Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

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

Venom and Vitriol

with 8 comments

Total Black: $393.85
Total Red: $230,977.94

. . . Or a response to the Mikes of the world.

Earlier today I received my first negative comment.  Given the nature of the internet, and particularly with the ability to anonymously comment, I figured when I started this blog that it would come with the territory.  I suppose I foresaw such comments in Getting There From Here, but to be honest I was quite taken aback by the viciousness of the comment.  It physically jarred me for a few hours, partly, I think, because the comment was not given in a supportive or encouraging tone but merely in a vicious rant.  So much so that I’m devoting this entry to his comment, especially since, as of writing this entry, at least four people have rated his comment positively.

Before I begin, however, a few preliminary observations.  First, I assume that Mike didn’t read many, if any at all, of the other ninety some entries I’ve written.  They explain much of how I’ve gotten to this point and would have mooted many aspects of his comment, in particular that I’m not currently unemployed and he could have seen that had he read the entire post he commented on.  Second, despite prefacing his comment with a question about my current state, I do not think he cares, at all, about my situation or me, or—I think it safe to guess—anyone else in financial difficulties.  His comment smacks of an utter lack of empathy or even sympathy for someone else’s difficult situation and it’s tone underscores that.  To paraphrase President Obama, we can disapprove of people’s actions without disapproving of people themselves.

Now on to the bulk of his comment.  He claimed that I show no judgment, nor an ability to understand cause and effect, and also no ability to understand the financial consequences of my actions.  Given the focus of the blog and the post he commented on, it’s safe to assume he meant I show no judgment in managing my finances.  Since he is a stranger to me, he isn’t basing his opinions on personal knowledge of my situation or my actions.  Moreover, he didn’t cite any examples to support those assertions, so it’s difficult to counter a blanket claim that I show no judgment or that I do not understand cause and effect.  Understanding causality is probably a biological hard-wiring of human beings, so clearly the literal meaning of his words isn’t what he intended.  Instead, the gist of what he meant is that I don’t understand the financial ramification of my own decisions.

In Feelings and Finances I discussed my struggles with spending.  But in Getting There From Here I presented a snapshot of a credit card statement from last year, long before I began this project.  I do understand and appreciate all of the ramifications of the actions I take regarding my finances.  I over-think even every coffee purchase I make.  Like many people struggling with debt, I wonder if I even deserve to buy myself a coffee.  But let me further explain my debt through a few examples.  Approximately $2,500 of the smaller Visa card balance posted in my days of accounting comes from campaign donations to the Obama campaign.  Did I understand the ramifications of those donations?  Yes.  Do I regret them?  No.  If I knew that I would be laid-off nine months later would I have donated the same amount?  Definitely not.  Do I hate that I’m still paying on those donations?  Yes, but only hindsight is 20-20.  Another example, approximately $1,000 of the American Express balance came from buying an iPhone and a Blackberry in February 2008.  I had lost my firm-issued Blackberry and opted to purchase my own to replace it.  I also switched my cell phone service from the Blackberry to the iPhone.  Again, if I knew that eight months later I would be laid-off I probably would have held off on such luxury purchases, but—given that this is a confession blog—I’m not so sure.  I did want the man toys.  At the time, however, I was earning six figures and a three figure purchase wasn’t much to stress about.  Another example, after graduating law school and before beginning work at the law firm, I had to borrow money from my mother.  Like many law school graduates, student loans sustained me throughout my studies but once school finished so did that sustenance.  So, my mother loaned my approximately $12,000 to help with rent and other expenses while I studied for the bar exam and also to offset any expenses incurred in moving to New York.  As soon as I started at the firm, I set-up direct deposit and had payments sent to my mother’s checking account to reimburse her.  From 2006-2008, my mother received part of my salary from the firm.  In fact, over those two years, I sent $17,600 to her, nearly five thousand dollars too much.  While I was proud to be able to give back to my mother after all the years she worked to give to me and make life better for me, it is a sterling example of my difficulty managing cash flow.  And I’ve acknowledged in prior entries like Strategies and Specifics and Feelings and Finances that managing cash flow is something I need to work on.  Not noticing that I had overpaid my mother meant that I was routinely short on cash each month, which in turn led me to adjust my withholdings on my W-4 because I needed more of my salary, which in turn meant that I ended up owing taxes.  Now I understand all of this.  And I’m working to repair it all.  But, as I expressed in Getting There From Here, scolding people in debt, after they’ve accumulated it all, really accomplishes nothing.

What’s most disturbing with Mike’s comment, however, is his second paragraph.  He goes on to claim that because I have debt and am currently having difficulty managing my debt, I therefore should not be trusted with “real money” or decisions related to debt.  First, as an aside, he’s assuming I want employment where decisions about real money are undertaken.  That’s not necessarily true.  Plenty of attorneys don’t work with money.  Government lawyers, for example, don’t have clients to bill.  Nor do non-profit organizations.  But the bigger gripe I have with Mike’s comment is that in his view difficulties with one’s personal financials necessarily, and logically, leads to untrustworthiness in handling other people’s finances or business finances.  That seems to me to be a logical fallacy.  Because someone might be overweight, for example, doesn’t mean he or she can’t advise another on how to lose weight.  As Liz Wolgemuth noted in a U.S. News & World Report article explained, more and more employers are requesting credit reports as part of employment screening and it may lead to a worsening of the unemployment situation.  That’s certainly not something the unemployed or the employed need.  Hopefully Mike doesn’t make the hiring decisions wherever he works.

8 Responses

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  1. I’ve read all of your posts (found your blog last night, caught up on all of them just a while ago), so I’ve got a good picture of your last three months or so. Some ideas for cutting more costs:

    * do you need cable? If you’re working tons and tons, you don’t have time to watch TV, and without TV, you’re forced to get out and mingle (which you say you’d like to do more of) and/or read (and you happen to have a lot of books to finish).

    * do you need a cell phone and a home phone? Probably not, especially if only creditors call your home phone! Might feel great to get rid of your creditor-only line.

    * fight the urge to buy coffee every day, especially if your job provides it. It really adds up. And don’t fritter away your money on eating out lunches and such. Make yourself go to the grocery store and bring lunch and snacks to work.

    * call your creditors. Tell them you’re on the verge of filing for bankruptcy but are making one last serious attempt to avoid it. Explain you’ve been laid off and have only been able to find limited temporary employment. Ask, ask, and ask again to have them limit your payments as much as possible and suspend your interest and any late fees you’re accruing. It’s in both of your interests if you don’t default. They may prohibit you from using your account in the interim, but you won’t be accruing so much in interest. If they can’t help, ask for a supervisor. Then ask for their supervisor.

    * make sure you defer your government student loans while you’re unemployed.

    * find a cheaper apartment and consider a roommate. After the bedbug incident, I wouldn’t be too bent on staying in your current place anyway. Alternatively, seriously consider moving home. Yes, the commute would be hell. But isn’t your debt it’s own personal hell? Alternatively, find an arrangement like the businessman who wanted to rent your apartment for a couple of nights a week. Your monthly rent might be a whole lot cheaper if you could find someone who didn’t mind having a weekly roommate but wanted the apartment for himself on weekends. You could spend the weekends with your mom and make her happy.

    Those are my thoughts for now. I’ll continue to ponder possibilities.

    Not Mike

    November 13, 2009 at 00:29

  2. Two more thoughts. I recall a post (perhaps the $500 fiasco one) in which you said it didn’t make sense to go back to your temp job for half an hour. You have to change your mindset for choices like that. At $40/hour, you left $20 on the table. On a day when you have 6 cents in the bank, or on a day when you have to walk 6 miles because you don’t have subway fare, or on a day when you can’t afford cat food, or on a day when you have $2.50 for your own food, that would mean a world of difference.

    Second thought — you have a mutual fund. Right now, it doesn’t make any sense for you to have a fund like that. You’re making something like, what, 5% interest on it? Maybe more, maybe less? And what’s your APR on your credit cards? 30%? For your current situation, it makes way more sense to be paying down balances for which you’re throwing away upwards of 30% in interest. After you’ve dug yourself a good way out of your hole (at least gotten rid of the higher APR debts), then start your saving. Do the math — you’ll come out way ahead.

    And definitely cancel your newspaper situation. You can read it online for free, and as you said, the paper version just piles up everywhere. (Okay, that’s three thoughts.)

    Not Mike

    November 13, 2009 at 01:05

  3. Oops. Newspaper subscription, not situation. Time for bed.

    Not Mike

    November 13, 2009 at 01:07

  4. There’s more.

    You’re talking about re-newing your gym membership, forget that and just go jogging instead.
    You NEED to give up luxuries

    Also not Mike

    November 13, 2009 at 04:09

  5. You say: “But the bigger gripe I have with Mike’s comment is that in his view difficulties with one’s personal financials necessarily, and logically, leads to untrustworthiness in handling other people’s finances or business finances.”

    But it could be quite relevant. Take your situation with your old pro bono client. You took her case on a contingency basis, which means you have to front all of the costs. What if you can’t pay for a filing because you (for the millionth time) mismanaged your cash flow? Your client will suffer. And what if your need for money totally clouds your ability to recognize a realistic settlement opportunity — or what your client really wants — because you want a big pile of cash? With that kind of case, you’re never going to make $25K, but that’s the number you threw out, so clearly a large sum is your ideal end game. Have you talked to your client to see if she even wants money? Maybe her possessions are sentimental or otherwise important to her and she just wants them back……but you want money. Then what?

    As an aside, you wrote in your post about this client that your client “seemed okay” with the continency arrangement you set up. Shouldn’t you have gotten her explicit agreement and approval? In writing??? Or were you thinking about the $25K again?

    To be honest, I’m nervous for your client.

    Anon

    November 13, 2009 at 17:00

  6. I understand your concern, but I’m not in this case for any sort of money. In fact, I reached out to another laid-off associate, a year junior to me in law firm years, who was helping me on this case. He agreed to do some work on it. I am certainly cognizant of my situation and cautious of it. I’m also aware of the client’s situation—she’s just barely above homelessness. As you noted, I’ve taken her case on a contingency fee basis. Both he and I agreed that we didn’t want to take the typical lawyer’s 1/3 “share” of any money she receives because of her situation. So we’ll receive 10% of any compensatory damages she recovers and 25% of anything else. If she’s awarded $5,000 to compensate her for loss and damage to her property—and nothing else—we’ll get $500. That’s it. I’m not in it for the money.

    I know it’s difficult to imagine good-hearted lawyers out there, but they do exist. And yes, she’s signed a retainer agreement, in writing, and we met twice to go over it.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    November 14, 2009 at 09:16

  7. Thanks for all of these suggestions! I appreciate the time you took to read through the entire blog. I don’t know if some of my friends have even done that!

    Just a quick clarification—perhaps laziness in writing up that drunken debacle. When I said I didn’t want to go back to the temp job for a half hour, what I meant was to go back there and wait for the others to finish up. I don’t know if I wrote or implied otherwise, but when I left for the other temp interview that afternoon, they closed me out of the system. I couldn’t have gone back to work.

    Trust me, as long as it comes to mind, I’m siphoning as much income out of the temp jobs as possible. By that I mean, I realized on Friday at 7pm that I could have been working more than 8 hours this past week, to make up for not working on Monday, and get closer to forty hours for the week. I didn’t start the job until Tuesday. Just didn’t cross my mind. I was thinking only that we have to do eight hours each day.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    November 14, 2009 at 09:21

  8. The issue is that even when you were making six figures, you had six figures of debt. You couldn’t afford an iphone and/or blackberry then or now. Six figures of debt. Think about that the next time you want to check the weather on your iphone.

    Crapatarian

    November 24, 2009 at 22:31


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