychologist must write and submit a report to the judge, who will need to read and consider it. You’ll find out more about that report at the next court appearance.

Also, if there are children, an attorney for the child may be appointed to represent the child’s interests. That is another meeting (or more), and that attorney’s schedule to consider as well.

Just for some context, my own divorce many years ago took well over two years, and that was with my ex and I settling long before a trial was even in sight.

And that was at a time, I believe, when the courts were better staffed, making the process speedier than it is today.

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All blog posts are for information purposes, and should not be considered as legal advice.