Law school

Todd Henderson: Ridiculous Law Professor

If you’re a University of Chicago Law Professor, married to a doctor, with a combined household income of over $250k/year, um, stop whining. Seriously. You sound like a complete asshat.

It’s hard to believe this man is allowed to teach anyone anything. Apparently, his “research interests” include “corporations, securities regulation, bankruptcy, law and economics, and intellectual property.” Shock.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness and You

If you’re a public defender (or just about any other government or “public service” lawyer) with student loans, you’ve probably heard that there’s a way to get your federal loans forgiven after you make payments for a while. Well, it’s true! Just make 120 “qualifying” payments on “eligible” loans while working “full time” in a “public service” job and after those 120 payments (10 years), the full balance of all your federal loans (including interest) will be forgiven! Easy, right?

Well, yes and no, but after spending the last two days fighting the loan monsters, I think I might have this figured out. It’s not easy, but it’s not that hard, either.

Start at Equal Justice Works. They’ve done all the hard work for you. Download their Public Service Loan Forgiveness Checklist and follow it to the letter. The first step is to find out what kind of loans you have by checking the National Student Loan Data System. As EJW explains here, even if you’ve already consolidated your loans, you may need to do it again because you might have Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) consolidations instead of Federal Direct consolidations. FFEL loans do not qualify for public service loan forgiveness, so you will need to reconsolidate those FFEL consolidations to make them Direct consolidations. Silly, but true. My understanding is if you do your consolidations through the Federal Direct Consolidation program, the resulting Direct consolidation loans will be eligible for forgiveness. Be sure to read all the rules and disclaimers about consolidation because it may raise your interest rates. That’s not a problem if you’re certain you’re going to keep that public service job for 10 years so all your federal student loan debt will be forgiven, but it could make a big difference over time if you’re not so sure.

Once all of your federal student loans are converted to qualifying Direct consolidation loans, you have to make sure you’re making qualifying payments. The College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA) says that qualifying payments are those made under the “standard,” income-based repayment (IBR), or income-contingent repayment (ICR) programs. That’s true, but it’s misleading. My loans were all in “standard” repayment, so I figured those payments would qualify toward my 120 needed for forgiveness. Wrong. My “standard” payment plan was for a 20-year term on some loans and a 30-year term on others. Payments made on the “standard” repayment plan only qualify if you’re paying on a 10-year term. And, of course, if you’re making standard payments on a 10-year term, you will pay off your loans in 10 years, so there will be no forgiveness. So the “standard,” 10-year repayment plan is technically eligible for forgiveness, but, well, whatever. Just forget about the standard repayment plan; you need the IBR or ICR.

ICR is basically interest-only; payments must at least equal the accrued interest each month and length of repayment is up to 15 years. If you want to maximize the amount that gets forgiven after 10 years, and if you qualify, the IBR is may be the better way to go.

I went for the IBR, which is explained pretty well here. You have to qualify for IBR by having some financial hardship which means that your “standard” repayment plan payment would be more than 15% of your “disposable” adjusted gross income (AGI). To figure out what that means, get your AGI from your most recent tax return — it’s your gross minus deductions, which means it’s probably a lot less than your gross. Then find the Annual Poverty Guideline for your household size. (Check here for updates.) Multiply your Poverty Guideline by 1.5, then subtract that number from your AGI. This number is your “disposable” AGI. If your annual payments under the standard repayment plan are more than 15% of your disposable AGI, you qualify for IBR.

Note: Your payment under IBR should be no more than 15% of your disposable AGI (so your monthly payment should be your disposable AGI divided by 12). It seems the Direct Loan people are not always calculating your IBR payment correctly; they are apparently basing your payment on gross income rather than AGI. See more at IBRinfo and in the IBR Forum at EJW for what you can do to correct this so you can get the lowest monthly payments — and greatest loan forgiveness — possible.

Once you’ve done all that, just call up your loan servicer and request to change your payment plan on your federal loans to the IBR plan. This should theoretically reduce your monthly payments on your federal loans, but more importantly if you make 120 of these payments, you can then ask the federal government to forgive the balance of your federal student loan debt. Yes!

Of course, no one has ever done this because the program just started in 2007 (and was actually sort of phased in over time), so the Department of Education hasn’t even developed the form that you’ll eventually use to apply for forgiveness. That means theoretically you could think you’ve done everything right and make your payments for 10 years only to find out, whoops! you missed something somewhere and all those payments didn’t qualify!

Needless to say, that would be a huge bummer. If there’s a way to avoid that, it’s making sure you have the best information. Don’t rely on anything you read here! Do your own research and make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row. I’ll try to update this if I find out anything new. Also, there are more tips and tidbits in the EJW loan forgiveness podcast, so check that out, too.


Random thought while reading 9 REasons Not to Attend Law School”: Lawyers who regret and complain about choosing to become lawyers are a little like addicts complaining about taking their first drink, hit, whatever. Shut up and deal, people.

And yes, I’m talking to myself here.

BTW: I’m still trying to figure out what to do with this blog. Patly because it’s so dormant, I sometimes feel official retirement is the way to go. And then I think, no, it just needs to be changed up. And then I think: Quit distracting yourself from studying for the bar, you idiot!

Return of Law Mom, and Best Wishes

Welcome back to Kim, formerly of the blog known as “Mother In Law,” who has returned to blogging at the same url but under the title The Merits of the Case. Kim is a blogger with a fascinating perspective on life — for many reasons. Kim started blogging a couple of years ago as she started law school; her goal at the time was to write about what it was like for a mother with several children to rearrange her life in order to attend law school full time while also continuing to be a mom. But, as she explained in an email:

I took my blog (Mother In Law) down back in January of this year. I was finding it hard to balance school and the kids, and I felt pressure to write (granted, from myself) but I never had the time. I decided to just can the whole thing and be the best blog reader I could be instead. I’ve missed posting from time to time when I have a really good law school story or when awesome people like Martha and Jen publish books and I’ve contemplated beginning to blog again, but I wasn’t motivated enough to do it. Until now.

Last week, after several weeks of tests and worrying, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was out of the blue and has meant quite an adjustment for me and my family. (Should make law school pretty interesting, too.) . . . I decided to reinstate the blog as a way to keep my family and friends up to date about what’s going on with my treatment.

Kim has already begun the process of keeping her readers updated about the progress of both the cancer and her treatment; her first few posts provide an intimate first-person account of the early surgery and diagnosis. Those posts also put law school right in its place as Kim writes:

The idea of a law school casebook reading assignment is surprisingly comforting to me. I never thought I’d say that briefing cases and reading procedural rules could be comforting, but I think it is because it is familiar and I know how to do that. I haven’t quite figured out how to have cancer yet.

What, other than cancer, could possibly make law school seem comforting? ((Of course, I must confess that, after being out of law school for a year, I have, at times, looked back on it fondly and have even occasionally wished for the days of reading cases and preparing for classes, but it’s different if you’re in it. This point also stands out especially vividly as I read Ivy Briefs, which is really all about how law school tends to destroy a person’s perspective on absolutely everything else. More on that in another post…)) That’s only part of what I mean when I say that Kim has a fascinating perspective on life; she’s a writer from whom we can all learn a great deal. She’s also a blogger who can use her reader’s support, so if you have had cancer and overcome it or know someone who has, or if you just have insights to share, stop by The Merits of the Case and say hello. [tags] cancer, blogfriends, books[/tags]

The Trials of Law School

So you think you want to go to law school but you just can’t decide/ Well, as I’ve often said, there are many reasons not to go to law school. One is that it puts you in so much debt. Another is that, well, it can sort of suck. And, despite there being dozens if not hundreds of books on the subject of what law school is like, it still seems hard to know what you might be getting into before you actually decide to go.

Enter “The Trials of Law School,” a new film that attempts to provide at least 6 more answers to those all-important questions about what law school is like and whether it’s right for you. According to promotional materials for the film:

The Trials of Law School is a fascinating feature documentary film about the law school experience that follows 6 students through their grueling first year of law school. With different backgrounds and expectations, these students struggle to balance their families and personal lives while learning a new language, a new way of thinking and a new way of life. The film also features distinguished legal scholars and professors from 25 law schools across the country.

It sounds like it might be just the thing for those potential law students who just aren’t sure it’s really what they want to do. ((This public service announcement has been brought to you by the letter P.)) [tags]movies[/tags]

Debt (So you think you want to go to law school?)

The Miami Herald recently ran a story about how hard it is for public interest lawyers to pay their law school debt. Boy, do I feel that pain. Here are the numbers, for the record:

  1. Total debt as of April 18, 2007 (it grows every day w/interest): $171,568.01
  2. Monthly take-home at $43k/year: $2311.84
  3. Monthly loan payment: $1134.21
  4. Remainder for living expenses (including rent, car payment, credit card payments, food, and entertainment): $1177.63
  5. Effective annual salary after loan payments: $14,131.56

If you think that doesn’t sound bad, add up your monthly bills and see how close you are to $1100. I know lots of people live on less, but it’s not super-fun. And can I just say that credit cards are evil? That’s what’s going to kill me, I swear.

On the bright side, GW has a Loan Reimbursement Assistance Program (LRAP). That is, in fact, one of the reasons I decided to go to law school there in the first place. Now, if all goes well (meaning the program has enough money for me, they decide to give me some, and their calculations come out the same as mine), that program should reduce my monthly loan payments to $532.58. That’s still a lot, but way, way better.

The point of this post is give prospective law students an idea of what law school debt really looks like once you start paying it back. It could be worse, but it’s definitely not pretty. If you’re thinking about taking on massive debt for law school, I’m not saying it’s not worth it, but I am saying that you should listen to the advice you’ll hear over and over and over again: Scrape by on the lowest amount of borrowing you possibly can, and, no matter what, don’t charge up your credit cards! Also, if you think you might want to work for the public interest, go to a law school w/an LRAP—it just might make the difference between a little pain and a lot.
[tags]loans, lrap, gw, debt[/tags]

GW Law School: All Fun and Games

It seems the students currently attending my alma mater ((I think “bountiful mother” is really over the top as a moniker for a school you’ve attended. Perhaps that’s why only pretentious putzes — such as myself, apparently — use silly latin phrases like that.)) are finding themselves w/far too much time on their hands.

Introducing Not the Bene at GW Law, a sort of blog/newsletter filled with satirical and humorous stories about the life and times of GW Law School. If you’re a recent grad, don’t miss the revelations about Prof. Friedenthal ((To me Friedenthal will always be the kindly man who taught me almost nothing about evidence, but that may not have been as much his fault as mine.)) or the lowdown on Mr. Cakelove. ((I miss Cakelove and I think I was only in there twice. It’s not about whether I went there, it’s about the fact that when I lived in DC I could have gone there any time I wanted. Now I can’t. Nostalgia blows.))

Best of all, the recent riff on the “Cart Lady” also links to a discussion board thread listing reasons to attend GW. Suddenly I can’t imagine how I could have ever regretted going there myself. [tags]humor, GW[/tags]

No! I didn’t study!

I had a random dream about law school last night — the first I can remember in a long time. Class was getting out and I was stuffing my notes into a big accordian file when another student asked me if I thought maybe it was time to try to organize my things a little more. In my mind I realized that this student knew that I was just stuffing every note and paper I got from law school into this file and never looking at it again. So I confessed to that. I said, “Sure, but that would mean I’d have to spend time on school outside of class, and I never do that.”

“Well, that exam next week is going to be pretty tough,” this student said seriously. I smiled and nodded and got the heck out of there but I woke myself up with the miserable anxiety of “OMG, I haven’t studied! That test is going to kill me! I don’t know any of this stuff! OMG! OMG!”

Sometimes I miss law school (mostly all the “free” time it offers). Not today.

What winter break?

PD Wannabe is loving her ((I’m making a gender guess here. Apologies if I’m wrong.)) winter break from law school. I’m so jealous I think I might cry.

As I was going through law school I didn’t enjoy the actual school part all that much. I was constantly disappointed with what we learned and the way the academic culture seemed to reward regurgitation of material rather than any attempt to advance it. Of course, now that I’m working I look back with much greater fondness on law school and one of the things I miss most is all the free time. Compared to my life now, law school looks like a three year vacation.

So enjoy it while you can, PD Wannabe. Work is great, but there really is nothing that beats a true winter break. And spring break. And summer off. And fall break. And all the hours in every day that are “free” for you to fill as you choose.