Tuesday, July 18, 2006

My Two Cents on Financial Aid

Lily over at Law School Virgin had some good questions regarding financial aid and a few other things, and given the anxiety that I recall feeling about this time last year, I figured it would be appropriate to address her concerns. Please note, I’m no expert when it comes to financial aid, but here is what I know and how I understand it working…

Why haven’t I gotten my financial aid information yet?
If you haven’t received your financial aid information yet don’t panic. If you haven’t filled out a FAFSA yet, it's time to do so. However, loan information is not even available until July 1, so most financial aid offices will send out information specific to their schools in late July. If you’re really anxious you can call your financial aid office and they probably have information on their website that you can take a look at regarding lenders, etc.

Applying for loans is a fairly simple process – especially after you’ve applied for the first one. It will only take a few minutes to complete the process, although usually the first time you apply with a lender you have to go through an online loan counseling session.

Now that you are in graduate school, no matter what your FAFSA says your SAR is, lenders will pretty much loan you all of the money up to the "budget" that your school provides. (Financial aid offices come up with a "budget" number -- it's tuition for the average credit load plus rent, food, utlities, etc for 9 months. Budgets are the same for every student and are not adjusted to account for people with kids, mortgages or any other circumstances; which means that you really need to learn to budget if you're going to actually live off the budget.) As long as you have not defaulted on any federal aid money in the past or have no major strikes on your credit report you will get approved for loans without need for a cosigner.

The way that most schools and financial aid work is that the money is all disbursed to the school, they take out what you owe them for tuition and then they send you the leftover. At my school this doesn’t usually happen until the second or third week in September (despite starting classes in August), so make sure that you save some money or can borrow some from a parent to cover the rent and bills for that first month.

Should I get a co-signer?
If you can get loans without a co-signer I would recommend doing so. I believe (and someone correct me if I’m wrong) that if you die before your federal loans are paid off then the government cannot come after your estate or your family members for the remaining money. If you have a co-signer, however, then your creditors will come after them. The last thing I want to do is die and leave $120K in student loans for my husband to pay back, so I did not have him co-sign.

There is a chance with a co-signer that you may get a lower interest rate, but personally I’m a fan of consolidating loans after I graduate so that way I will only have to pay back one or two loans, and given the right program I’ll lock in a fixed interest rate. Some people like to consolidate their loans after each school year. I see this as problematic because: 1) you can’t consolidate a consolidated loan, 2) you can’t consolidate federal with private, and 3) most consolidation programs make you start paying your loans back without a 6 to 12 month grace period. Wait until you are done and consolidate all federal together and all private together.

One more note about consolidation: you can only consolidate all private loans that you have with one bank. So if you take out your private loans with three different banks, you will not be able to consolidate those together. Just something to think about.

What about GraduatePLUS loans?
GraduatePLUS loans are new this year. Use them! It used to be that you could take up to $18,500 in Stafford loans (that’s subsidized and unsubsidized combined) and then you’d have to take out private loans (read: higher interest rates) to cover the rest. Not anymore. Now you can still take your $18,500 in Stafford and then GraduatePLUS to cover the rest. GraduatePLUS loans are basically the same loans that were offered to your parents (as ParentalPLUS loans) when you were in undergrad, but now that you are in graduate school you can take them out yourself.

As I see it, the advantages of GradPLUS compared to regular private loans: they are still federal loans so they can be consolidated with your Staffords and they lock in a lower interest rate then a lot of the private loans(I think like 8.5% this year). Plus, I think that federal loans affect your credit differently then private loans and the type of debt you have outstanding will be taken into consideration after graduation when you decide to start living like a lawyer and buy a new car, a new house and a line of credit to furnish the house.

Both Stafford Loans and GraduatePLUS loans have to be taken out through private lenders. Check with your financial aid office for info regarding which lenders they work with and which ones they prefer. Each lender usually has its own advantages. For example, I chose Wells Fargo because I bank with them, and last year they had an incentive that after 36 months of on-time payments they’ll pay off 10% of my interest. Find a private lender that works for you.

Should I get insurance?
If you can milk your parents’ health insurance for a little while more (although most companies will kick you off once you turn 25), then by all means, do so. If you can’t stay on a parents’ health insurance, check out the options that your school offers. Most of them have a student health services that you can drop into for the little things, and several schools will also offer a health insurance option that is usually pretty reasonable. Just remember that your law school “budget” given to you by financial aid probably doesn’t cover health insurance.

As far as getting supplemental insurance for a life insurance policy, I think as long as you don’t have the co-signer on the loans, then you probably don’t need one. However, if you’ve got a co-signer and don’t want to leave them in a bad position, then it might be a good idea. Honestly, I don’t know a lot about how insurance policies for repayments of loans work. If someone else out there does, please chime in.

Should I try to get residency where I’m going to be attending school?
Yes. Unless there is some major advantage to staying a resident where you live now, then change your address with the school to where you’ll be living during the school year and change your driver’s license. Even if you don’t stay in that apartment all three years, you’ll still be in the same vicinity. Plus, if you have a chance of getting residency and thus cheaper tuition always go for it.

Residency is usually pretty easy to establish, and actually, since there is no national DMV, you can have valid licenses in two states at the same time. (Not saying you should here, just that it is possible.)

You can change your residency and still remain on your parent’s health insurance. If you’ll be going to a doctor that is out-of-network, then it might be wise to sit down with your parents and see what options their health insurance has for PPOs. (Co-pays and coverage rates can get a little sticky if you are not seeing a preferred provider.)

This really only begins to touch on the questions that LSV raised and is based solely on my own experience. Most schools are similar, but each one can have its quirks. Ultimately, call up and harass your financial aid office. Don't feel guilty about it - just remember that your tuition is helping to pay their salaries.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Intra-Section Dating: Can One Who Plays With Fire Not Get Burned?

This will be the first, in what likely will be a series of posts, on the topic of relationships...

The same 100 people five days a week. A lot of them are new to the city where the school is located. The same 100 people six days a week. Partying together. Commiserating together. Relieving stress together. The same 100 people seven days a week. And so it begins: the relationships form. There are the ones that fizzle. There are ones that become serious. And others are those 'arrangements' where the two meet, late at night, in the law school bathrooms, libraries, classrooms, or conference rooms for an intimate study session.

This tidbit is more targeted to those that become serious. As was mentioned in an earlier piece, the first year law school section is a tight knit group and dating within the law school community is a great idea to find solace from the daily firestorm that is first year. Next to no one will be able to better understand what you are going through then a fellow classmate; this connection can serve as a solid foundation for a relationship.

There were three types of couples that formed in my first year section: the short term (several months), the school year long (this is where my experience came from), and the real thing.

So, here are the lessons that I learned from 1L intra-section dating:

1. Dating within your section can put your relationship into a Pressure Cooker. Words really can't describe what dating is like. It might be that I am a little more outgoing then most, a little more boisterous then most, but wow is all I can really say. The pressure cooker phenomena is that the "normal" relationship occurrences (i.e. casual dating to boyfriend-girlfriend, to serious boyfriend-girlfriend) seemed to happen at warp speed. I think that this, at least in my case, was a result of near never-ending separation between the two of us. So, when most people are identifying themselves as boyfriend-girlfriend, my significant other had a key to my condo. Yeah...it was fast. But this is the pressure cooker syndrome that I am referring to, it goes quick.

2. When you are fighting and go to class, likely Con Law will not be on your mind. My 1L girlfriend sat several rows behind me in each of our classes and like almost all law students, instead of paying attention to the prof, Instant Messaging was taking place. As I mentioned above, the two of us being in the hyper-relationship, had woken up that morning and for some reason started fighting. We went to school fighting and we were feuding right up until class started. Then it carried over to IM during class. [I can only imagine what the people behind me were thinking as I tried to surreptitiously glance over my shoulder at her to get some sort of feel for what she was communicating to me] When the person that you are dating is 20 feet from you, I could not resist the urge to finish what we had started. Class took second fiddle to trying mend the relationship and this can be a detrimental thing.

3. Everyone will know about everything in your relationship (including things that you didn't know about the relationship). People talk. Rumors get started. Fights occur in the presence of others. Needless to say, people know things. This really is more of a matter of fact statement rather than something that you can work to control. You have to be willing to deal with this; to put it another way: you are the celebrity and your classmates are the paparazzi. One of things that I took issue with is my friends, who were friends with her friends, would catch wind of something and then run to me to find out the truth (sound like high school yet?) When your significant other has friends that do not like you, this rumor mill/gossip chain can be used to make people's life interesting.

4. The Break Up can be a bitch. Everyone knows everything, there are people that do not like you, and to make matters worse, the relationship is entering its death throes. There were three options that I felt that I had: break up the week before finals, break up during finals, break up after finals (in the summer after 1L). I just couldn't bring myself to do the deed before finals started. I figured that it would be the most detrimental to us both if we were dealing with the fallout from our relationship and finals at the same time. So I waited the extra month. I hoped that things would get better (they didn't). And after finals were over, things were ended. Whoa boy. Hell hath no fury. The friends took sides. Horrible things were said. Hands down, this was the worst breakup that I have ever been through.

5. Once you've peed in the pool, it's hard to get permission to dive back in. I'm not going to say that you have only one shot at succeeding in your 1L section. However, if things do not work out, it is hard to overcome the perception that was formed about your dating abilities. Everybody has weighed in on you. They've seen you in action. And Lord knows what was said during the break-up. It's a steep hill to get over and it is possible, it just takes some work (and the desire to go through the same rigors that you faced in the last 1L relationship you were in).

Go out, be fruitful, and pray that you don't multiply.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

My reputation is your entertainment

I remember high school. I remember the cliques, the gossip, the parties, the teachers, and the mindless crap that we were forced to do just to get out the door with a piece of pretty paper. Law school is no different, except that we all have apartments and are of legal drinking age.

It’s usually at the first year orientation that you are going to meet roughly the 100 people who you will all get to know very well over the next nine months. You will see these same people everyday, for an extended period of time, engaging in a stressfree challenging area of study. You will know them all either personally or by reputation very soon.

The following are things that I heard first year in some form:
“Sheila slept with Peter in the bathroom and ended up going back to Greg’s place but didn’t tell her boyfriend Rich”
“Frank got bombed and made out with that one girl from Section C, but ended up going home with Eric”
“What year are you?”
“I’m a Freshman [in undergrad]
“Really? I’m a first year too!”
You are going to know everyone’s business. Knowing shit on people can be very entertaining and Lord knows that I would not have as much blog material to post about if people (myself included) didn’t know what was happening. The advice here is that age old maxim: discretion is the better part of valor. Reputations tend to stick pretty solidly once they have been formed, so this piece is an attempt to let you know that your actions (and even your inactions) can follow you around for a while.

Case in point: Me.

I am a very competitive guy and I play a wide array of intramural sports at the University that I attend. I was on a dominant co-ed team (we went undefeated and won the final 72-0). Anyway, there are other law school teams in the league. On the field, I had one incident where (and I don’t remember this, but it has been relayed to me from several witnesses) taunted an opposing team’s player. I didn’t think anything of it, but, three days later this entire section (not mine) was aghast about the guy wearing the mouthguard and how he had the balls to taunt one of their fellow section members. I was forwarded several group IM chats that occurred shortly after this occurrence. Let’s just say that my name was dragged through the mud and I was treated like that white substance that forms at the corners of your mouth when you are thirsty.

This entire section, not even my own, knew who I was, had an opinion formed about me, and frankly, most, did not want to give me the time of day.

You will soon be seeing the same people everyday for extended periods of time. My advice is to do as I say, not as I did. Think before acting, be discreet, and don’t promulgate the gossip (too much).

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

10 Tips For First Year

1. Breathe in, Breathe Out, Repeat. Sounds easy right? Yeah, not so much. 1L can be a little on the stressful side. If you are going straight from undergrad to the law school, it is highly likely that you have never experience a learning atmosphere like law school before. It'll be new, exciting, stressful...but nothing to go beserk about.

2. Laughter, in as many forms as possible, is key. I have seen people freak out. I've seen people lose their minds. I've gotten A's, I've gotten C's. People forget to have fun and laugh and realize that law school really shouldn't be as serious as the Paper Chase makes it out to be.

3. Don't overemphasize the small things. Seriously. A memo is a memo. It'll consume you for a little while. A grade is a grade. Law school is like a marathon, you don't finish it in the first 50 feet. Oh, and never judge your knowledge by the length of someone else's outline. Ever.

4. Grades are not everything, knowing the right people is everything. I'm going into my third year and I am in the process of having doors opened to me by coworkers (I am not a big firm, just a place with quality people who want to help me out). When your boss tells you that he is going to bust his ass to get you a great job, you know that the people you are with are the ones who care about you. Branch out. Make friends. Form relationships. These will be the biggest asset for you when you want to be gainfully employed

5. Making Law Review Does Not Mean that You are a) smarter than anyone, b) entitled to anything, or c) destined to get a Summer Associateship. Grading onto Law Review is something to be proud of, it shows that you are a great test taker (I am not one of these people) and you learned a lot along the way. But it doesn't mean that you are going to be God's gift to the legal profession. You have to retain your humility and appreciate all of your successes along the way.

6. Don't be a Gunner. Or a Douchebag. If you always volunteer an answer on every single question, chances are you are the gunner. No one wants to be the gunner. No one likes the gunner. The gunner does not help the law school educational process. The gunner is there to bet on or play Gunner Bingo. If you know the answer and you always know the answer, good for you. It shows that you are learning something; but keep that to yourself and show everyone how much you know by acing the finals.

7. Do not force other peoples study habits onto yourself. This is huge. When I was on the verge of starting 1L, a lot of people told me about finding a study group or engaging in other various study habits (briefing cases is totally overrated, I stopped after the first day). Don't rush into this. Joining a study group first semester 1L caused me to do worse on finals and start a blog, both constructive uses of my time. Take a few weeks to get used to the system and see what works best for YOU. I defined my study habits a year too late and my GPA suffered because of that. Now that I said don't follow anyone else's studying habits, let me suggest a study habit...

8. Study Throughout the Semester in a Way That Prepares You For Finals. For me, this is the only study habit that I can suggest. As I alluded to above, people sweat the small shit and lose their minds. I found that my studying throughout the semester had me ready for finals and that I did not have to pull allnighters just to be competent in Torts or Contracts. I hope that this makes sense...

9. Stay close to your friends that are not in law school. Your other friends will remind you that there is more to life then case briefing or legal writing or gunner bingo. They won't likely understand what you are going through, but they still can help you through it. A support system like this will ease your transition from normal human being to oppressed law student.

10. Enjoy yourself. I have had more fun learning in law school then I had ever before in any educational setting that I have ever encountered. The law is a complex and intriguing field of study, but it is so important and vital to everyday life. I think that is cool, but, I am a big nerd. If nothing else, this is the last time you get to still be in school before real life hits. You don't have to think about 2000 billable hours or 7 day work weeks...yet. Enjoy it while you can!

Casebriefs, Outlines, Old Exams

One way to make it through law school is by using all of the help you can get. I'm a fan of the best kind of help -- free online help, that is.

If you haven't already discovered, the best place to start with is 4LawSchool. Complete with casebriefs, outlines, and old exams. Another decent one-site stop for outlines, exams and other resources is Hieros Gamos's Law Student Center.

Your school should have a subscription to Cali.org. When you get your password be sure to check the site out. Cali can be helpful if you're more of an interactive learner -- there are exercises, outlines, and podcasts available for most subjects.

Case Briefs/Class Notes
A lot of students who run sites will post their class notes. While these are specific to the professor, sometimes they can be helpful in explaining particular rules of law of cases or clarifying general concepts. Just remember that for these sites the find feature on your browser (recommend Mozilla's Firefox) is your best friend.
  • 1L Law Source
    • Former student from U of MN shares a plethora of information including case briefs, outlines, checklists and stuff from Emanuel's. He also has information available for upperlevel courses.
  • Mike Shecket's Extravaganza!
    • Mike quit law school to become a teacher, but while he was in law school he did quite well and was more then willing to share notes, outlines and case summaries. He has not linked everything on the front page, so select the class name first and you can see what materials are available for each subject. His notes are easy to read and they came in handy for several subjects.
Outlines
A lot of these links are specific to certain schools, but keep in mind that the law from most of the 1L core classes doesn't change from school to school so a lot of general information can be gleamed from outlines. If you want just general tips on how to outline check out
LawNerd.com. Just remember that outlining is really a personal style -- don't feel like you have to create an 80-page outline with 14 different sublevels and a table of contents.
  • U of Chicago
    • I find the case summaries and checklists particularly helpful. Also has links to someone's notes from Barbri prep course. One of the best outline banks on the net per Namby.
  • UW - Madison
    • Run by their SBA. The other best outline bank on the net per Namby.
  • Northeastern University
    • Most of the links at the top are dead, but the links to the actual outlines below are decent. Includes some general material
  • U of Miami
    • Limited list; primarily first year classes.
  • Internet Legal Research Group
    • By book author - if your book is there, these can be a goldmine. Site also has other legal links.
  • Boalt (UC Berkeley)
    • Site maintained by a student, so not a lot of variety, but he also has class notes.
  • More Boalt
    • Site run by student orgs at Boalt. Much more comprehensive list of outlines.
  • Brian Pedigo
    • 3L at Whittier Law. Check out the "cram plans" for summaries.
  • HL Central
    • Harvard keeps a collection of student submitted outlines. Best bet is to do a search by course name/topic.
  • NYU
    • This link is specific to the first year outlines. For upperlevel courses go here.
  • Penn Law
    • Their SBA runs a collection of student outlines. Again, unless you go to school there check out the outlines by course, not professor.
Exams
For general tips on exam taking, checkout The Jurist's Tips , LawNerd's Exam Taking or this article which has a nice little sample outline exam answer. Also helpful is Charles Whitebread's The Eight Secrets of Top Exam Performance in Law School. He actually came to present at my school, and while he wasn't that interesting, we got a free copy of the book. It's not too thick so it is a quick read. Best piece of advice from the book: create checklists. (Happy I spent the time reading the book; I credit my checklists as a large part of my success in law school thus far.)

Your best bet when studying for exams is to try to get an old exam from your specific prof. Even though most subjects only have a limited combination/type of questions that can be asked, professors have their own special way of putting twists on things. Short of availability of specific professors' exams or if you just want to practice issue spotting, then other professors' old exams can be helpful. This listing of old exams are sites that have exams available for all subjects. I'll be posting specific links for each first-year class, and I'll include more specific exam links for those classes.

If anyone has more helpful links to online casebriefs, outlines or old exams please feel free to drop me a line or a comment.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Welcome

This blog will be an ongoing project of compiling advice -- both serious and sarcastic -- regarding those "I-wish-I-would-have-known-then-what-I-know-now" moments that we all experience throughout our three years in the hallowed halls of law school.

We will post a collection of helpful law school links, as well as attempt to maintain a list of incoming 1Ls that we hope will not only come here and solicit advice, but also contribute their "aha" or "I-can't-believe-I-did-that" epiphanies.

So if you'd like to contribute, have a question or a link for us, please shoot us an email: wishIwouldhaveknown@gmail.com.