Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

Slow Going

with one comment

Total Black: $175.62
Total Red: $228,464.16

Had a brief but short-lived drop in total red this morning.  For the past few days, my bank’s software hasn’t been updating account information from SallieMae.  This morning I decided to get it working.  When I did, my total red dropped by roughly $4,000.  “Woo-hoo,” I thought!  “Progress!”  See, back in 2008, I used a portion of the firm’s severance package to pay off one of my smaller private loans—approximately $1,200.  I needed some feeling of accomplishment, so rather than splurge on needless goods, in a moment of clarity, I opted to pay off a debt.  (Starting this blog was a similar moment.  Sadly most of my life they’ve been rare.)  So earlier this morning I thought perhaps this whole time some software error hadn’t updated the bank’s number to reflect that loan as paid in full.  Alas, no such luck.  Turned out that only two of the three remaining private loans were showing.  So I deleted the account and re-added it.  That time it took.  Back at roughly $228K total debt.

Progress towards debt freedom is definitely slow going.  But that’s ok.  Frustrating to have money you can’t access.  PayPal, it seems, is holding payment for the laptop I sold on eBay, even though it was delivered yesterday (which is awesome since I dropped it off at the Post Office late on Saturday; it made it all the way to Hawai’i by Monday for $10!).  I suppose it’s in case of complaints or returns.  Fine.  Gotta think positive, though, right?  Keep busy too.  Just that my quasi-consulting work has been keeping me busy, very busy.  So much that I’m concerned about the input / output ratio.  A lot put in, nothing yet put out.  Like with this PayPal money, it’s frustrating to have it available in theory but not in hand.  I am enjoying, in an intellectual sense at least, the opportunity to develop new skills.  And I’m happy to hear talk of possible work to come.  (He may also need my help with collecting a debt.  Ironic, isn’t it, if went after someone to pay a bill?)  And it’s barely even been over a week since we started this work.  But I just don’t want to have to pester or remind him to pay me.

But isn’t that partly what I’m blogging about here?  Isn’t part of our problem with debt . . . and money . . . that we don’t like to address it or discuss it?   This blog is supposed to help me (and maybe you?) at least begin to rethink our views on debt.  It is difficult though because money is an approximation of our worth.  My colleague and I danced around the subject.  I’ve never billed anyone directly for my work, and I’d never done this type of work before, so I noted I’d prefer a flat-fee approach.  He suggested $1,500.  But if charged even $100 an hour, my bill would be over $2,000 already.  And therein lies the difficulty with a money-for-your-time approach.   We’re not really paid for our time.  We’re paid for our labor.  And a per-hour approach is a very inaccurate measurement.  Some people think just being “on the clock” equates to deserving to get paid, as if their bank account balance should increase for every minute that passes.  I’ve known salaried employees who divide their annual salary by estimated hours worked just to get an approximate hourly wage.  Your hourly wage determines your value.  Just before the Great Recession hit, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers started reporting that the rates per hour for some partners at large law firm had hit $1,000 an hour.  That’s roughly $16 a minute.  But, as Nathan Koppel noted in a 2007 article “Lawyers Gear Up Grand New Fees,” compared to major league baseball players earning roughly $15,000 an hour, $1,000 an hour is small beer.  Popular wisdom claims that “the market will decide.”  Thanks, but maybe we should be the one to decide.

I think part of the the problem with this Gordian knot is imbedded in our language.  “How much is he worth?”  “What’s your net worth after taxes?”  “What’s her creditworthiness?”  Even in subtle ways we steadily bang the “people = money” drum.  A passing observation one of my college professors made still resonates with me.  He pointed out that in shifting from “personnel department” to “human resources department” we took “person” out of the picture.  We’re now just resources to be used as efficiently as possible.  So too with talk of “human capital.”  Sure it’s meant positively.  The executive director of the non-profit organization’s board I’m on used human capital to refer to our volunteers.  But the term still refers to human beings as another form of capital, a one that we must protected and not squander, but also one to use.  Not sure how we cut this knot though.

Despite my quip above, it is important to stay positive . . . and focused.  And it takes work.  Negativity, for some reason, comes easily.  So, one of today’s task is to start refocusing: mentally, physically, and spiritually.  I’m writing early because I need to start working blogging into my routine.  Of course I’m presupposing a routine, also something to get working on.  Well, no time like the present, as my father used to say.

One Response

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  1. I once read that you can measure your success by how many ours of sleep you get each night. More sleep = true success/happiness


    August 11, 2010 at 17:18

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