Reason Not to Go to Law School #47

The legal hiring donut.

Wow, look, two pink slips.  One for me and one for…hm… T-Pain.

I missed the boat, and
I’m unemployed, and
Moved in with the parents and gotta take the bar again,
Should’a been king of the world pullin’ one-sixty kilo,
Maybe happened for you, but not for me-oh.

Never thought I’d miss the boat,
It’s one big downhill road,
Sally Mae, stop calling meee.

This question comes from a reader, “That Guy,” who posted it in response to Reason #42 Not to Go to Law School.

I find it surprising that you know of people who were unable to find big law employment at NYU a T5 (T6) school. As someone questioning whether to go to law school, BL1Y, is it true that you’re pretty much fucked if you can’t land a big law position right out of law school since most big firms don’t hire unemployed recent gradates?

Yeah.  Pretty much.

Law firms have two roads in, you can either be recruited from your law school, or you can join as a lateral hire.  Law student recruiting usually goes through an on campus interview (OCI) week  where you’ll get a job for your second summer (few firms hire summer associates in their first summer).  At the end of the summer, you’ll probably get an offer for full time employment after graduation, starting around October (but with deferrals January, or even the next January).  In a good economy, about half of the firms that do on campus interviews will also consider 3L students who either didn’t get an offer from their summer gig, didn’t want to take it, or did a non-firm job for their summer.  Doesn’t mean half of the 3Ls that are looking for jobs will find them this way, just that half of the firms are willing to hear them out.

Then there’s lateral hiring for experienced attorneys.  These positions are aimed at either midlevel or senior associates, and typically ask for 3-5 years or 6-8 years of experience, and they generally are seeking people with very specific backgrounds, such as 3-5 years of international natural gas pipeline contract litigation experience.

This creates a gap for people in the 0-2 years experience range.  You either have no experience, or what little experience you have is fragmented across a dozen areas of law, so you don’t have in depth knowledge of anything.  There’s not really anything you bring to the table that’s different than a fresh graduate.

But, hiring a junior associate outside of the normal model creates a lot of extra work for law firms.  You’re not fitting into the training schedule they had set up and all the little meet’n'drinks they plan for the new arrivals.  Why bother with making special accomodations for someone when there’s a hundred clones that are less trouble?  Plus, you have the smell of unemployment on you, so firms will suspect there’s something wrong with you.  It’s like having a dry spell and then trying to get laid.  Girls can tell, and they assume there’s a good reason other girls have been staying away from you.  Why risk it?

That’s not to say there are zero law firm job opportunities for these people, but they are extremely rare.  And, when they do pop up, the people with 3-5 years of specialized experience are going to be your competition, not just other people who missed the law firm boat.

And don’t think you can go to a midsized firm, get some experience, and then transition into big law.  The type of work you do at a midsized firm can be entirely different from big law work.  You’re not going to be handling any multi-billion dollar mergers at Fred and Jack’s Law Firm and Tire Center.  It’s not just years of experience, but the kind of experience you’re getting.

I hope this helps you make your decision.  If you’re still on the fence, try to come up with two good reasons you want to be a lawyer.  If you can’t, that’s a good sign you should be doing something else.

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8 Responses to “Reason Not to Go to Law School #47”

  1. That Guy Says:

    Thanks for the info. Going in for the money only probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So I’m assuming that even if one is lucky enough to nab a big law job out of law school, if he/she were later fired only a few years into his/her career, then they’re pretty much in the same boat as those who found no big law job at all.

  2. Marie Says:

    Possibly true, but you ignore the fact that you can always go in house and work for a company.

    Company virtually always recrcuit from law firms and often take associates with as little as 2 -3 years of experience.

    So there is an other alternative for the people who are laid off.

  3. bl1y Says:

    You can’t “always” go in house. In house gigs are some of the most competitive positions to get.

  4. es Says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I literally stumbled into my job- I was working at a high tech company when I started law school, and there was a patent law boutique down the street, like a quarter mile away. I literally walked in and handed the receptionist a resume, not knowing that it’s not convention. Got the job, ending my time as an engineer.

    I keep my eyes peeled for new positions, and I seem to be in *decent* shape should I get laid off or fired, but I couldn’t imagine being one of my many classmates from ’09 (I graduated Dec. 08 so I walked in ’09) who have now been without a job for a year exactly. WTF do you do? I’ve got one buddy who thankfully has no debt and is doing bankruptcy stuff for $22/ hour while waiting to take the CA bar. Another buddy is trying to figure out ways to discharge his $120K debt since he has absolutely no means of repayment. Another buddy who just failed the CA bar *again*. At what point does working at a bar in Costa Rica become a viable option?

  5. bl1y Says:

    Basically, I think the only thing to do is get the ABA to step in and start regulating law schools more. The data they release about jobs are incredibly misleading.

    If you’re considering going to law school and you see a school is really expensive, but 95% of its graduates are employed within 9 months, it’s normal to assume that, aside from a few oddballs, those 95% are working as lawyers. Maybe not making the big bucks, but still gainfully employed.

    What the stats don’t tell you is that the included in the people working in the “private sector” are solo practitioners, bar tenders, deferred associates, and people with temporary employment that’s going to run out 3 months down the line.

  6. es Says:

    I don’t see that happening. It would threaten the very existence of the third and fourth tiers. Now, don’t get me wrong; they shouldn’t exist; but at this point the cartel’s probably too strong to allow it to happen.

    I just think that at *some* point the stats will be impossible to hide. There will be too many J.D.s making a prospective 0L’s double skinny extra hot short tall latte for the 0L to either not notice or not care.

  7. bl1y Says:

    Too bad you usually don’t know that the person is an unemployed lawyer.

    I was at my regular bar in NY a couple weeks after getting my walking papers and was talking to her about the possibility of going to grad school. A guy next to me decided to weigh in (and I didn’t mind, I jump into other people’s conversations all the time; I don’t go to bars to be anti-social). His advice was that grad school was for suckers and if I wanted to advance my career I should go to…law school…because lawyers have great job security.

  8. Joy Alfred Says:

    It is very difficult to get a job out there. I know graduates of Ivy league law schools out of work.

    That is worse than it was a few years ago. Then, everyone from Columbia had a job, even the special admits.

    Now, they can forget it. No one wants someone at the bottom of the barrell, even with a JD from Columbia.

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