Monday, August 12, 2019
In college, I majored in business administration with a concentration in finance, but I learned next to nothing about personal finance. Thankfully, my father provided some advice, and I did a bit of reading on the subject before I graduated law school. But I am still learning, and have dug deeper this summer.
More universities should instruct their students on matters of personal finance. As I mentioned a few months ago, I spoke on personal finance for a group of students at my university last school year, and I hope to bring Joey Elsakr to speak at my university this school year. Joey is a graduate student and is the co-founder of the blog Money and Megabytes.
Last week, Joey graciously invited me to guest post on his blog. As I mention in the post, I don’t think I have that much to add to his many useful and detailed posts on personal finance, but I do think personal finance gets a lot more difficult after you have a family (namely because there are so many more non-financial factors to weigh in most financial decisions). I pose some of those difficult questions in the linked post below, and I welcome any thoughts on those questions from our readers.
Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Joey Elsakr, a PHD/MD student at Vanderbilt University, has teamed up with his roommate for a blog called Money & Megabytes. The blog covers personal finance and technology topics, which I think may be of interest to many of our readers and their students.
Last year, convinced that students need more guidance on personal finance, I gave a talk at Belmont University on the topic. Given the very limited advertising of the talk, I was surprised by the strong turnout. The students were quite engaged, and some simple personal finance topics seemed to be news to many of them. I plan on asking Joey to join me in giving a similar talk next year.
One post that I would like to draw our readers' attention to is Joey's recent post on his monthly income/expenses. You can read the entire post here, but here are a few takeaways:
- Know Where Your Money Goes. How many students (or professors!) actually have a firm grasp on where they are spending money? While creating a spreadsheet like Joey's could be time consuming, the information gained can be really helpful (and just recording the information -- down to your nail clippers purchase! -- probably makes you more careful). Bank of America users can create something similar, very quickly, using their free My Portfolio tab.
- Power of Roommates: Many of my students complain of the high rent prices in Nashville. Some have even said "it is impossible to find a decent place for under $1000/mo." Joey pays $600/mo, in a prime location near Vanderbilt, in a nice building, because he has two roommates. Also, because he has roommates, Joey only pays a third of the typical utilities. Now, if you have the wrong roommates, this could be problematic, but having roommates not only helps save you money but also helps work those dispute resolution skills.
- Charitable Giving. I am inspired that Joey, a grad student, devotes a sizable portion of his income to charitable giving. Great example for all of us.
- Multiple Forms of Income. Even though Joey is a dual-degree graduate student at Vanderbilt and training to make the Olympic Trials in the Marathon -- he ran collegiately at Duke University -- Joey has at least four different streams of income. Other than his graduate stipend, his other three streams of income appear to be very flexible, which is probably necessary given his schedule. This income may seem pretty minor, but it adds up over the year, and it gives him less time to spend money.
- Food Budget. This is an area where I think a lot of students and professors could save a good bit of money. My wife and I have started tracking our expenses more closely and the food category is the one where we have made the most savings -- thank you ALDI's. A lot of the food expenses are mindless purchases---for me, coffee and snacks from the Corner Court near my office---and those expenses add up quickly over the month.
Follow Joey's blog. Even though I consider myself fairly well-versed on personal finance topics, Joey recently convinced me that a savings account is the wrong place to house my emergency fund. And I agree with Joey's post here -- paying attention to personal finance can actually be a fun challenge. Joey's blog also introduced me to The Frugal Professor, though I am not sure I am ready to take the cell phone plunge quite yet.
Thursday, July 19, 2018
This summer, I have met with a few of my pre-law advisees who will start their 1L years in a few weeks.
While I have blogged on general advice for students before, I decide to memorialize some of my specific advice for 1Ls.
Of course, every student is different, and this advice may be amended a bit, depending on the student's situation and goals. This advice, for example, assumes a desire to perform well academically. I encourage my co-bloggers to chime in through the comments or in separate posts. My co-blogger Josh Fershee (West Virginia) has already authored two 1L advice posts, which are worth consulting, here and here. It should go without saying that I did not follow all of my own advice, but I wish I had.
- Move into your house or apartment a few weeks early. Moving in early may not be possible for every student, but it is worth doing if you can. Getting settled before the work starts to pile up can help you avoid getting behind early.
- Live alone or with friends with similar schedules. I had some law school friends who lived with non-law students, usually people they knew from college who moved to the same town for a job. In many of these situations, the law school students were distracted from their studies and did not do particularly well in their 1L classes. I had the good fortune of living with an incredibly studious fellow 1L during my first year, and we provided each other with some positive peer pressure. Roommates don't have to be law students, but I would choose someone, like a medical resident, who is likely to be focused on work more than social outings (and is unlikely to throw a Tuesday night party at your place).
- Ask for advice and outlines from 2Ls and 3Ls. Early in the semester seek out the 2L and 3Ls who did well in your professors' classes. You can use law review membership as a proxy, and there may be a list of the students who got the highest grade in each class (usually called "booking" or "CALI-ing" the class). Ask those good students (politely) for their outlines and for tips about taking exams from your professors. Use those outlines--I suggest you get at least 3 for each class--as models and to check your own outlines, but not as an excuse to avoid producing your own outlines. The courses are likely to change a bit each semester, esp. if there is a new edition of the casebook, or if the professor switches casebooks, and much of the value of an outline comes from constructing it yourself. That said, having those other outlines to reference can be quite valuable.
- Consider the pros and cons of study groups. I decided against traditional study groups in law school because the two groups I briefly tried seemed to be (1) wasting a lot of time on law school gossip and (2) sharing their understudied ignorance. There were probably some better study groups, but I did not get invites to those, including one we called "the cult." My roommate and a few other fellow students did, however, form a hybrid group of sorts. We did not meet regularly, as many groups did, but we did share our outlines, and we analyzed practice exams together, which proved extremely helpful.
- Make contacts and be professional. Both the student and professor contacts you make in law school can be invaluable in your career. Also explore the mentor programs through your law school to meet some practicing lawyers. Know that your reputation from law school may follow you into practice, so be professional even if some of your fellow classmates are not (and don't jump off a ferry boat at law prom).
- Meet with your professors. I suggest meeting with each of your professors, in person, in the middle of the semester (and also after finals (and any midterms) to review your exams). The start of the school year is busy and you won't be ready to ask good, substantive questions yet. A month or more into the semester, however, you should meet with your professors, ask for general advice, and pose some questions about your outline. You can also ask your professors to review a practice test answer,though I would limit the review to a single issue (or maybe two).
- Do practice tests. Answering a lot of practice tests (and analyzing the answers with smart friends to see what I missed) helped me immensely in law school. If your professor provides practice tests, those are the best ones to use, but you can also find practice tests from other schools posted online (or through your friends at other law schools). For some of the practice exams we would just issue spot, but I think it is important to fully write out, and time, at least one full practice exam per class.
- Start your outlines early and start actively studying 6 weeks out. Start your outlines very early, in the first week or two of school. Outlining is much more important than briefing the cases, in my opinion, though I would attempt to brief cases for a while too, so you learn that skill. I quickly learned I preferred book briefing to briefing on a Word document. About 6 weeks before finals started, my friends any I started actively studying for finals. Obviously, we had been outlining and reading all along, but at 6 weeks until the first exam we really started studying. We would devote a week to each subject--flushing out our outlines and doing practice exams. We still kept up with our other classes, but we devoted 1-2 hours per day to the subject of that week. In the week before finals, we spent one day on each class, finalizing the outlines and writing out practice exams under the time limits of that class.
- Have a life outside of law school, but try to minimize additional responsibilities. Some law students only focus on academics during law school, especially in the first year, and I think this is a mistake. But it is also a mistake, in my book, to overcommit yourself, given that your 1L grades will be the focus of employers looking to hire summer associates in the fall of your 2L year. Intramural flag football, for example, helped keep me sane. Also, I typically did no law school related work from Friday evenings until Saturday evenings (though this practice was mostly abandoned close to finals). While it is important to have one or two non-law outlets, I also know law students who got overextended with extracurriculars and regret that choice during interview season.
- Eat well, exercise regularly, and get consistent, sufficient sleep. It is difficult to do all three of these in law school, but well worth it if you can. Packing some healthy food the night before can help you from living out of the snack machine. Most law schools are attached to universities that have nice gyms. And if you do not get consistent, sufficient sleep you will quickly see diminishing returns on your studying.
Good luck and enjoy the process!
Friday, November 17, 2017
Paul Caron (Pepperdine) reports that Wake Forest Law has become the 10th law school to accept the GRE. The law school will continue to accept the LSAT.
Those ten law schools (in chronological order, from earliest adopter to most recent adopter) are:
- Washington University,
- St. John's,
- Texas A&M,
- Wake Forest
This shift to accepting the GRE at Wake Forest Law has, apparently, been in the works for over 18 months, and Christine Hurt (BYU) had a nice post on some of the early discussion. Around that time, in February of 2016, Arizona became the first law school to accept the GRE.
Like Christine Hurt, I think this move to including the GRE is probably a good thing, especially if the GRE is shown to be just as predictive as the LSAT. The GRE is offered much more frequently than the LSAT and some pre-law students will have already taken the GRE. Also, I am generally in favor of competition, and the LSAC/LSAT has had a monopoly on law school admissions tests for quite a long time.
It looks like U.S. News is already converting GRE scores into comparable LSAT scores for ranking purposes. If U.S. News had not acted, this would have been a pretty big loophole for law schools to exploit.
For pre-law advisors, like me, I think we should definitely let students know of the GRE option at some schools. The GRE may be an especially good option for students who are likely to go to graduate school, but are not yet entirely sure which direction they will go. It also may give students more options if the LSAT's limited testing dates do not work for them. Finally, I don't think the GRE has logic game questions, which some students really struggle with, and therefore students could avoid those questions with the GRE. On the downside, only about 5% of ABA-accredited schools currently accept the GRE. That said, I expect the number of law schools accepting the GRE to rise rapidly over the next few years.
Friday, August 19, 2016
Belmont University starts classes on Wednesday. Below I share a few tips for new students. Josh posted a good list earlier this week, but my list is a bit different, perhaps because I teach primarily undergraduate and graduate business students. None of these is new or earthshattering, but, like many simple things, they remain difficult to put into action.
- Be Professional. As I often tell my students, you start building your reputation in school. I have declined business opportunities from former classmates because I remembered how they conducted themselves in school. Be on time, be prepared, be thoughtful, and be honest. We should recognize that people change over time and be open to giving second chances, but, unfortunately, not everyone will be quick to change an opinion they form of you while you are in school.
- Get to Know Your Classmates and Your Professors. Building relationships is an important aspect of personal and professional life. It is tempting to just put your head down in school and not spend time trying to form strong bonds. An incredible number of students never meet with their professors or only meet with them right before a project or an exam. Professors and classmates are worth getting to know as an end in and of itself, but can also have tangible benefits like better recommendation letters and client referrals.
- Use Laptops Carefully, If At All. There is a growing body of research that shows taking handwritten notes is better for learning the information than typing. For law students, I understand that it can be helpful to have your notes typed to jumpstart your outlines, but, at the very least, disable your internet connection while in class. We are not as good at multitasking as we think.
- Outline Early and Do Practice Tests. Staying on top of your outlining will give you a bit of time later in the semester to do practice tests. In graduate school, most students can memorize the course materials, but practice applying the material properly is often what propels students into the "excellent" category.
- Work Hard, but Schedule Breaks and Take Care of Yourself. It took me a while to learn this, but you actually perform better when you work hard and take care of yourself. For me, this means at least 7 hours of consistently placed sleep, nutritious meals (including breakfast), exercise at least 4x a week, and one day a week detached from work. Even during law school, I consistently put my books down for one 24-hour period during the week (with an exception for the exam period). Some students need to be reminded to work harder; law school should require the work of a full-time job in my opinion. Other students, however, get caught up in the competition and the rigor, and forget the importance of taking care of themselves.
Hope the fall semester is good to all our readers.
Friday, August 1, 2014
This year, I will be teaching undergraduate, MBA, and law students at Belmont University. As an undergraduate professor, I often advise students considering law school.
I focus on helping prospective law students make an informed decision. Formally or informally, I usually walk the students through a simple cost/benefit analysis. Even with all the information about law schools out there now, most students still need some help navigating.
Usually, I ask prospective law students a lot of questions, including at least some of the ones below.
If readers have constructive additions to my list, please e-mail me or leave a comment. I am always trying to improve my advising.
- Why do you want to go to law school? (The student’s answer can be illuminating. Answers that are essentially – to please my parents or because I don’t know what else to do or because I want to get rich – should cause the student to think a bit harder. I think there is now enough data out there that students can see that there are much better avenues to getting rich than going to law school.)
- Do you understand the total financial cost of going to law school? (See Law School Transparency).
- Do you understand the opportunity cost of going to law school? (There has been a lot written about the financial cost of law school, but the opportunity cost of law school is worthy of more attention. Even if a student receives a full scholarship, they are often giving up $120,000 or more in income over the three years of law school. Also, if the student does not enjoy law school (I enjoyed it, but many don't) then they need to factor in the cost of three painful years.)
- Do you understand the demands of the law school curriculum? (Some weak students are simply not well prepared for the rigors of law school.)
- Do you understand the educational benefits of law school? (While the value of learning to “think like a lawyer” has been called into question by some, critical thinking and writing skills are clearly useful. Whether the benefits are worth the costs is a more difficult question.)
- Do you understand the various career paths of a law graduate? (A number of the career paths taken by law graduates are possible without the costs of a law degree. (E.g., certain government work and many business positions.))
- Do you understand what different types of lawyers do on a daily basis? (Interning for a legal organization (if possible in this economic environment), or at least meeting with a handful of lawyers, can help students better understand what a career in law is actually like. Far too many students get their thoughts on the life of a lawyer from TV shows and movies.)
- Do you understand the bi-modal distribution of entry level lawyer salaries? (Surprisingly, despite valiant efforts of many, quite a few prospective law students are still not aware of the distribution of law graduate salaries).
- Do you know the median salary of graduates of the schools you are looking at and what percentage of graduates actually land jobs as lawyers? (See school's ABA disclosures, e.g., Berkeley Law).
The list is a bit over-focused on the financial side of law school and law practice. Personally, I think finding a career that allows autonomy, mastery, and purpose is more important than finding a career that pays well, but finances should not be overlooked.
These questions are for students who are still not 100% certain they want to go to law school. Once they are informed, and decide that they do want to attend law school, I walk them through things like a proper understanding of the US News Rankings and the strengths and weaknesses of the schools they are considering.