In the long run

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).

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