Archive for June 2013

By “Every Law Student”

When it comes to the statistical side of law school, sins of omission are the worst disservice for students. Future law students rely on both admissions and employment data to decide which law school will help them attain their dreams. Graduates need this data, too, because it is supposed to be an accurate representation of who is working and where. And yet, there are still so many unknown factors. Law schools do not always choose to publicize salary data, and they do not necessarily break down the data in a way that is helpful for students. Worst of all, this data does not tell the full story of how graduates attained (or did not attain) employment.

That’s not to say that law school statistical reporting hasn’t improved since many of us started law school. On March 31, the American Bar Association began to require every law school to place its class of 2012 employment outcomes data chart on its website. This requirement is under ABA Standard 509, which requires the posting of basic consumer information in a “fair, accurate and not misleading” manner. Law School Transparency, a nonprofit dedicated to reporting the most accurate statistics possible about admissions and post-graduate employment, now publicizes this data in an easily digestible way. The group also advocates for legal education reform, including student loan reform.

But despite these improvements, there is still so much information that students and graduates need. Employment data are collected nine months after graduation, but graduates who are living on loans need to know how long their fellow grads waited to get that dream entry-level job or that temporary job that will be over in six months. Graduates may not have a large safety net that will let them pay rent and utilities until they can get a job. In the modern era, how difficult would it be to contact students to double-check their employment status twice a year for at least two years? This method could create work-study jobs for current students and foster a conversation about how to prepare graduates for an unexpected career trajectory.

All law students need accurate, detailed salary data. Expectations about how much new lawyers should be paid can run the gamut from $40,000 to $150,000. Considering how costly law school is and since private loans are non-dischargeable, knowing how much or how little that a graduate could expect to make will help students modulate their expectations and prepare a realistic budget.

Of course, the tricky part is that these needs conflict with the desire of law schools to continue attracting new students. Graduates can overcome this issue by banding together and telling the truth on their own. There is no dedicated group that collects and analyzes anecdotal data to explain how graduates got their jobs or survived that long period of unemployment. Many grads are hiding this information from most of us – their LinkedIn profiles have not been updated in months and they are cagey when you ask them what they’re up to these days. If graduates spoke the truth, and spoke it loudly so that everyone could hear, current students would have a better idea of what to expect after they remove their caps and gowns. All graduates need is a website and decent organizational skills. These anecdotes would send a clear message that these unemployment and underemployment issues do not disappear after one set of job data spanning nine months. Perhaps these anecdotes could inspire legislative improvements.

There is not much that current students can do to change the job market, but there are ways to arm us with better information so that we have a better idea of what to expect. We just need everyone’s help.

– “Every Law Student” anonymously speaks for ever-present anxieties, worries, and frustrations of most of recent law school graduates and those who are still in school. –

Will Work for Change

By Melanie Morgon

If you have seen the recent CNN film Escape Fire, a documentary that “examines the powerful forces maintaining the status quo, a medical industry designed for quick fixes rather than prevention, for profit-driven care rather than patient-driven care,” you will recall its laser sharp criticism on a broken health care system. The moniker offered by one of the characters in the film will come as no surprise to anyone who has had much interaction with that system: it’s a “Disease Care System.” The system doesn’t want you to die, but it doesn’t want you to get better either, because illness makes the system hum. Insurance companies and Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement policies require professionals to spend less and less time with each patient, and the results are not surprising. Doctors treat the same symptoms repeatedly, but they cannot afford to spend the time required with each patient to get to the root of the problem.

It seems that for some time, we have had similar problems with the current structure of our legal system: it isn’t designed for legal health. Far too many people, both poor and middle-class, are unaware of their own legal needs until a crisis arrives. Even those who do realize they need legal assistance are often unable to access that help, for economic and other reasons. Nor can the legal community’s pro bono contributions fill the gap. This is as true of civil concerns, such as wills and family law, as it is of criminal matters. The problem was well-articulated recently in an article commemorating the 50th anniversary of the right to counsel: there is “no shortage of lawyers to do this work”; what we lack is the will. In fact, until we develop a structure or system that will permit most people to be able to afford basic legal services, pro bono contributions will never be adequate.

Rethinking how we provide legal services, however, is one place to start. Lawyers in the profession can be at the forefront of the kind of change necessary. What is required now, and may be easiest imagined in our current era of under-employed new lawyers, is a fundamental re-casting of our roles. Developing solutions to this long-term problem will take not just creative thinking, but a radical shift in the legal topography. It will also take courage: the courage to challenge the status quo in our own profession; the courage to challenge the ways we think about working with clients and the way we think about who pays for what services; and the courage to challenge our own ideas about adequate income, even in the face of extraordinary student loan debt.

I have a great deal more sympathy now for my mechanic some years ago, who was not particularly enthusiastic when I kept asking him to keep my 1980-something Yugo on the road. As my mechanic knew, what I needed was a different car, not a repaired Yugo, but that was a solution I could not afford. I do not pretend to be a legal expert, but it doesn’t take much expertise to realize that like the “disease care system” in Escape Fire, our present structure is not designed for good legal health generally. Indeed, like the health care system, if you have plenty of cash and access to information, you probably do not have to worry too much about your legal health. So let’s say that takes care of, what, 10 percent? One percent? As for the rest, well, given the staggering numbers of middle and working class people who have basic legal needs unmet, we have a lot of work left to do. We also have plenty of evidence that the system as it exists is insufficient to meet that need, despite high numbers of unemployed new lawyers. I may not have expected to be working toward a more effective system when I chose law as a second career, but I also didn’t get into this to preserve the status quo. I look forward to finding ways to make changes and implement them with as many of you as I can.

– Melanie Morgon is graduating from Northeastern University School of Law.  Her future plans are to pass the bar, to finish a book proposal on Earth Law with a Canadian colleague, look for work (ideally in the areas of sustainable agriculture, food insecurity, but realistically, anywhere), and to spend more time with her new granddaughter. –

By Tasha Kates

If you spend your free time standing outside in a neon Legal Observer hat at local rallies or you escort employees to union votes, please turn the page. This article is not for you. For everyone else – the students who feel they do not have the time to volunteer for anything or those who want to do something positive but do not know exactly what to do – this one’s for you.

No matter what life experiences that you had before coming to law school, the intensity that greets you in the lecture hall is enough to knock you into survival mode and onto a diet of coffee and fear. By the end of the semester, any bubbly excitement that you may have had has been replaced by the paralyzing dread of trying to regurgitate all of that knowledge in your finals. A life outside of law school seems more difficult to keep or attain with each passing day.

I thought it would just be 1L that sapped our ability to do anything else but study, but apparently law school veterans have this problem, too. After surviving 1L, we choose how we spend our time inside and outside of the classroom. In our second year, we’re usually pretty busy. We can finally make our own choices about what classes to take and what activities to join. The third year brings the weight of graduation, taking the bar and finding that great first job (or one that will hire us). By the end of law school, most of us have a handful of interesting classes, a few internships and an activity or two to our names. On paper, it looks like we accomplished something.

But outside of law school, injustice still reigns. Companies stop the formation of unions. Untrained police officers violate the constitutional rights of citizens. After each violent act, authorities respond with new methods that infringe on our rights to privacy. It is not enough to read about these incidents, tilt your head to the side and think, “Oh, that’s a shame. I should retweet this before class.” Change requires thought and action, the latter of which we rarely get in doctrinal classes.

There is a momentum to change – once you start making it, you cannot stop. After this year’s Gala, I’m pretty sure that some of the best examples of how to proactively make change are found in our law schools. Both Lipou Laliemthavisay from Roger Williams University School of Law and Sharlyn Grace from Northeastern University of School of Law received this year’s student awards, and for good reason. Laliemthavisay has focused her energy on bringing people together to fight for a cause – she has organized rallies, brought the NLG Northeast Regional Conference to her school and helped found her school’s NLG chapter. Grace’s energies have been put into protecting the rights of groups – watching over those who assemble at rallies, supporting those who want to unionize and speaking up for the future of legal education.

The previous award winners in this category are just as dedicated to their causes. Both 2012 winners, Lauren Marcous (Western New England) and Marianne Tassone (Boston University), restarted their respective NLG student chapters. The 2011 winner, Liz Dedrick (Northeastern), advocated for hospitality workers and unemployed people while she was in law school. In 2010, Charlotte “Charlie” Noss (Northeastern) led campaigns to support union contract improvements for the school’s janitors, while Josh Raisler Cohn (Northeastern) served as an advocate and a legal observer to support low-income people, activists, organizers, criminal defendants and more.

All of these award winners have something in common – they understand that the social change that our communities need cannot wait three years until we graduate. At a minimum, I think we should consider a commitment to supporting others as part of our graduation requirement. We can start with just a few hours of time – let’s attend a legal observer or street law training so we can watch out for and help protect the rights of others. Let’s register for a clinic or an internship that creates or supports social change. But most importantly, let’s speak up and speak out when we see regressive actions or policies that we want to change. No cause close to your heart? No problem. Try everything.

Our classmates have done a terrific job of trying to change a bit of the world before they re-enter it as lawyers. Let’s stop waiting and watching. We can join them.

-Tasha Kates just finished her second year at Northeastern University School of Law.-

By Northeastern NLG Students

Friday, May 3rd might have been three days before 1L finals, but that didn’t stop 15 Northeastern students from joining friends, mentors and colleagues at the annual Massachusetts NLG Gala. True, we had a special reason for attending in droves this time- our dear friend Sharlyn Grace was being honored with a student award. And yes, many of us were eager to hear Professor Noam Chomsky speak, and to pay tribute to the late Emily Novick. But to be honest, we left-leaning Northeasterners are always excited for an opportunity to meet law students, lawyers and legal workers involved in the kind of organizing and movement work we envision ourselves doing as lawyers one day… after we make it through several more rounds of exams. So we were excited to hear organizer and Legal Worker Honoree Rita Sebastian and Law Student Honoree Lipou Laliemthavisay from Roger Williams University.

  

The Gala was at the beautiful Villa Victoria in the South End. There was dinner, prepared by Haley House, as well as an entertaining and not-very-silent auction (one day, after the aforementioned exams and the not-mentioned jobs we hope follow, we too will contribute here). There was great company, including many of our beloved Northeastern faculty and guild members, both lawyers and non-lawyers. And most of us stuck around for the dance party at the end, which featured a fun, multi-generational mix of music that kept us on our feet for an hour. In short, the evening was a blast.

  

There were more serious moments, of course. During the awards presentation, Sharlyn talked about her experience working with Occupy and with Northeastern service workers, and reminded us that our role is not possible without the strong organizing of people on the ground. We were pleased to hear from Occupy Boston actvist Rita Sebastian who talked about the importance and necessity of grassroot organizing and interwining of all fights for social and political change. Lipou Laliemthavisay recalled how a small group of Roger Williams School of Law students established, for the first time ever, an NLG student chapter and what organizing their chapter has been involved in. We listened to the moving tribute to late Emily Novick by her husband and son. Emily was a Guild member for a long time; she passed away in December 2012. Finally, Professor Noam Chomsky spoke about being represented by Guild attorneys after being arrested at a protest against the Vietnam War, and the important role Guild members must play in supporting social movements today. He spoke about how increased surveillance and advances in technology represent new tools of political repression and threats to free expression. Then he made it clear how necessary the Guild is in such a context, and how much vigilance and creativity we will need to muster as advocates.

   

As law students, we are lucky to be part of and supported by such a strong and active Guild chapter. This year alone we have held several Street Law Clinic trainings, participated in numerous actions and demonstrations as legal observers, and attended Guild events and happy hours to learn more about issues that are important to us and meet practitioners in the field.

The Massachusetts chapter of NLG is an important resource to us as student members, and we were thrilled to celebrate its work and legacy at the Gala.

 

By Laurel Goldstein and Steve Toff

In the United States, education – the act of imparting knowledge – has been reduced to a commodity to be bought and sold, like crude oil or soybeans. The price of this commodity has risen exponentially in the past 30 years:1 student loan debt, now at over a trillion dollars, has “surpassed credit cards as the largest source of unsecured consumer debt” in our nation.2 Interestingly, the market-driven price tags that create this student debt burden are unique to the American higher education system. Most European universities have either no tuition costs or only negligible fees. Even “poor” countries, such as Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Kenya, Morocco and Mauritius, have eliminated tuition fees. And while countless other countries still charge university tuition, none of these compare to the cost in the United States. While universities do have inherent operating costs, other parts of the world have chosen to pay for them through tax revenue: they have essentially socialized education.

A nation that chooses to invest in education is investing in its collective future. In the U.S., every state constitution includes a provision for free public elementary and secondary education, because society has recognized the value and necessity of educating its masses. No one would force a child to take out student loans to pay for high school. But last summer, Congress made it more difficult for students to finance higher education: it ended the subsidization of federal loans for graduate and professional education, and doubled interest rates to 6.8 percent. Students across this country need to come together and demand a new discourse on higher education.

In today’s economy, we need to discuss what it means to invest in our collective future. No one buried by student loans is buying a home or a car, starting a business or a family; nor is anyone investing, inventing, innovating or engaging in any of the economically stimulating activities that they otherwise might be. Instead, they are transferring money from their pockets to the banks that financed their education. These are the same banks that destroyed our economy by betting on collateral debt obligations in the housing market. It is time for a new conversation.

If we all reach out to different universities across the country, we can begin to build a national framework. If students participate in brainstorming tactics and developing materials, it will help campuses take ownership of the process. As controversial as leadership and organization can be, national officers and local/regional leadership are essential to any serious movement. We will need a webpage and written material explaining things. We should have people fill out membership cards, to track our support and make membership more tangible. As the movement takes shape, we can have founding meetings where new chapters adopt this Bill. A New Education Bill of Rights both guides the movement and introduces it to civil society, future members, supporters and opponents.

 

1 Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012. HR 4170.

2 Annual Report of the CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman. 10.16.12 (Citing: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Department of Education, Report to Congress on Private Student Loans (July 2012).)

 

New Education Bill of Rights

1. If you are a student, have student debt, know a student, or care about education, please join us in reshaping how we educate in this country.

 

2. Decisions about the costs and financing of higher education are made with no input from those most directly affected – students.

 

3. The most effective way to ensure that students have a voice in reshaping this debate is for us to come together collectively. We have been ignored because we have not demanded to be heard. Nobody can speak for us but ourselves.

 

4. We agree that education is in a state of crisis and it is time for a new discussion on the future of post-secondary education.

 

5. We support the House Bill Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012, which would create a viable path to forgive much of the current student debt.

 

6. We believe that forgiving student debt without addressing the problem of costs in higher education will create an unsustainable and unstable debt bubble for another generation of students. It is time to end this cycle.

 

7. We call for a national moratorium on all tuition hikes. We ask that all schools – both public and private – freeze their tuition where it is now.

 

8. We believe in extending universal education beyond K-12 to cover all areas of “higher education.”

 

9. We should encourage our nation’s smartest and most dedicated individuals these problems and hold conferences to discuss proposed solutions.

 

10. We call on our fellow students at every university across this country to sign on to this document, and build chapters of the New Student Movement on your respective campuses.

 

11. We will reject any solution that fails to recognize the inherent humanity in the act of education. It is not a product. It is about imparting knowledge. We seek to de-commodify and humanize the process.

 

– Laurel Goldstein and Steve Toff are students at Northeastern University School of Law. Laurel just finished her first year and Steve – his second year. –

 

By  Tasha Kates (Northeastern) & Amy Mei Willis (Suffolk)

National Lawyers Guild student chapters thrive on calls to action. Whether we are calling attention to injustice or learning about issues that had not been on our radar, calls to action inspire us to get involved in our communities in new ways. Nothing is more rewarding than being part of a movement for positive social change.

In this issue of Mass Dissent, the Guild’s law students are issuing calls to action to their fellow students, law schools, those who set educational policy and the legal profession as a whole. It is our turn to inspire and challenge you to act.

In our first article, Northeastern law students Laurel Goldstein and Steve Toff propose a new bill of rights for higher education. They urge students to take a more active part in reshaping education and to address the issue of how education is financed in the United States.

Tasha Kates hopes that other students will escape the law school grind to proactively seek social change. She has been inspired by the accomplishments of her fellow (and extremely impressive) law students, especially those who have won this chapter’s NLG Student Award in recent years.

Melanie Morgon sees parallels between the health care system, which has become too focused on profit rather than patients, and the health of the legal system, which does not meet the needs of those who need it and those who can keep it going. She poses questions how to find ways to change the status quo.

Every Law Student urges law school students and graduates to demand truth in advertising for post-graduate employment statistics. Without accurate data, law students and potential law students are unable to accurately plan for their futures. Graduates, there is a way for you to help.

We also have a report from Northeastern students with their reflections on the 2013 Guild Gala, which they attended in May.

– Tasha Kates (Northeastern) & Amy Mei Willis (Suffolk) –

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