Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Moonlighters Tackle Their Law School Debt

From the National Law Journal:

By day, Dan Griffin conducts preliminary hearings, interviews police officers and prepares drug cases as a prosecutor for the Cook County State Attorney's Office in Chicago.At 6:30 p.m., he sheds his suit and tie, dons jeans and a hard hat and heads to his night job, doing construction for Great Lakes Heating and Plumbing, where he toils until about 1:30 a.m.

On weekends, you'll find Griffin bartending and refereeing children's basketball games.Griffin's schedule may be grueling, but the 27-year-old says it's necessary to pay off his $70,000 law school loan, save up for a house and simply make ends meet as the cost of living skyrockets. He is desperately hoping a law school student loan forgiveness bill he's been hearing about for years takes effect some time soon so he can quit one of his part-time jobs — and maybe have a social life.

"I never thought I'd be working this hard as a lawyer," said Griffin. "I love my job, but the guys I work with on construction, who are union, make more than I do as a lawyer. It's pretty ridiculous."

Griffin is part of a growing group of prosecutors and assistant public defenders who are moonlighting to make ends meet.Government lawyers have traditionally turned to teaching at their law school, tutoring or even doing a few wills or real estate closings on the side to supplement their income. That is, the ones who don't flee after a few years for lucrative private practices.

The article goes on to explain the condition I know too well: outrageous student loan debt and (relatively) low wages. Luckily I don't have it quite as bad as the folks profiled - living in Chicago on incomes of $35k - but I don't have it much better either. The proposed solution - student loan forgiveness - doesn't apply to my current position - believe me I looked into it - but I think it's a great idea. We need qualified people to serve as public defenders and public interest attorneys and if we can't pay people enough to stay in those positions then society is pretty much screwed.

I tend to take a more optimistic tone about the situation though - my glass is almost always half full people - and think of the emotional and intellectual fulfillment that my education gave me. Sure I could be working as a cashier with no debt but that's not the life I chose and I have few regrets.

Interestingly, the idea of moonlighting was also mentioned in CNN today, with a twist. This article talks about employees who work second jobs during the work hours of their primary job, daylighting they call it. I think as long as your employer is okay with it, why not? I let my work know when I was performing the real estate closing and they were cool with it. They've even paid for me to go to professional advancement courses. In reality I think they don't expect me to stay here for too long and are just glad for my underpaid talent. Sigh. If only my dream job would come a-knocking.


Shtinkykat said...

As bad as your SL loans (and mine) are, at least it has given us an opportunity to obtain a marketable skill. I agree with your earlier post where you commented that a non-specialized college degree often only lands you a low-paying, admin job. So, although I struggle paying back $100k+ in SL, I'm glad I have my degree. Also, I've read that the credit crunch is making it difficult for new students to obtain loans. It's unfortunate that opportunities to obtain higher education (that was already difficult to begin with) may be closing off to many young people.

Jim ~ said...

I debated not going off to college because the web took off in 1999. There was a lot of jobs out there I could do right out of high school, so college wasn't a priority. Instead of completely ignoring college, I took the ACT and applied to 3 schools and got accepted to all of them mostly due to carrying a high GPA. Months before high school graduation I decided to go college and during my freshman year in 2001 the dot com bomb dropped.

One regret I have regarding student loans is not trying to do more while I was in school. If I would have worked more and not needed the loans, it would make my situation much easier today. I'm lucky to have at least had money on the side to cover roughly half the cost of college before getting there. It's easier to save for 10+ years but much more difficult to come up with the same in the few years I was there.

Even though I'm out and make more money per year than my entire college education cost me, I still have to pay the bills. After 3 years I've got my student loans under 20k. I'm going to try to pay more on my loans to rapidly get rid of them after the credit card debt is gone. I took out the loans and I'm going to pay them back. It takes time but I'm probably better off in the long run.

Sallie's Niece said...

I was the ONLY one of my friends who worked during college. But I still manged to rack up about $40k in loans. And I managed to take out a lot less loans than my friends in law school because of a grant I won but alas, it still all adds up. There is one loan I regret taking and that's the one I defaulted on - which I of course also regret (ugh).

I worry for future generations. Makes me think about sending my kids to college in Canada.

Savings not Shoes said...

Law school debt is a huge reason why I ended up in England. Law firms pay for lawyers to go to law school (shocking, I know!). I still have $45k from undergrad. None of my (english) friends have student loans over $5k, even lawyers. Send your kids to school in Europe. I will (if I have any).

Keri said...

I went to school to become a paralegal, but didn't go to a 4 year college. I went to a 2 year technical college because I didn't want to be bogged down will all those school loans just to say that I went to UGA, for example which is the nearest college to me. Sure, I'm not in a law firm that I would like to be in, but I am at a law firm and I get a paycheck, so right now that's all that matters.

Lady Snark said...

I don't agree with loan forgiveness programs, generally speaking (the exception would be programs that allow you to accept a job at a lower wage in exchange for wiping out $xx of debt, and I know there are at least a few such education programs in place). I also believe that the only time a student loan debtor should engage a lawyer is if they were lied to or tricked. Even then, it's not automatic. Because you do need to read the contract and know what you're getting into. A lot of people don't, at their own peril.

It's basic supply and demand. If your education costs far more than you can expect to make at your prospective career, that's a pretty clear sign that you're entering a saturated job market. Lawyers would make more if there weren't way too many of them. So maybe now is not the time to be a lawyer.

It's not that I don't sympathize with the fact that some of you guys have to work 4 jobs to scrape by. That sucks. All I am saying is that it is not a problem that should be solved by the government. You chose to take on the debt and the career knowing that it was an overcrowded buyer's market.