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In the long run

[ 80 ] February 6, 2013 |

A reader suggested I take a look at Hamilton Nolan’s ongoing Gawker series of unemployment stories. They make for harrowing reading, and a lot of them are from attorneys. Here’s one from somebody still in free fall from a spot near the top of the profession:

Two years ago I was on top of the world – at least from exterior appearances. Barely past 30, my salary was approximately a quarter million dollars per year, I was living in a luxury high rise with a view of Central Park from my balcony, and it seemed I was on the fast track to a successful career. Now 18 months after losing my job at the end of 2010, I’ve learned a lot of valuable life lessons but find myself wondering, constantly every day, is there any hope left? The Manhattan apartment is long-gone and replaced with a room at my father’s house in the exurbs of Atlanta, a house I helped him buy five years ago. I’ve applied for over 750 jobs in the last year, but still I wait. This is my story.

We hear a lot of talk about the employment crisis these days, from both sides of our so-called political spectrum. No one has much in the way of solutions, and the options for the unemployed seem to be Republicans that tell me what I need is to have my unemployment cut off – then surely I’ll be motivated to find a job. Democrats at least don’t think starvation will improve my job hunt, but beyond affording me my luxurious life on unemployment, I hear scant dedication to anything that might actually improve the employment outlook. I remain a voracious consumer of news and from what I see and hear portrayed in the media, the unemployed in this country are generally older, often former factory workers. We hear much discussion of how to address these workers in a nation that may no longer offer employment they have experience in. I feel for these workers and don’t mean to diminish their situations – but I was supposed to be exempt from that. In fact, based on what the media says, I don’t exist. I attended an Ivy League college and a top 5 law school (at least according to US News’ rankings). My first real job, which started shortly after my 25th birthday, paid a salary of $125,000. That salary had doubled within 5 years. I was lucky enough to have the chance to go to some of the top schools in America, and it seemed I was enjoying the rewards of obtaining such a pedigree. Then it ended…

The question I find myself grappling with these days is “is this the best we can do?” I’ve spent months focusing on not being jealous or angry, and I’ve largely succeeded. I really am happy for my friends that are having children, and going on vacations, and otherwise moving forward and living their lives. But is this a country where one false move (in my case, working at the wrong law firm) can essentially end your chance at a productive life? I admit I had an arrogance prior to my layoff – I never imagined this could happen to me. I was no conservative, and I sympathized with and believed we could and should do more to help the unfortunate in this country – but I never believed I would be in that situation myself. I was told from childhood on that a good education was the path to a better life – and that if you were willing and able to work hard and had something to contribute, you’d have opportunities in this country. Where are those opportunities?

The most striking thing to me during the coverage of the Occupy Movement last fall was the “counter-protestors” (read: miserable assholes) yelling things like “Get a job!” I would love one! As I mentioned previously, I’ve applied for over 750 jobs in the last 18 months and continue to apply for 30-100 jobs each month. I’ve applied for jobs at law firms, scores of jobs with the government, jobs at corporations, jobs at non-profits, jobs for lawyers, jobs for non-lawyers, jobs as a paralegal, jobs as a writer, jobs, jobs, jobs. I’ve applied for jobs from Seattle to Miami, from San Diego to Boston, and I’ve applied to jobs overseas. Have work? Will travel. Of course, while employment is improving marginally overall, it hasn’t improved in the legal sector. Total legal employment is lower now than it was in 2008, despite the abundance of law schools in this country pumping out nearly 50,000 new lawyers each year. I admit that I have not yet applied to work in fast food or retail as I maintain the hope that somehow, some way, I’ll eventually find a position which could eventually lead me back to a semblance of my old life. That said, I don’t see an abundance of “Help Wanted” signs at McDonald’s or Best Buy. The notion that people can just “Get a Job!” in this market is laughable. The government’s own numbers pretend that over 8 million Americans have dropped out of the workforce in recent years; while you may know of someone that struck oil in their backyard and actually retired in their 30s or 40s, I’m confident most of these people are simply unable to find employment. I wonder how they afford food – I fear for my own future when unemployment is cut off.

I continue to have some hope – I keep trying to tell myself that I have great experience and a great background, and eventually that will mean something to someone somewhere. I know I’m hard working – I billed well over 2000 hours as my mother died of cancer in 2009 because the firm expected nothing less. (For the non-lawyers reading, that translates to working 60+ hours most weeks.) I also wonder and worry about the larger country – if finding work is so hard and seemingly hopeless for someone with my background, someone barely into their 30s, what is it like for older workers with fewer credentials?

As another day starts in the exurbs, I sigh. It’s another day of nothing. I’ll look at the usual job boards. I’ll read the 10+ emails I receive each morning with updated job listings. I’ll head to the gym. But in general, another day will come and go and nothing will change. Maybe I’ll receive a rejection letter or two. Maybe I’ll find a new posting for a job that would be perfect – if only they decide to interview me. But really, I just wait. I watch the clock spin in circles. I watch my life pass me by. I wonder how much longer this can last. And I wait.

A few comments:

(1) The most glaring gap in the relevant data for people trying to figure out what the long-term value of law degrees actually is these days is that we have so little information on long-term career outcomes. We have huge amounts of data — much of it of dubious reliability, but still — on immediate post-grad outcomes, which, as everyone outside the impenetrable special snowflake bubble now knows, look pretty awful.

But what about nine years after graduation as opposed to nine months? One commenter at ITLSS has posted dozens of comments about how law is a demographic pyramid, with fewer and fewer jobs available for middle-aged lawyers, and with rampant age discrimination simply being a standard feature of big firm and perhaps also in-house hiring and firing practices. As far as I can tell this perspective is anecdotal, which certainly doesn’t discredit it, but we clearly need a lot of longitudinal work done on the subject. (Things such as this study of the UVA class of 1990 are a start, but obviously a snapshot of one 23-year-old elite law school’s graduating class 17 years after graduation in 2007 throws a very limited light on the present overall situation).

(2) In particular, given that BigLaw is the only initial career option that makes any economic sense for anybody paying anything remotely close to sticker at about 75% of all law schools, we need more information on current as opposed to past exit options for BigLaw associates. Of course only about 15% of current graduates will ever work in BigLaw, but the importance of this demographic for law schools can hardly be overstated. Legal academics who complain about Kids Today thinking that a law degree should be a guarantee of a high-paying job need to answer this question: Why exactly does it make sense for anybody to incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct and opportunity costs by going to your law school, unless doing so guarantees at least a reasonably good shot at acquiring at least a temporarily high-paying job for at least a reasonable amount of time?

Anyway, the “realistic” career path for students at the (12? 7? 4?) law schools that can still produce something resembling an actual answer to that question is:

(a) Top Law School

(b) Associate at V-whatever firm for X years, which will be dedicated to paying down debt and preparing for life post V-whatever firm.

(c) ???

How attractive (c) does or does not end up being for people currently in or considering law school is critical to the viability of what elite law schools are selling going forward, which in turn is for psychological/ideological reasons critical to the viability of what non-elite schools are selling, even though only a tiny minority of non-elite law school graduates will ever be on this particular career path.

(3) A particularly critical benefit of their jobs that tenured legal academics tend to undervalue when they burble on about how they turned down lucrative careers for the vows of scholarly poverty is that their salaries don’t have to be — or haven’t had to be until now — discounted by any risk of falling to zero and staying there. It’s hard to put a number on just how valuable that benefit is, not merely in terms of extrapolating income into the future, but in terms of the psychic benefit of not having the shadow of possible economic disaster constantly falling on whatever career success a lawyer is currently enjoying. This is just another way in which, as a practical matter, legal academics aren’t really part of the legal profession at all.

Today, thinking like a lawyer means thinking a lot about what will happen if and when you lose your current job. To the very limited extent that some legal academics may actually be starting to think about that, they are, in a sense, coming slightly closer to rejoining the profession they were so eager to escape.


Comments (80)

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  1. MPAVictoria says:

    “It’s another day of nothing. I’ll look at the usual job boards. I’ll read the 10+ emails I receive each morning with updated job listings. I’ll head to the gym. But in general, another day will come and go and nothing will change. Maybe I’ll receive a rejection letter or two. Maybe I’ll find a new posting for a job that would be perfect – if only they decide to interview me. But really, I just wait. I watch the clock spin in circles. I watch my life pass me by. I wonder how much longer this can last. And I wait.”

    This is almost exactly what my girlfriend is going through at the moment. It is heartbreaking to see her apply to job after job and have nothing come of it.

    • Steve LaBonne says:

      My 59 year old wife (I’m 57 but I like my job and it’s secure, thank the FSM) would really, really like to leave her job, which she’s sick of. I don’t have the heart to tell her what I really think about her chances of finding another one. The job market is just catastrophic even if you don’t face the additional hurdle of age discrimination.

      • Steve LaBonne says:

        BTW neither of us is a lawyer so what bob_is_boring said below.

        • MPAVictoria says:

          Yeah same with us. Both have graduate degrees. I was just lucky enough to get a secure job just before the recession. We can live on my income but we will never, ever get ahead.

          • Steve LaBonne says:

            We married last year and can’t manage on just my income until I can unload the condo I used to live in. And since the housing market also still sucks, that may take a while. So for the moment we’re reduced to hoping she can KEEP the job she’s sick of.

            Really, I just want to punch those smug, wealthy CEOs and Villagers who want to “fix the debt” and other such bullshit. They don’t know and don’t want to know how the less well-connected are struggling.

            • David Nieporent says:

              A la Daniel Patrick Moynihan, we’re now apparently Defining Struggling Downwards, so that it means “has a job, but doesn’t like it.”

              • sharculese says:

                How dare people get an education because they expect it will lead them to work they find filling.

                • David Nieporent says:

                  Despite what everyone tells you, that doesn’t sound like you feel entitled at all.

                • sharculese says:


                • Steve LaBonne says:

                  Because the stupid troll is stupid, it imagines that I’m feeling sorry for myself. Not at all. I understand perfectly that my experience is merely an extremely mild reminder of the far, far worse that many people, especially younger people, are going through. (We are both very worried for our kids.) The troll, of course, doesn’t give a rat’s ass about such people either, just about sucking some 0.1% cock.

              • Ann Romney says:

                “’They were not easy years. You have to understand, I was raised in a lovely neighborhood, as was Mitt, and at BYU, we moved into a $62-a-month basement apartment with a cement floor and lived there two years as students with no income.

                “’It was tiny. And I didn’t have money to carpet the floor. But you can get remnants, samples, so I glued them together, all different colors. It looked awful, but it was carpeting.

                “’We were happy, studying hard. Neither one of us had a job, because Mitt had enough of an investment from stock that we could sell off a little at a time.

                “’The stock came from Mitt’s father. When he took over American Motors, the stock was worth nothing. But he invested Mitt’s birthday money year to year — it wasn’t much, a few thousand, but he put it into American Motors because he believed in himself. Five years later, stock that had been $6 a share was $96 and Mitt cashed it so we could live and pay for education.

                “’Mitt and I walked to class together, shared housekeeping, had a lot of pasta and tuna fish and learned hard lessons.’

  2. anon says:

    A friend of mine graduated from a top five law school about 25 years ago. He worked for a large New York firm for 12 years, then moved to a smaller city, where he got a job as of counsel at a mid-sized firm for eight years. Four years ago his firm hit a bad patch and 25% of the lawyers were laid off. He’s been unemployed except for temp work since then and he’s over fifty. He’s seriously concerned that he’ll never have a real job again. He’s doing all sorts of things to make himself employable in other fields, but a 50-year old unemployed lawyer is not a valuable commodity.

    I’m 56 myself, and I swear I often wake up thinking, if I can hold on to my job until I’m 60 and my wife keeps her job until she’s 65, we’ll be just fine.

    • L2P says:

      I feel exactly the same way.

      The legal profession is starting to look a lot more like the entertainment profession: make it by 35, or start waiting tables. After a lawyer turns 40 it’s almost impossible these days to do anything except start your own firm (and good luck with that!)

  3. Jon says:

    I just barely escaped this fate by having enough experience to start my own low overhead practice.

    • Superking says:

      I was thinking the same thing, because I did the same thing.

      I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the writer that Paul quotes. It is clear from a couple points that he is making some shit up (750 applications in the past year? Or 750 applications in the past 18 months? There are other minor issues with the narrative.) But it’s also clear the guy is doing it wrong. He was working in New York, but then moved to Atlanta after he lost his job, and is now applying for jobs all across the country? From a job search perspective none of this makes any sense. As a first step, it only makes sense to move to Georgia from NY if you’re admitted to practice in Georgia. And if you’ve got five years of practice under your belt, start working on opening your own shop. It’s inconsistent, but at least its income. While you’re doing that, you have to network with local attorneys. Maybe they send you work, maybe they hire you eventually. Sitting at home and trying to get a job in another city just doesn’t make any damn sense.

      It’s a shitty market for legal work right now, and I don’t envy anyone who is looking for a job, or even just looking for cases. My impression is that this guy is just full of shit, and this post was more fantasy than reality.

  4. Loud Liberal says:

    I’m not sure this story distinguishes the economic dilema of law graduates from the economic dilema of any other advanced degree graduate, or even that of most undergraduates. About 5 years ago, I concluded that unless a student can earn his/her degree(s) debt free, the cost of college and postgraduate degrees for most graduates outweighs the economic benefits for the vast majority of graduates.

    • I’m not sure this story distinguishes the economic dilema of law graduates from the economic dilema of any other advanced degree graduate


    • L2P says:

      That’s hardly true.

      I’d still borrow money to send my kids to college to get a BA in art or dance, even if that degree wasn’t going to get them any better chance at a job. Knowledge is important on its own. Law school is ONLY useful if you’re going to get a job as a lawyer. All the “general knowledge” you get from law school comes from maybe 3 classes that have equivalent undergrad courses.

      And law school actually HURTS your chances of getting other jobs. If you apply for a management job, the employer thinks you’ll leave to get a better-paying law job any second. So they won’t hire you. And many employers think lawyers are (a) risk averse and (b) troublesome (as in, will always being looking to sue for something). Nobody’s going to say, “Oh, yeah, that English Lit major is TOTALLY going to leave this gig to take a high-paying job analyzing 1920’s Southern novels.”

      • spencer says:

        If you apply for a management job, the employer thinks you’ll leave to get a better-paying law job any second.

        This is also the case for applicants with Ph.D.s who are seeking nonacademic positions. Everyone assumes we’ll bolt during the next job cycle. Trouble is, there are even fewer academic opportunities these days.

    • Hogan says:

      And you could find the information you needed to make that determination. Law schools have been very careful to withhold such information from their prospective students.

  5. rea says:

    In what universe was a business model that paid $125,000 a year to beginning associates ever going to be sustainable?

    • Loud Liberal says:

      The same business model that requires a minimum of 2,300 billable hours per year billed out at $300+ per hour.

      • TribalistMeathead says:

        Billing 2300 hours at $300 per hour doesn’t necessarily mean that particular firm was going to make $690,000 in revenue from that one attorney, though. Firms regularly write off/write down the time of billing employees because they can’t bill the client for it or the client simply won’t pay it (when it’s 3 am and there’s no support staff left in the building and you need copies made, you’re standing in front of the copier yourself. You deserve billing credit for it, but that doesn’t mean the client’s going to pay for it). I’m not saying firms were operating on razor-thin profit margins, but they’re also not as generous as they may look.

        • rea says:

          But generally, when the firm writes off time rather than bill it to the client, it doen’t count toward minimum billable hours. The requirement is billable hours, after all.

          • TribalistMeathead says:

            “Billable time” is “time that could be billed to the client,” not “time that was actually billed to the client.” The distinction between billable time and non-billable time is time spent working on a particular matter vs. time spent talking to your coworkers, getting a glass of water, using the bathroom, etc.

            • L2P says:

              Firms have different requirements.

              Some require “billable hours,” as in hours that the attorney billed. If they’re written off they still count Some require “billed and paid,” as in hours that were billed and CHARGED to clients. If they’re written off they don’t count.

              It’s not immediately obvious from the outside what the firms require. But an attorney who routinely bills 2,300 hours, but has to watch a partner write off half of them every year, isn’t long for the world at ANY firm.

        • Jim says:

          Believe me, law firms don’t just generate the $700k you cite by multiplying the hourly rate (something like $4-500/hr for someone making $250k). They charge MORE. The hour of time @ 3:30am copying actually carries a PREMIUM since it was so late, etc. And in terms or write-offs, sure it happens, but not often, and not much.

          Top firms are operating on enormous margins, and are making way more $700-250 per worker at this level.

          You think keeping Goldman Sachs out of jail comes cheap?

          • TribalistMeathead says:

            “The hour of time @ 3:30am copying actually carries a PREMIUM since it was so late, etc.”

            Not always. Support staff are the only ones eligible for overtime, and firms generally don’t pass overtime on to the client (that’s why they hate it so much). Billing rates tend to vary from client to client, but that’s about it – certainly not the hour at which the task was performed.

            • Magatha says:

              …Support staff are the only ones eligible for overtime….

              Yup. That’s why my last employer changed my job description from paralegal to office manager (and made noise about possible profit sharing which I couldn’t get him to put in writing and on which he eventually reneged). No more paid overtime, just overtime. This was after he’d laid off the receptionist, two secretaries, and the part-time file clerk. And he said that I ought to be able to produce at least seven billable hours of work a day. I know it’s insane: I was answering the phone, washing the coffee cups, unjamming the copier, drafting status conference statements, reviewing medical records, ordering stationery, throwing up, crying, and telling myself it would get better if I just learned to work smarter.

              Boy, did he have my number. It was months after I crashed and burned that I began to acknowledge that maybe it wasn’t because I was such a loser. I worked for a jerk, but what’s more, I was working in a profession that was in the midst of a huge contraction. Law firms that had depended on one main client were collapsing as the client brought things in-house, or began parceling out work to various smaller, hungrier firms. My little plan to be a paralegal (which the DoL might still be referring to as a growing job market, for all I know) turned out to have been a long walk off a very short pier. (And I actually had the certificate! Two years of after-work trips into the big city for night school.) I suspect that most “paralegals” these days are lawyers. I hope they all find jobs, because that will mean more dogs for me to walk.

              • David Nieporent says:

                Calling you an office manager does not remotely mean that you’re not entitled to overtime. If this was in the recent (*) past, and if this employer is still in business, talk to an employment lawyer.

                (*) How recent depends on your state.

              • Malaclypse says:

                Nieporent is right. See here for more.

              • TribalistMeathead says:

                “which the DoL might still be referring to as a growing job market, for all I know”

                One Metro ad here in DC featured a smiling woman with the caption “Database Administrator By Day, Paralegal By Night.” I always wanted to scream “STICK WITH BEING A DATABASE ADMIN, GOOD LORD” at that ad.

    • L2P says:

      This is how the process worked for 30 years:

      1. Hire the best graduates from the best schools at whatever that cost to do (lately, $125,000);

      2. Market yourself as “the firm with the best lawyers from the best schools” based on your hiring practices;

      3. Profit!

      The new associates weren’t there really to make money by doing work. They were marketing to bring in top 200 clients. If the associates paid anything like what they cost, awesome! And we’ll totally bill you out (but routinely, you write off most of their hours so you don’t get much). But really, they were to let the firms say “We’re the best; look at our attorneys’ resumes.” It’s the 4th-10th year attorneys that make money for the firm.

      That model broke down when (a) clients stopped paying ANYTHING for new associate work, and (b) there were so many attorneys that it became impossible to be anything other than “the best attorneys” on paper. Now there’s no reason to keep any new associate unless you think, eventually, they’ll bring in business.

  6. Linnaeus says:

    Reading this makes me feel lucky that I have two part-time jobs, an unfinished dissertation after years in graduate school, and lots of debt (yes, yes, I know…)

    Then it makes me worry that that’s as good as it’s going to get.

  7. Hugo Torbet says:

    This guy could make $120K per year by billing just ten hours a week if he hung out his own shingle. He doesn’t need some daddy law firm to take care of him. He can take care of himself.

    Of course, this assumes that his fancy law degree actually equates to being a decent lawyer. The possibility exists that he would be eaten by the guys who got their degrees at night, and maybe that’s what he’s afraid to face.

    • brewmn says:

      Yes, because there are just tons of people who need a $250/hr. lawyer for ten hours a week.

    • Paul Campos says:

      That’s some dubious math there.

      Running a law practice includes operating costs. Somebody who manages to bill out AND COLLECT $120K in a year (hardly the same thing) may well clear half that or less after expenses.

      Also, the idea that there are plenty of of non-corporate persons around eager to pay $200+ an hour for legal services is wrong.

      A few solos make lots of money, a plurality do OK, but the majority who try it never manage to sustain a viable practice.

      • Hugo Torbet says:

        In today’s world, this guy could practice with little overhead beyond his cell phone bill and his car costs, both of which are deductible. He can get Westlaw at the public law library, although that is somewhat inconvenient. Here are the four things he could do right now:

        1. Stop crying.

        2. Find an older lawyer with a spare office who will trade 25 hours of work for the office. This will get him in the action, and will give him the chance for overflow work.

        3. Sign up on the conflicts panel at the criminal court house.

        4. Sign up with a contract service for appearances and possibly motions work.

        The people who can’t survive as real lawyers are people who shouldn’t be practicing law anyway. Abusing other people with the dishonest arguments of an insurance company is not a service society needs.

        • wengler says:

          Yeah what a jerk. There isn’t an employment crisis in this country. Just a bunch of jerks who can’t seem to strike out on their own and get all that sweet unemployment money from other jerks.

          Businesses can’t fail. They can only be failed.

        • L2P says:

          I gotta admit, Hugo, the assholishness of that comment is matched only by its complete irrelevance. Let’s go over them:

          1. I don’t know what to say. I hope something bad happens to you and all anybody will say to you is “Stop crying, you big baby.”

          2. Yes, because so many people out there are turning away a week’s worth of billing. This guy’s already trying to get temp work, part-time work, anything, and it’s not out there. Now you’re telling him to “find” somebody who will give him some complicated deal instead of just hiring a temp lawyer for $20/hour. It’s possible that can happen; it’s also possible that he’ll just get rich in the great pony-wish-granting fairy who’s coming to town in August. Both are equally likely.

          3. Of course! If only he met the minimum experience requirements which he DOESN’T because he was at a big firm. And now he can’t get the experience because no one will hire him. And then he can build a practice around no experience and $500 a week in appearance fees. Everybody always says you can just get on the APD panel like it’s easy and then work just erupts. Not so.

          4. Brilliant! If only he WASN’T already applying for every job he can find, including those ones. There’s 30,000 lawyers looking for 1,000 jobs. People are taking ANYTHING.

          I look forward to your next post telling us how he can just work from home and make $5,000 a week, or that he can make a fortune if only he responds to this Nigerian prince!

          • brewmn says:

            Even in Hugo’s best-case scenario, the amount of time required to find that golden-egg-laying goose would be so time-consuming as to make finding gainful long-term employment (or, if you prefer, being taken in by a “daddy law firm”) almost impossible.

          • Hugo Torbet says:

            So instead of waking up thinking of how he can help someone else, i.e., the point of practicing law, he wakes up thinking about how hard things are for him. And this is okay with the bleeding hearts who excuse Obama for killing a 16 year old for happening into the wrong place at the wrong time?

            I submit that all of this boo hoo stuff is just more of the same vanity that had him thinking that his fancy apartment in New York proved that he truly was a special person. I submit that if a person wants to practice law, he must understand that he has to roll up his sleeves and dig in. He must understand that fundamentally it can’t be about the money — there are many other ways to make much more money much more easily. The sole motivation to practice law has to be a desire to help people who can’t help themselves. The money will take care of itself, which I realize is a point difficult to understand by those who draw a salary.

            This guy doesn’t know shit from shinola. But he’s so busy feeling sorry for himself that he can’t be bothered to implement any sort of plan beyond sending out pdf resumes into the internet. Does he even know where the court house is?

            Why doesn’t he take his busy self down to the eviction clinic and help out? Why doesn’t he go down to legal aid and help out? Why doesn’t he go around to the ACLU — those guys surely would like to have someone from a Top 5 law school hanging around? Of course, this won’t make him an instant millionaire, but Rome was not built in a day.

            Look, not everyone is cut out for the law. There’s no shame in acknowledging that. This guy can make way more money just by taking over a Burger King franchise. He doesn’t really need the further vanity of thinking of himself as a lawyer.

            • Hogan says:

              The money will take care of itself

              This may just be the stupidest thing I’ve ever read.

              • Paul Campos says:

                In the age of the Internet that’s a high bar but he flew right over it.

                • Hugo Torbet says:

                  As I said, people who draw a salary have no frame of reference for understanding how money works out simply by doing one’s best to help other people and by stopping all of the narcissism. Real lawyers don’t sit around a conference table like they’re part of David Kelly dramedy; they get out there and help other people, and they don’t cry when the judge is mean.

                  You should ask yourself who you would rather have as a trial lawyer: the guy who gets up and out not only knowing he might face a wolf, but also is willing to fight that wolf, or the guy who sits in his father’s basement with his fancy diploma crying about how hard everything is?

                  This guy is not entitled to anything. He’s got to prove himself. Or not. He can quit. He’s certainly found enough excuses.

                • Hogan says:

                  How money works:

                  1) Get out there and help people.

                  2) ????

                  3) Profit!

                • Malaclypse says:

                  As I said, people who draw a salary have no frame of reference for understanding how money works out simply by doing one’s best to help other people and by stopping all of the narcissism.

                  Hogan turned out to be wrong. This is the stupidest thing ever written on the internet.

            • somethingblue says:

              Reboot Thug said:

              This guy can make way more money just by taking over a Burger King franchise.

              This is brilliant. Someone should suggest it to all those losers at the food pantry. Just take over a Burger King franchise! Full employment at a stroke! Why did we never think of this?

              I tip my hat to you, sir, and I’m not even wearing a hat.

              • Willard "Mitt" Romney says:

                They should just borrow money from their parents. Do that, and you can start just about any business.

                • Hugo Torbet says:

                  He said that he helped buy his father’s house, although this was probably to make him feel better about moving back in. With this, I suspect that they could get a small mortgage to buy into a franchise.

                  Alternatively, there’s always work in the janitorial services. Is he too good or too special to clean a bathroom?

            • JKTHs says:

              Shorter Hugo: “Fuck the unemployed, because DRONES.”

              • Hugo Torbet says:

                That’s not quite right. I have a great deal of empathy for a philosophy or other arts graduate and for disadvantaged people having a difficult time. However, I’m not going to apologize for the world to the guy who went to law school simply because he thought it make him rich and feels that his diploma is some sort of entitlement.

            • John Protevi says:

              Hugo bring the same brains and integrity to this issue as he displays here on the “last line of defense against tyranny” line.

              Hey, maybe you can get an Internet lawyer to issue a TRO against my stalking you.

        • L2P says:

          Also, you’re forgetting about malpractice insurance, bar fees, and marketing. Even if your car is your office you need those.

          Do you even know how lawyers operate?

        • fledermaus says:

          “3. Sign up on the conflicts panel at the criminal court house.”

          Yeah, you and the other 60 attorneys on the list. Appointed work is hard to come by these days as the lists have more attorneys than they need. Oh and payment rates are being slashed. It’s unlikely that appointed work could cover more than 1/3 of expenses. And that’s only if you sign up in multiple counties, so travel time will cut down on getting other work.

          • Hugo Torbet says:

            A guy has to start somewhere.

          • L.M. says:

            Also, there are those of us who don’t think local criminal courts should use their defendants as a jobs program for lawyers.

            • Superking says:

              So, you think that not everyone is entitled to a lawyer in a criminal case? That’s a pretty serious due process problem.

              The conflicts panel isn’t about replacing the public defenders office. Its there to have attorneys fill in when the PDs office is conflcted out of a case. Except, of course, in Texas, where the panel is the PDs office.

        • David Nieporent says:

          I think Campos’s sneering dismissal of solo practice every time law school employment outcomes are discussed is misplaced; just because you can’t make $150K starting out does not mean that it is legitimate to classify it as near-unemployment, as Campos always does.

          But this comment may be even more extremely misguided on the opposite side of the pendulum. Yes, it sounds like the guy is not being remotely proactive — sending out a few resumes (*) is not exactly beating the pavement — but nobody is making $120,000 for 10 hours/week as a lawyer. Nobody. Should he be doing the things you’re suggesting? Yeah. But he isn’t making $120,000 doing it.

          (*) Sure, 750 — but in 18 months, not 1 month.

          • Aaron says:


            How many solos do you know who started their own practice either straight out of law school or out of necessity after losing a job?

            How many solo practices have you started in your career? If you were to start a solo practice tomorrow, how much money do you anticipate you would net in your first year?

    • somethingblue says:

      Ideas, newsletter. And also.

  8. Dave says:

    So, we’re finding out that professional employment in the C21 USA is a Ponzi scheme, AND that all its suckers want to do is get back to their ‘deserved’ posts halfway up the pyramid? Something else needs to change here…

  9. Sebastian H says:

    ” I admit that I have not yet applied to work in fast food or retail as I maintain the hope that somehow, some way, I’ll eventually find a position which could eventually lead me back to a semblance of my old life.”

    As someone who is about a year further into the story, you’ll find yourself applying for those jobs and they will tell you: “you are a lawyer, we aren’t hiring you when you’ll leave as soon as you can get a job in your field.”

  10. Logistics says:

    I graduated from a T14 school in 2004 and got a job with biglaw in DC. I was fortunate, but I knew I didn’t want to be there pretty early on. For a few years, it would have been really easy to get another job… at another biglaw firm doing the same work (they love poaching someone who somebody else already trained for biglaw). Then the phone stopped ringing. Once I was 5 years in, I really wanted out, but biglaw specializes you, and in its own way, makes you useless. I applied for government law jobs, jobs in other practice areas, jobs, jobs, jobs. No dice. I finally got out. I’m happy, but not stable. And I make 70% less than I did. They might have kept me on for another year or two, but the writing was on the wall. I was not going to be a partner, and they didn’t need 8 or 9 year associates. It’s not sustainable.

  11. Emily says:

    In my experience (c) (exits from BigLaw by students from top law schools) include:

    law professor (or administrator)
    PhD student (toward legal or other prof. type job market)
    in house (mostly people who were actually going to make partner but decided law firms suck)
    non-profits (especially those that work with big firm associates on pro bono stuff a lot and/or are higher profile organizations)
    federal government (including AUSAs)

  12. Ken Houghton says:

    rampant age discrimination simply being a standard feature of big firm and perhaps also in-house hiring and firing practices. As far as I can tell this perspective is anecdotal, which certainly doesn’t discredit it, but we clearly need a lot of longitudinal work done on the subject.

    It may be anecdotal, but it’s been Common Knowledge for more than a decade now. Looking for proof of it is another question…though I can introduce you to several non-practicing lawyers with good pedigrees (Ivy/Seven Sisters undergrad; Top Tier law school). But that’s just my social set in NYC; not as if we’re talking a major, diverse metropolis with growing employment…

  13. Sterling says:

    I went through something similar to this years ago. I worked in a Wall Street firm and didn’t make the cut. Had to strike out on my own, but I wasn’t really ready for it. I now wish I hadn’t done so well in law school and had ended up working in a less high-powered firm. Once you get out of the big law environment, you are scrambling for work. I found a part time gig working with a couple of sole practitioners, but I could never make enough to live. So I ended up in a different, less well-paying career in a specialty publishing house.

    Not thrilled, but law is a brutally competitive environment now. Somebody is going to end up on the curb. It’s nice to assume it will never be you, but the entire profession is filled with smart, hardworking people in a field that resembles a game of musical chairs.

  14. NewishLawyer says:


    I am curious about what your advice would be for people in the middle of this. Not the stories of despair but not the big-firm offer people either.

    I graduated law school in 2011 which was arguably the worst year of the crisis for grads. My school has a good local reputation and I liked them but they are not Tier I (they are also not Tier III or IV).

    Many of my classmates went to smaller cities or rural areas to get jobs (especially those that wanted to work on either side of criminal law.) I’ve been working at a mid-size but well-respected firm as a contract attorney for a while. Direct hire, good hourly rates, but I pay own insurance, but I am supporting myself. Many classmates struggled for a while but now seem to be getting associate positions at small to mid-sized firms. However, others are doing non-legal work of varying levels and happiness. Some people are long-term contractors like me. Some hung up their own shingles to varying levels of success (including doing it briefly and then getting firm positions with that extra-resume experience.)

    I have relatives who went to law school before me and it also took them a while to get their first associate positions. One of these was during the 1970s. Another was during boom economic times. These relatives are doing fine now.

    How do I determine whether I am in a new normal or just slowly and surely building a career? Do you think that people who are still contracting are doomed to a lifetime of it?

  15. Rob Deters says:

    Graduated in 2006 from a Big Ten law school with good credentials, but right in the middle of the Bell curve for grades. Didn’t have a job lined up after graduation. Went to Chicago, just scrambled until I found work with a solo who needed coverage. Within a few years I was at small firm making middle class money, and now I’m out in the suburbs doing exactly what I want and paying off my relatively reasonable public school debt and living a life similar to what my expectations were and are. Is that so bad? Why don’t I think this is not exactly the worst thing? Well, I don’t have crazy huge amounts of debt (my wife, a speech pathologist has double the amount of debt I do for her two years of grad school, which is crazy to me). But I also adjusted my sights to a reasonable outcome pretty quick (as in, after my first year in law school) and I feel ok about it.

    I have friend who is an associate at Skadden who in a moment of relatively insensitive rumination, told me the difference between federal court (where he practiced) and state court (where I practice) is like the difference between the opera and the circus. This coming from a man who I am sure has never said a word in court to a judge. I replied that I would rather be a lion tamer than singing in the choir.

  16. Rufus T. Firefly says:

    I’m a state-court trial judge in the West. The pay for a law-trained bailiff in my court is $12.72 per hour (as opposed to $11 and something for someone with no legal background). I had always figured anyone who’d take the job for that pay wouldn’t be worth the trouble, but recently the job came open and I decided to float a trial balloon.

    I got numerous applicants who more than met my standards. I wound up hiring a woman who graduated from a reputable state law school with good grades, who has already passed the Bar. For $26.5K a year! With an 18 month commitment!

    I’m thrilled, but what this says about the job market is not good. I just hope I can help her get a good job when she leaves.

  17. […] Paul Campos is writing specifically about law professors, I think every academic economist should take this to heart (boldface mine): A particularly critical benefit of their jobs that tenured legal academics tend to […]

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