In a little over a month, Yale Law School students will be crowding a classroom to learn how to revamp their wardrobes.
The workshop, called “Dress for Success … For Less” — in which a fashion consultant will show students how to purchase financially savvy business attire — is part of a financial literacy initiative at YLS that was started in 2011. The initiative, which began with one or two workshops per year, is now running around eight workshops per year and seeing roughly 80 students at each event.
New workshops to be offered this year include events that teach students how to manage mortgages and repay loans, the latter being aimed particularly at students who will enter the field of public service after graduation.
YLS Financial Aid Director Jill Stone said that while she does not plan to expand the number of workshops any further in the near future, she does expect the student participation rate to rise even further this year. While the workshops are the most visible element of the initiative, the Financial Aid Office is also aiming to spread awareness about financial literacy through other activities, such as one-on-one consulting sessions, Stone said.
“As a financial aid office we shouldn’t be just about making financial aid awards,” Stone said. “We should be making sure our student[s] make the best financial choices in the short and long term.”
Stone said both the workshops and one-on-one consulting sessions have been increasing in popularity over the years. Around 110 students came in to meet with her individually in the 2013-’14 school year, compared to only around 40 the year before.
Stone said the initiative keeps growing in popularity — partly because students are spreading the word and partly because student loan debt is a topic receiving a lot of media attention.
The world of loan repayment is becoming far more complex than it used to be, Stone said, and people need more guidance. This is why, while the Financial Aid Office will come up with new and varied workshops this year, the talk on loan repayment remains a constant.
David Lat LAW ’99 — founder of the online legal publication “Above The Law” — said he thinks financial literacy workshops could be helpful for law students.
“I have been surprised at the number of highly intelligent law students I have met who do not understand how their loans work,” he said.
YLS professor Noah Messing said he got involved in the financial literacy initiatives last year because he thinks it is important for students to think about their financial futures. If they are not careful, financial issues might actually wind up sabotaging some of their career goals, he said.
Messing said the first workshop on savings and money management he led last year attracted over 100 students — a number that exceeded his expectations. He said he heard gasps from the audience as he explained the difficulty of saving for retirement and the losses one can incur from hiring a financial planner.
He said students at YLS often focus on becoming public leaders and making the world a better place, but rarely think about how to grow their portfolios.
“There’s a wonderful saying that Yale Law School trains students for their last job, and we also do a good job of training them for their first job,” he said. “But I just worry that we don’t do a good enough job of training them for the long middle.”
YLS professor Robert Burt said he sees how offering students advice about financial planning may be particularly helpful today, when students are far more burdened by educational debts than when he was a student. Burt added, however, that he does not think the advice should be forced on anyone.
Ryan Thoreson LAW ’14 said that during his time at YLS, the Financial Aid Office answered all of his questions quickly and effectively, but that the helpfulness of the financial aid initiative varies on a case-by-case basis.
Of eight students interviewed, five said they had not heard about the financial literacy initiatives.
Graham White LAW ’16 said he has participated in some of the workshops and found them useful.
“Many of us will graduate Yale Law School with a substantial amount of debt, and it can be debilitating if we’re not prepared in advance,” he said.
Harvard Law School Assistant Dean for Student Financial Services Ken Lafler said his office is launching some similar initiatives at Harvard, including a financial literacy website called iGrad, which provides self-guided financial education courses, and workshops called “Money Saving Tips.”
These initiatives parallel a series of similar financial literacy workshops that are being offered to undergraduates by the Yale College Financial Aid Office.
The next session of Messing’s savings workshop is slated for Oct. 7.