Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

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

Yet Another Update On Efforts

with 17 comments

Total Black: $279.58
Total Red: $230,715.35

I thought I’d take today to give an update on efforts.  I’m at a stand-still.  I suspect it’s because of the nature of the past few jobs I’ve had.  It is a bit befuddling to be running so long and hard, then realize you’re on a treadmill and the horizon hasn’t gotten any closer.  So far since starting this project, I’ve worked as an art seller and now an usher at at theatre, in addition to working at three contract attorney positions.  Each lasted just long enough for me to get things under control and then stopped abruptly.  But clearly my numbers aren’t moving much yet.  So, what’s been the problem?

The contract attorney position back in October only lasted long enough for me to haul myself out of the massive ditch I’d slowly slid into over the summer while studying for the Pennsylvania bar exam.  As soon as I got back on track, the project ended and I had to resume unemployment benefits.  Although it felt like months passed between positions, it was only a few weeks until my last temporary attorney position at Harris Beach PLCC came through.  But that too only lasted about a month or so.  The art seller position didn’t pay until the end and though I made a thousand dollars off it, it too came through at a bad time when I needed that money to cover rent.  And now the theatre gig at New World Stages is almost over as well.  January 3rd, 2010 will be my last day.  At least for now.  They expect to bring me back in a month or so once new shows start up, but for the immediate present that means one less gig.  And thus one less paycheck.  There’s nothing left to sell really.  I sold most of it before starting this project, as I noted in Out of the Box.  All that’s left are CDs and DVDs.  I suppose those are a bit of insurance for a tsunami.

Sometimes I feel like the figure in that video game spinning dishes atop long poles.  As soon as I get them spinning just right, the rug gets pulled out from under me and all the dishes start to wobble again.  The telephone is ringing off the hook again.  Waking me up at 8:30am once more.  This time it’s not SallieMae but Wells Fargo for my Raymour & Flanagan account.  What I need, and want, are steady streams of income flowing in.  Had the Harris Beach project not ended just yet, it would have been a guaranteed $1,400 a week, before taxes.  Rent would have been covered by 1 1/2 pay checks leaving 3 1/2 for bills.  But the past thirty days saw two holidays, and therefore two weeks of only three-day work-weeks, plus other events like my court appearance in the landlord lawsuit and a visit by the exterminator, both of which cost me days at work.  Earlier this week I peppered all the temporary attorney staffing agencies with updates letting them know I’m available again.  I might have a position starting on Monday at $32 an hour, but it could be up to forty-five hours a week.  That’s works out to approximately the same weekly amount as at Harris Beach PLLC, even though I’d have to put in a bit more each week to get roughly the same pay.

A few comments have asked what my plan is and why I don’t have a budget.  Frankly, it’s hard to budget or plan when you’re barely meeting your basic necessities.  I feel like a character in Hellraiser wrapped up in chains with hooks digging into my skin.  The slightest move any which way and you’re flesh is torn.  At least I made one good move.  I decided to finally cancel my cable.  As I’d observed in Cutting Costs, Corners . . . And Concerns, I know that I can use the internet for television.  I wasn’t sure though how.  Well, I came across an article, entitled “Cable Freedom is a Click Away” by Nick Bilton in the New York Times, which discussed ways to employ the internet as a source of television watching.  I’m going to look into it further because cable television way too expensive.  I can’t afford a separate computer just yet, so I’ll go without the luxury of television, but that’s okay.  I realized awhile back that I don’t really watch television.  I watch shows I recorded.  Internet and Netflix can satiate those needs for much, much less.  I’m also canceling my newspaper subscription finally.  I noted in Creature of the Night that in a moment of insight I decided to swap the costs of cable and television for my gym membership.  At least I’m not incurring any additional debts and instead will be keeping active and relieving stress.

It’s time once again for a new job and another gig.  Keep your fingers crossed that the New Year brings steady ones this time.  I’ve decided that come the spring time I will commute from my mother’s house in Scranton and sublet my place for a few months.  Even two months without rent will eliminate a credit card balance.  Once I get a steady flow of income, I can then begin to budget and allocate amounts to various bills.  Right now, however, things are still too much hand to mouth.

One final bit of good news.  The colleague I’ve written so much about told me he sent me a check for a thousand dollars.  He’s also going to get paid for the bulk of the work he did, which means a chunk should come to me as well.  We had agreed back in August on $1,500.  But if he’s sending me a thousand already from one company, it stands to reason he’ll pay me more than five hundred from the proceeds he receives from the other company.  Especially since his bill is a six-digit figure.  I’ll be content with $5,000 frankly.  That’s a decent earning.  I’ll be sure to post when those payments come through.  This consulting work may be a lucrative option down the road.  I’ll have to look into it a bit more.  If I could earn six figures from taking a company public, then I’d knock out my debt in no time!

17 Responses

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  1. Hey Fellow Lawyer!
    I was recently exposed to your plight and I more than feel for you. I linked up to your blog. I’m hoping some charitible souls will help you out. $230K? At what point did you think the degree may not be worth it? I’m not putting the blame squarely on you. Your law school or Access should have pulled the plug at some point….
    Btw, do you mind if I ask you what your monthly payment is?

    Angel

    December 28, 2009 at 17:18

  2. Hello. I fail to see how you will be able to pay off $230K+ by August 10, 2010 – short of winning the lottery.

    I have a friend who will graduate from medical school in May. He will be facing about $220K in student debt. He will likely make $42K-$49K as a first-year podiatriat. His monthly payments will be in the neighborhood of $2100.

    Is the student lending cartel a great racket?

    http://thirdtierreality.blogspot.com

    Nando

    December 28, 2009 at 22:18

  3. I, too, am an attorney with student loan debt, although I am a government attorney and my total student loan debt is about $110,000. I am not sure Average Joe has ever implied that his degree was “not worth it.” Correct me if I am wrong? Until the recent recession, lawyers working for “Big Law” would have had no problem eliminating such debt. It was the big payoff for those years in school and the absolute horror of taking and passing the bar exam. However, with thousands of lawyers out of work, the legal profession will never be the same. When this is all over, I think that the entire legal profession, start to finish, including the cost of law school, bar prep, testing, and the eventual hazing practices of big law (for which the payoff is huge salaries and huge bonuses) will change. I am OK with that. Perhaps we will return to the days when those that entered the profession did so because they loved the law, and those that loved the law were respected and valued. That
    being said, until the cost of law school catches up with the reality of being employed as an attorney in this economy, there is no way I would go to law school right now. If I was accumulating this kind of debt, I would cut my losses and quit. But it is not fair to think that Average Joe could have predicted this outcome. True, he could have been more guarded with his finances, paid off debt with his big pay, and saved for a rainy day, but I am not sure he could not have predicted the fallout in corporate law.

    wb

    December 29, 2009 at 12:41

  4. Oh, and if you find a “charitible soul” send him/her my way, too! 😉 I, too, am tired of debt. I am, however, grateful to be employed for now.

    wb

    December 29, 2009 at 12:43

  5. Dude, I totally feel for you. After my own financial meltdown, I started reading personal finance books and blogs, and realized that if I had handled things differently, the outcome might have been better. But I also learned that financial habits can be improved, even after things are already a mess.

    Your predicament is not exclusive to law grads, you’re just a guy with way too much debt and too little income. I agree with the comment that unless you hit the lottery, just hoping to be out of debt in August 2010 is unlikely to make it happen, and I worry about how you’ll feel if that day arrives and you aren’t out of debt. You need a plan (maybe you have one that you have not shared here?).

    Until you’ve got some stability in knowing you’ve got enough to eat, a place to live, and a way to get to a job, you can’t really focus on the student loan debt. I encourage you to develop a monthly budget and try to stick with it. Go to the library and get the Dave Ramsey book (some of the tone is off-putting, but much of the advise is solid). Search the internet for blogs of folks with huge debt, and what they are doing to pay it off (there are some really unusual things people are doing). I’ve found reading about what others are doing has made me think outside the box as to how to change my financial situation.

    I graduated from a less than prestigious law school in a bad economy unable to get a job and ended up unable to pay my bills. Reading the blogs of folks in similar situations has made me feel better – I’m not the only person who failed to adequately plan or understand the implications of taking on student loans, so thank you for sharing your story.

    I felt isolated because I did not share my financial issues with many people. It’s good that you have a blog to share yours. Good luck

    govtlawyer

    December 30, 2009 at 10:29

  6. You need to win on a game show to zero out your debt.

    That’s what Dan Blonsky (a Miami attorney) did on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and Ken Basin (a Los Angeles attorney)tried to do on the same show.

    Think big; it can’t hurt to try.

    Joe

    December 30, 2009 at 12:59

  7. You are better off committing to a weekly post. It is better than putting off daily posts like a stack of unread newspapers.

    Skip

    December 31, 2009 at 08:46

  8. Ttotally agree. If you’re not going to follow through with something, don’t tell everyone you’re going to do it. At the very least, don’t create a new post until you’ve actually written it.

    A

    December 31, 2009 at 08:57

  9. Got to echo wb here: there wasn’t a point when I thought the degree wasn’t worth it. And, don’t forget, the $230K isn’t only law school debt. Frankly a large chunk of it is undergraduate loan debt. Plus credit cards, back taxes, etc. Days of Accounting posts break that all out.

    My monthly SallieMae payment is about $200. My monthly AES Success payment is about $80. And my monthly Direct Loan payment is about $500. So, roughly $800 a month in student loans. Crazy, no?

    Laid-off Lawyer

    December 31, 2009 at 12:55

  10. Thanks for posting this. One of focuses of this project was to fillet myself, so to speak, and get real about finances and debt and spending and all the emotional baggage that comes with it. Budgeting and money management is not something colleges or graduate schools teach. Perhaps they shouldn’t have to, but it has to happen somewhere. Unless “they” just want to keep social ladder-climbers down.

    Getting all this out in a blog has helped me to really scrutinize my problems with money. Once they’re dragged into the light, I think that’s when they begin to loose their power and control.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    December 31, 2009 at 12:58

  11. Sorry folks. It’s been a bit rough these past few days. Back when I was involved with the art selling gig I used to stay up late to ensure my post was up by the next morning. I’ve been slacking a bit with this theatre gig. It ends on January 3rd, at least for a month or so.

    I’ll be regular again in the new year.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    December 31, 2009 at 13:02

  12. Just an update: I moved everyone’s comments from Creature of the Night to here. Given the racy nature of that post, I didn’t want anyone upset by their comment following that post. Plus, much of the discussion in the comments didn’t really go to what that post ended up being about.

    Thx.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    December 31, 2009 at 13:07

  13. Dear Laid-Off Lawyer:

    It is difficult to believe that you have not been reading Above the Law, Big Debt Small Law, etc., but in case you have no clue what the rest of the blogosphere is saying about out-of-work lawyers and the law schools that pump them out, here it is in a nutshell. For years third-tier law schools have been churning out graduates with no genuine hope of obtaining legitimate legal employment. Law schools are cash cows for universities, and they don’t care that their graduates get out of school with unpayable levels of debt and no real chance of paying it back. You took out, what, $250,000 worth of student loans? Did you ever do ANY calculations before committing to that debt load as to what that kind of dead-weight debt would do to your life? Even with a very top-shelf New York law firm starting salary of $140K, you can’t pay off debt like that and ever hope to buy your own place, have kids (if you were interested), or even buy a car. You must realize that your inability to afford
    your life in New York isn’t some temporary blip caused by being laid off — you could not afford your life even when you had a full-time lawyer job. If you could, you would not have run up credit card balances, borrowed money to buy furniture, borrowed a sizeable chunk from your mom, and constantly paid overdraft fees. When I got out of law school I made $37,000 my first year clerking for a state supreme court, and on that tiny salary I furnished an apartment in cash and paid a few thousand dollars extra on my student loans. But news flash — I purposefully went to law school where I could borrow the least amount possible, worked on campus during both undergrad and law school (including a law school gig that got me free housing in a residence hall — not glamorous, but then not all of us are OK with being permanently saddled with debt so that we can look like a Crate and Barrel catalogue blew up in our place). My first apartment after law school had roaches and I paid less in
    rent than I did on my student loans monthly, but I am on target to finish paying off my student loans in 2010, only 9 years after I finished law school, and I’ve bought a house and had two babies during that time (and no the spouse didn’t pay for it). You claim that you are counting down to debt freedom, but you have never, in any of your blog entries, made any indication that you have even attempted to put together a plan to accomplish paying off your debt. You are continually “surprised” (as indicated by your blog posts) when automated payments that you have set up go through and create overdrafts — how can you not keep track of this stuff? Do you have any idea what even your minimum payments are on your loans? A first baby step toward getting some sort of handle on your financial situation would be to get a calendar and mark on it when any automatic payments that you have set up go through and how much they are, and also list on the calendar when your rent is due and when
    and how much your minimum payments are on your other loans. I read your post on how you are too cool for minimum payments and you want to snowball your debts (yep, that is the debt-payoff term for it, rolling your payments up, starting with your smallest debt and putting all your money on that one until it is gone, and then moving to the next smallest debt, etc.) It is generally better to put all your money toward your highests interest debt, not your smallest, but for those with short attention spans sometimes the snowball method is the way to go. However, you aren’t even exercising the discipline to carry through on that scheme, because your blog posts show that you just appease whoever is in your face at the moment, rather than set up any sort of plan and stick with it. You are drifting in and out of unemployment — you could certainly get at least your federal student loans deferred, if not frozen (deferral usually doesn’t halt new interest from accruing, though it does stop
    your late fees). But because you haven’t sat down to come up with any better plan than “Oh, I hope that “The Secret” will sprinkle some fairy dust on my debt and make it disappear, you don’t appear to have even looked into deferment. You also could look into switching at least your federal loans onto an income-contingent plan, whereby after 20 years (or it may be 30, at the outside) the rest is forgiven even if you still have amounts outstanding, which you certainly will. I haven’t seen you mention visiting http://www.ed.gov to check out that type of payment plan either. Do you have any sort of plan at all? Folks who read your blog would be interested in hearing what sort of effort you are putting into planning to abolish your debt, not just running yourself ragged with all sorts of schemes that are doing nothing to eliminate your debt. I don’t say this with any ill-will, but you have been whining on for more than 100 days on this blog and haven’t done one concrete thing to reduce
    your debts — you have attempted to keep yourself from starving and from being evicted, which are good goals too, but none of that effort is contributing to paying off your debt, and in fact in general is consuming all your energy and making you feel like you are accomplishing a lot but not actually moving you any closer to your supposed goal at all. What’s the plan, Stan?

    Anne

    December 31, 2009 at 14:25

  14. Awesome, awesome comment. I cringed and laughed out loud while reading it. And you’ve made some very prescient points. In the entry your comment is pegged to, I did note that I am pretty much going from paycheck to paycheck and, as you noted, from the current in-my-face debtor to the next. I hadn’t hear of snow-balling as a term That is what I had thought of doing. I’m happy to pay down the highest one first rather than the lowest balance, but first I need a stead source of income.

    I’ve committed, absent some wonderful windfall, to commuting from my mother’s home in the springtime. Having an extra $1,500 a month will go far. So, once the risk of missing work due to snow and ice in the Poconos is gone, I’ll be subletting my place.

    You’re also right that I haven’t really put together a plan. I didn’t expect that some 4+ months in I’d still be going from job to job. I thought by now I’d land on a steady doc review job, one that pays consistently and then be able to supplement that income with something on the side, as I did selling art or ushering at the theatre. I’ve heard stories of people being on doc review jobs for years and years. Maybe not so much any longer in this economic environment, but it’s really surprising to find projects that last a week or a day or a month. None I’ve come across yet are slated to last longer. Once I lock that in, I can supplement the day job income with something else: bartending, etc. As I noted above though, the problem has been the temporariness of these jobs. I expected that from the art selling gig. At the theatre, I hoped I’d stay on. I’ll be able to return, but not for a month or so.

    So the next course of action will be to secure a steady stream of income and then supplement it while reducing my debts (cable and newspapers have been canceled).

    Thank you for your comment. I’ll have to reread it a few times and absorb everything. I really respect commenters who have read much, if not all, of my posts.

    P.S. I am familiar with ATL. Not with Big Debt Small Law. I’ll have to check them out.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    December 31, 2009 at 20:12

  15. Are you looking for permanent employment too? You need to read Big Debt Small Law and Temporary Attorney: Sweatshop Edition for a dose of reality, since you seem to think contract work is a stable source of income when it’s hard to come by and chronically unstable (not to mention increasingly unavailable).

    Not Mike

    December 31, 2009 at 20:51

  16. “Frankly, it’s hard to budget or plan when you’re barely meeting your basic necessities.”

    I agree with the above statement about it being hard to budget in these circumstances, but ironically, this is when it’s most important. While some things will be variable, you should at least know how much money you need each month to meet basic expenses. Even if things might change in the Spring, you can still figure out a budget (or “spending plan”, if you don’t like the word budget) for the Winter.

    When I was in financial free fall, I didn’t even know how much money I needed each month to cover basic expenses, such as rent, car, food, etc. In hindsight, I realize I used my small paycheck to pay down part of my bank overdraft, then wrote checks to pay rent, loans, and minimums on credit cards. Then I used credit cards for everything else. I was falling further in the hole each month. I fooled myself into thinking that if the bank and credit card people were loaning me this money, they thought that I could pay the bills. Subconsciously I knew I had made a mess of things, but I was too afraid to figure out what I owed, as I didn’t think I had enough income to dig out. Looking back, I realize this was incredibly naive and foolish.

    Great with canceling the newspaper subscription – you can’t afford it and its not a necessity. The gym membership is not a necessity, but is important. Can you find a less expensive gym? Have you checked on craigslist – in my area Equinox sometimes posts there looking for people to solicit new members. It’s a contingency payment plan, but includes free use of the gym.

    What are you paying for Netflix? Not a necessity – can you check dvd’s out of the library? Is Redbox available? Does the gym have cable tv’s hooked into the cardio machines (mine does, and its way lower end than Equinox). Is your TV anything worth selling (since you’re planning to sublet, and not be there to watch it)? If you keep the tv, can you get a digital antenna ($15) and pick up free broadcast? What else can you cut – in your situation every dollar is important.

    I don’t intend to be personally critical of you, I think I’m seeing some of my former financial self in you and want to go back in time and tell myself that I had options that I just couldn’t see. When I could not afford necessities (like fixing my 10 year old car that I needed to get to work), I had news subscriptions, an expensive gym membership, and traveled on vacations. My life then (and now, my financial mistakes still follow me around years later) would have been better if instead of spending on things I didn’t need I saved for expected necessary expenses such as the car repairs.

    Happy New Year! I hope 2010 is good to you.

    govtlawyer

    January 1, 2010 at 10:13

  17. I agree with govtlawyer on the need to know where everything goes and how much you need at a minimum, even when you think that it is not possible to plan. It is ALWAYS possible to plan, and the truism that “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail” is, unfortunately, true. Your resolution to use cash only is crucial for you — accepting that you do not keep up with expenditures closely enough to use a debit card is a good step for you toward more financial maturity. And that’s really what you are looking for — you want to be in control of your finances instead of your finances controlling you. Part of maturity is admitting where we are weak, and admitting that you are not the kind of person who will keep diligent track of debits sufficiently to avoid fees is important.
    However, pretty much any debt reduction plan out there, (Your Money or Your Life, Dave Ramsey, The Tightwad Gazette, etc.) all insist that you start by carrying around a little notebook and recording every cent that you spend for a week or more — consider it a New Year’s Resolution. If you think you don’t need that amount of detail, look at your circumstances — you almost got evicted, you have walked miles due to no $ for the subway, and you have repeatedly incurred fees you can’t pay due to “just a coffee” or “just a book.” If you are scared of what you may find if you record every penny, that’s exactly why you should do it. Happy New Year!
    P.S. — Watch out with the terms, L-OL! A “Debt snowball” is a pretty standard debt-reduction term, google it. “Snowballing,” however, is something, er, one shouldn’t discuss in public, or at all. Eww.

    Anne

    January 1, 2010 at 17:58


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