Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

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

Lifestyle Changes

with 13 comments

Total Black: $106.99
Total Red: $252,067.04

News alert: the International Monetary Fund wants Americans to change our lifestyles.  In an article in the Wall Street Journal, “IMF Urges U.S. to Consider Higher Taxes, Social Security Cuts,” journalist Tom Barkley reported that the IMF encouraged the U.S. to take strong steps to cure our budget deficits.  “Spending cuts aren’t sufficient, the IMF said, and it suggested a number of politically difficult ways of reducing debt, including eliminating the popular deduction for interest on mortgages, raising energy taxes, reducing Social Security benefits or imposing a national consumption tax.”  C-SPAN reported on its Open Phones program this morning that the IMF’s annual review was a call for lifestyle changes within the US.  So . . . spin or straight-talk?  Nothing in the Wall Street Journal’s article mentions lifestyle changes.  And reducing Social Security or raising taxes is hardly a “lifestyle” change, per se.  But it’s an interesting angle C-SPAN presented.  One that I feel got lip-service by the media as tough times settled in.  But only in that plastic, gimmicky way the media has when they all scurry to the current hot item—like paparazzi at a Lindsay Lohan sighting.  “Recession” stories were hot and so the media told us about someone baking cakes or moving back in with their parents.  I mentioned a similar story just a few days ago in Sigh of Relief.  But it doesn’t seem that many of us are taking this recession as an opportunity to really fundamentally and drastically transform how we do business—in every sense of that word.

It feels as if, once again, America has side-stepped an opportunity to right its course.  I recall the vibe around the country just after September 11th.  We were a united nation.  And the entire world stood behind us.  I was in Washington D.C. that day.  This isn’t the venue to tell that tale.  Instead I’ll share the story of my time in New York a few days later.  In a rush to help, a friend and I drove to New York City and spent the night handing out sandwiches and drinks to rescue workers.  One memory stands out: we passed a homeless man on the street.  My friend offered him a sandwich.  He declined, instead instructing us to give it to the recovery workers because they needed it more.  Weeks later, we were a warmongering, Muslim-bashing country.  Likewise, when we rushed off to war with Iraq—President Bush could have called for rations and drives, just like in the lead-up to World War II.  It could’ve been an excellent opportunity for scrap drives, clean-up-your-neighborhood drives, get-in-shape/lose-weight campaigns (in case Uncle Sam needs you), and on and on.  Instead, we turned into a divided nation, civil libertarians versus strong military response, and President Bush saw march after march marching around the country in protest of his decisions.

And once more we have a catalyst for change.  The Great Recession.  And how have we changed?  The IMF hasn’t called for lifestyle changes but C-SPUN . . . err . . . SPAN presented the story that way.  Maybe for a reason.  Money Magazine reported that recently that credit card delinquencies have hit an all-time low.  Lowest number of Americans behind on their credit card payments in eight years.  Myself included, I suppose.  At least if we’re not eating in more often, packing lunches, car pooling more, or hosting people at our homes instead of nights on the town—at least we’re paying our bills.  Right?

I wonder why we keep dodging these opportunities.  I know that I’m guilty as well.  Or is it just human nature?  Images of breadlines from the Great Depression come to mind.  But those were forced, not voluntary.  No one back then resorted to government food baskets and subsidies willingly.

Or maybe its just me and everyone else has been printing on both sides of their photocopy paper, using candles at home, cutting portions, cutting-out treats.

Or not?

One odd bit of news: I received a telephone call today from the casino about interviews being held next week.  I still haven’t spoken with the judge, however.  There hasn’t been a good moment.  And then this evening I received a reply to an email I sent out two weeks ago via Craigslist post for a bartender job.  Odd, no?, that both contacted me today.

13 Responses

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  1. Check disciplinary rules re: casinos and bars. In the state where I clerk, judiciary employees are strictly forbidden from working in casinos or as bartenders (though working as a food server in a bar is ok for some reason)


    July 10, 2010 at 09:31

  2. Well, here we pretty much follow model codes and canons or federal laws. And the Judicial Conference has established a Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees:

    “A judicial employee should refrain from outside financial and business dealings that tend to (1) detract from the dignity of the court, (2) interfere with the proper performance of official duties, (3) exploit the position, or (4) associate the judicial employee in a substantial financial manner with (a) lawyers or (b) other persons likely to come before the judicial employee or the court or office the judicial employee serves . . . . A member of a judge’s personal staff should consult with the appointing judge concerning any financial and business activities that might reasonably be interpreted as violating this code and should refrain from any activities that fail to conform to the foregoing standards or that the judge concludes may otherwise give rise to an appearance of impropriety.” (sequencing added).

    No way any court or judge would rule that working part-time for a bar or casino would “detract” from the dignity of the court. Well . . . maybe depending on the bar, I suppose. Hooters, for example, might. But casinos, no. They’re established and reputable businesses. (2) wouldn’t apply. No way a part-time job would would interfere with my performances. Not in a literal sense. Obviously I wouldn’t leave court early to get to the other job or call in sick or something. And we know in advance about trials and weekend work generally. There’s the chance any part-time job could practically interfere in a practical sense, if I don’t get enough sleep, for example. But that’s my responsibility—not something the job would cause. (3) is inapplicable. No one need know my day job if I work at a bar or the casino. Just another white guy on island, liming around. (4) wouldn’t apply in most instances, and certainly (4)(a) wouldn’t. (4)(b) . . . maybe in a remote sense if we took “associate” in a liberal sense and conclude that I was associated with someone winning money at the casino but some error caused a conflict, leading to a lawsuit and I’m now called to testify. But that’s really remote. And if we start taking that approach to (4) then I may as well go to work and stay home every night because just by being in a store I could possibly witness a slip and fall and thereby be “associated” in a “substantial financial matter.” I assume, however, that associated is being used in a law firm sense of attorneys being associated. As an associate in a law firm or law practice.

    The last sentence, though, says it all. It says “should” consult. Doesn’t say shall. And only if it “might reasonably be interpreted as violating this code.” So does that mean if I just reasoned that it doesn’t apply then I need not tell the judge? 😉

    Laid-off Lawyer

    July 10, 2010 at 10:21

  3. ‘Should’ or ‘shall’ depends on how the judge interprets ” might reasonably be interpreted as violating this code.” If he/she believe its ok — you’re good, if not; you’re shelling peas on the corner.

    set me up

    July 10, 2010 at 11:33

  4. And what if he/she thinks I shouldn’t be shelling peas. Demeaning. I mean, where does it end? 😉

    But seriously, clerks often lecture, are involved in legal education matters, and so on. I can’t imagine there’s this much hoopla about a part-time job. What? I can’t work at Office Max because someone could sue Office Max and that case may come before the judge? Ok, then he recuses. Or another clerk works on it, right? I’ve already had to pick up quite a few cases from other clerks because I don’t know anyone here and they do. Small community and all that.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    July 10, 2010 at 11:38

  5. Always err on the side of caution. Your judge may have additional rules. What a waste to move down there and add to your debt, only to risk getting fired for a monumentally stupid reason. Don’t try to parse the rule in the most self-serving way possible – just ask.


    July 10, 2010 at 13:02

  6. Ditto Anon above…

    This is NOT the time to use the “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission” method.

    Personally, I would not be surprised if either/both of those jobs were off limits. Whether they’re “reputable businesses” or not, they are both in the “sin” category and if you have a conservative boss he/she might see a conflict with something so “pristine” (haha) as the judiciary.



    July 10, 2010 at 13:32

  7. For the most part, people aren’t going to change their consumption patterns because as much as we see financial setbacks around us, we tend to continue to think “it won’t happen to us” until it actually happens to us.

    Fortunately, I think that a lot of people, once IT happens to them, actually do make adjustments. Most people, for example, would probably have done things a bit differently than you have over the past year or so.

    By and large, America and Americans are not going to change, except maybe we’ll all get even fatter and greedier. We’ve all been molded by our consumer culture for far too long to expect things to change to any great extent, unless catastrophe strikes us.



    July 10, 2010 at 14:52

  8. It doesn’t end, not until you have the amount of security to tell your boss (or clients) to go to hell and damn the consequences.

    set me up

    July 10, 2010 at 15:39

  9. I ditto the folks urging you to err on the side of caution. Like you said, its a small community down there. The judge will likely find out if you’ve got a second job (I don’t mean “find out” in a negative way, only that it sounds like given the size of the island, unless you actively conceal a part time job from colleagues, the judge will eventually learn about it). Better that the judge hear about it from you ahead of time, so IF it might be an issue, it can be resolved before you actually start a second job.

    Especially if you have any reason to think the judge would not respond favorably to you getting a casino or bar job, you should ask in advance rather than just hoping for the best. Looking at it from a financial standpoint, even if you could make $1,000 a week bartending, would $50K for the year be worth risking the clerkship, recommendation from judge, etc.?

    Its also possible there might be some sort of active conflicts between certain folks for whom you might work that you would not know about unless you asked.


    July 10, 2010 at 19:05

  10. I agree that you should ask first. And if the judge asks why you need a part time job, perhaps the short story is best. I am sure you would not go into detail regarding current financial difficulties, but if it comes up, I would suggest a simple “working on student loans” story. If it doesn’t come up, no expl. necessary. You are so open here, and we all like that, but minimal info at work is best, I have found. Good luck with the job interviews, if it all works out.

    anon too

    July 10, 2010 at 22:27

  11. I wouldn’t take any job without asking the judge. I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek above. But Anon Too has a good point. That’s not a bad angle. I agree about being cautious at work. All my debts are explainable (the bulk coming from student loans and IRS debt—now reallocated to loans from my mother). But people just don’t listen. They hear numbers and go blank—or panic, imagining themselves as having that same debt.

    When I mentioned wanting a part-time job to others, including Co-Clerk and Officemate, I said that I wanted to get out, meet new people, get to know the island a bit more—and make some money. My concern has been that the judge could reply by telling me I could do almost all of that without working. But mentioning student loans as my talking point for why I need more money—that’s a good point. Thx.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    July 10, 2010 at 23:11

  12. Have you considered tutoring? I assume there is a high school in St. Croix. With your education, I would think there are several areas of expertise you could offer. Plus it is not uncommon to charge $20-$30/ hour or more.


    July 11, 2010 at 14:11

  13. Interesting idea. That hadn’t crossed my mind. A temp attorney back in New York used to do that, but in math, I believe. She said she earned more hourly doing that than reviewing documents. I did tutor back when I was in the Peace Corps. But it’s easier to meet with someone and have her or him practice English than it would be here. I’m not sure what I could tutor in. I suppose writing, English in general. I have thought about VI Bar exam prep. I’ve taken two bar exams now and passed both on the first try. Clearly I can take exams. Hmm . . . .

    Laid-off Lawyer

    July 11, 2010 at 14:47

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