By Professor Daniel A. Austin

Late one afternoon, a few years into my legal career, I heard Partner X mention the “2400-hour years I worked as an associate….” He said this as he was assigning me and another associate a research and drafting project with a next-day deadline. I tossed off his “2400-hour” comment as hyperbole, but nevertheless, we stayed past midnight to finish the work. Not long after that, I happened to pull open a stuck drawer on the built-in file cabinet in my office, and behind the drawer was a sheaf of associate annual billing records from past years. (My office had previously been occupied by a member of the accounting staff.) Unable to resist, I scanned through the list of associates and the hours they had billed. Some of the names were unfamiliar, but others I recognized because they were now partners or “of counsel.” Sure enough, when I looked at the billings for (then) Associate X, there were several years at or just over 2400 hours. In my short career to that point, I had once billed a 200-hour month and it was excruciating. I could not imagine twelve of them in a row, and then repeat for several years.

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By Professor Daniel A. Austin

Law school can seem like a pie-eating contest where the reward is more pie. If your diet of coursework, research, and writing leaves you hungry for more, consider working as a teaching or research assistant for a professor during your 2L and 3L years. The pay is not great, usually only $15 per hour max, but it’s a good resume-builder, and you get a close-up view of the teaching or research side of law. Plus, you will probably become better acquainted with the professor than if your only interaction were as a student in her/his class. This can be a good resource at bar admission or letter of recommendation time.

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Faculty in the News

Our faculty have been weighing in on a variety of cultural and legal topics lately. See what they have say!

Faculty Post: Consumer Bankruptcy As A Social Safety Net

by Daniel A. Austin
Associate Professor of Law

Our society provides a variety of benefits for people in difficult financial circumstances—food stamps, subsidized housing, low-cost or no-cost health care, disability and unemployment compensation, to mention just a few.  These are in addition to Social Security and Medicare for older citizens, which are available even for those who are not in financial distress.  Most of us do not consider consumer bankruptcy to be part of the social safety net, but, in fact, bankruptcy is one of the first things that people consider when facing serious financial problems such as loss of income, excessive debt, or debilitating medical circumstance.  And, unlike government assistance that is available only to people with lower incomes, consumer bankruptcy (with some conditions) is accessible for people in middle-income brackets.  Thus, bankruptcy is part of the social safety net that allows people to continue their lives with a degree of normalcy even when faced with severe economic circumstances.

I teach bankruptcy and commercial law.  Prior to joining the faculty at Northeastern University School of Law, I practiced for sixteen years as a bankruptcy and commercial law attorney.  While much of my legal practice was on behalf of corporate and business creditors, my research at Northeastern is focused mainly on consumer bankruptcy, in particular, issues related to family and individual debt.  Recently, I examined the treatment and growth of student loan debt in consumer bankruptcy, including what policy changes should be made so that student loan debt can be more readily discharged in bankruptcy.  This work would not have been possible without the excellent research assistance of six law students.  My current work deals with medical expenses as a component of consumer bankruptcy.  Again, a number of law students are working with me to create a database of medical debt information from some 5,000 consumer bankruptcy cases filed between 2004 and 2011.  After the project is complete, the database will be publicly available for researchers and others interested in this issue.  This type of research collaboration between professors and students is typical of NUSL.

Northeastern University School of Law is not a place where you can quietly hide in class and just look to the final exam for your grade.  NUSL classes require you to analyze real-client facts and prepare written work product in a format and quality that is expected in legal practice.  This type of class experience combined with NUSL’s four co-ops provides unparalleled preparation for a career in law.