Sunday, April 15, 2007

Finding A Non-Legal Job

For the past few weeks, Russ has posted some eye-opening stuff about job prospects after law school. And from what I have heard from friends and classmates, it's all pretty accurate. I wouldn't know personally, however, because I didn't even bother taking the bar, so finding actual legal employment was never on my list of things-to-do.

I was in the minority. When I decided not to take the bar and thus not practice law, my decision was met by classmates with a combination of disbelief and jealousy. Many couldn't believe I would spend three years in law school and not want to even take the bar. These people are obviously unfamiliar with the concept of a sunk cost. Others expressed admiration and envy of my decision, wishing that they too could make such a bold choice.

(Sidebar: Honestly, I don't know what makes it so bold. Is it unconventional? Sure. But that doesn't mean it's illogical. There is no law that says law school graduates must take the bar. I mean, I knew I didn't want to practice law. So why put myself through the hassle? I haven't once, in the nearly one year since I graduated, regretted my decision even one iota. So obviously, it wasn't a bad decision. If people are so envious of it, then why don't more follow my lead? I'll never understand people.)

Anyway, regardless of their reaction, I heard the same question over and over: "What are you going to do instead?" And I answered honestly: "I don't know."

I went into my job search blind. I figured that having a finance degree and a law degree would make me very desirable. I was wrong...sort of. I ended up with a great job that I use neither degree for. But I learned a lot along the way, so I thought I'd share some of what I learned with you. So without further ado, here is my loosely structured advice on how to get a non-legal job right out of law school.

First, a few things you must keep in mind...

Don't fool yourself, you are absolutely an entry-level candidate. You might think your law degree somehow sets you apart from the hoards of recent college graduates who have entered the job market. But unless you have some real work experience, aside from the legal work you did over the summers, you are wrong. A law degree does not qualify you to do anything except be a lawyer. Can it help in other jobs? Sure, but most companies don't go out looking for law graduates to fill non legal jobs, even if a law degree would slightly enhance the person's ability to do that job. So you need to go in with the mindset that your law degree doesn't make you special, doesn't mean you're more qualified, and doesn't entitle you to anything more than you were entitled to coming out of college. You might disagree, but read the next point.

Actually, having a law degree when looking for a non-law job does set you apart. People who aren't lawyers don't understand the practice of law at all. They think you're throwing away a winning lottery ticket by not practicing. I submitted a resume and cover letter to one company, and they called me back solely out of curiosity, to see the guy with a law degree who didn't want to practice law. They think something is wrong with you and label you as a flake, which is something you need to overcome. This can be done by coming up with a good answer as to why you're not practicing law, and incorporating that into both your cover letter and your interviews, because it will definitely be the first question they ask you. I experimented with a variety of answers, from the brutally honest to the completely fake. I found the completely fake works better. In order to avoid the flake label, you need to convince them that whatever job it is you are interviewing for is what you set your sights on to begin with, and you went to law school to give yourself a more well-rounded education. If you make it seem like you went to law school, didn't like it, and are now moving on to something better, you will only look flakier in their eyes. So you need to convince recruiters and interviewers that you never intended to practice law, you just wanted to round out your education, even if that's complete bullshit.

Start early. I decided, with 100% certainty, that I wasn't going to take the bar very early in my 3rd year. My mistake was not starting on my job search at that point. Because I was somewhat of an oddity on the job market, it took some time to get things rolling. I had interviews with places where I was overqualified, and places where I was underqualified, and it took me a long time to really get focused on what I wanted to do. If I could go back and do it again, I would have started during the school year by attending undergraduate career fairs on campus and getting a chance to talk to recruiters face to face, and I would have started sending out resumes and cover letters to different places before graduation, just to have gotten the ball rolling.

To paraphrase a line from Pulp Fiction: "When you are out there looking for a job, you may feel a slight sting. That's pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps." Lets be real. Law school is an elitist institution, where people look at prestige as a determination of your worth. If you decide not to pursue a career in the law, you need to get rid of all of that law school prestige bullshit and do what is best for you. You're probably going to end up with a job that you didn't need to go to law school to get. But that's okay, because you obviously are looking for a non-legal job for a reason. If you are in that situation, fuck pride. You don't deserve anything because you have a law degree. It'll make your search a lot easier.

What you can learn from my experience. Even though I put my pride aside, I still had standards. I knew that the job search was a lengthy process, and I prepared for that. Desperation is a bad thing. I started going on interviews in July, really ramped up the search in August, and finally got a job I wanted at the end of October. Along the way, I went on many bad interviews, rejected offers which I deemed unacceptable, and held out for something that I actually wanted. Is it my dream job? No, but for first jobs, I could do a hell of a lot worse. The lesson, I think, is to keep your options open, but don't overvalue yourself.

Final thoughts...Much like getting a legal job, getting a non-legal job is going to come down to you being able to sell yourself to employers. In a perfect world, you'll find a company that sees your JD as a positive, and they'll really want you to come work for them, and pay you handsomely. In reality, you'll get a job because you sold yourself to them, and in spite of your JD. Bottom line is, if you are looking for a non-legal job, it's either because you have no desire to be an attorney, or the legal job market put you in that situation. Regardless of why, it's up to you to go out and make it happen for yourself, because nobody is going to hand you anything.

One more thing...it wouldn't hurt to buy a lottery ticket every week.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Screaming Against The Darkness

For the past couple weeks I've been writing about the grim employment prospects for many law school graduates. Certainly, not everyone or even a majority of people are unemployable, but a sizable minority are and no one ever speaks about them. I'm glad some people were candid enough to share their experiences with the rest of you.

Anyways, for those of you who choose to see law school through even though you feel like you might be unemployable (or at least your professor's grading curves do), I want to give some final departing advice for the desperate.

1) Distinguish yourself! If you're not at the top of your class or on a journal find something else about you that will separate you from the pack. I first chaired two jury trials in law school which distinguishes me from the vast majority of law students (and even most lawyers). My current boss seemed impressed with that.

2) Get a job to get a job! Before law school, in law school, and out of law school get any kind of legal employment you can. Even if you're working in a mail room, you'll get exposure and connections. I worked as a paralegal for a few months for a law firm. This made interviews far less embarrassing when I could announce that I was "currently temping at a law firm".

3) Do anything you can to get some applicable experience! Join your law school's clinic, volunteer at legal aid, call up any and all government offices seeing if they need a free legal intern. If you've seen a divorce, bankruptcy, or lawsuit through from start to finish you'll be much more employable (and you'll sound like you know what you're talking about) than any other candidates.

Good luck guys. It's way tougher out there than anyone says but if you're truly active and strategic about your job search, things will work out.

www.abogadodechicago.com
www.rdklegal.com

Monday, April 02, 2007

Conversation With A Friend

Russ: How's the job search?

Friend: Awful.

Russ: Write about it for my blog.

Friend: I would but it's too depressing to think about let alone write about.

Russ:
Don't others deserve to know?

Friend:
They'll just be as naive and optimistic as I was. I mean, I was average. I got average grades in law school, didn't do anything special during my summers, never took on any special projects. I thought an average law student would get a job. But here's the thing, I was average at a really good school. The average LSAT score for someone attending my school qualifies them for Mensa but apparently not for the lowliest mouth breathing entry-level legal job.

Warning Signs

I've received several emails from current law students who bemoan the fact that they can't find an internship, summer job, or job after graduation. I choose not to post them because they don't have the angry, frustrated quality that will actually jar a law student out of his stupor and follow the true Socratic method, leading an examined life.

But, something bizarre does occur to me when reading these emails: These kids can't get someone to let them work FOR FREE. They are being turned away by government agencies and charities. The demand for free labor should be infinite. Therefore, your average 2L's presence at a legal job site must provide a negative value to any possible employer. What does that say about your legal education.

So, guys, if no one is letting you work for free, read the writing on the wall. Even less people will be willing to pay you to work.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Mission Accomplished!

From a Reader:

Subject: I don't know whether to hate you or thank you. Maybe both?

You guys have seriously either saved my life or ruined it. I was ready to be a law student. Top of my class with a 4.0. 178 on the LSATs. Extensive volunteering for a well known non-profit and even regular work in a law firm. I got accepted to one of the top three Law Schools and I was ready to graduate and go off this coming year. I didn't want a big firm job. I wanted to work for non-profits and hopefully have my loans forgiven. I was set. I was happy. God help me I was excited. I had been reading various law blogs and books for a year to try to get an idea about whether or not I'll enjoy law school and god help me I was convinced I would be a gunner. I genuinely love the law. I love briefing cases, I love staying up all night discussing them, I love it. But now for the first time I have doubt. Not just doubt, I lie awake wondering if I'm making a mistake. It's not too late for me to get out. I've signed up to take the GREs and have started looking at jobs after graduation. I now not only have other options, I'm seriously considering them. I'm terrified of law school and what it will mean when I graduate and pass the bar. I'm really not sure that I'm going any more. So yeah, your mission was accomplished. You've scared me to the bone. Whether you saved my life or ruined it? I'll let you know in a few years.


If this person isn't going to law school then why are any of you? Because they're one less person clammoring after the same job?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Submitted Law Employment Story # 4

From a reader:

While I generally prefer to lurk and not contribute, your request for scare stories for law students (or those considering law school) was too much to pass up... so here's mine:

Top 25% at a first tier school (University of Wisconsin), Law Review, clinical and externship experience but no firm work. Couldn't get a job for 6 months after graduation (and had obviously been looking since before third year). While I was perhaps being a little picky about the type of work I wanted to do, I was applying for everything and anything across all geographic regions, as long as it was the area of work I wanted (environmental law - which I have a hard science background to support). Private firms (of all sizes), non-profits (my first choice), government, EVERYTHING. I only got a job by agreeing to move to the middle of nowhere to do family law (which I have no experience in) for a very hard-up non-profit agency.

I don't actually regret my decision to go to law school, but I really think students should know the reality of what they're getting into. The debt is remarkably humbling and the jobs just aren't there to make it worth while. If someone wants to practice in small-town USA, they *may* be okay, but it's definitely not a sure thing these days.

Thanks for spreading the gospel!

Submitted Law Employment Story # 3

From a reader:

I ran across your blog tonight and I felt compelled to write in with my own diatribe. I never really gave much thought to going to law school until I was halfway through my master's program. I have come to conclude this has been the worst mistake of my life, to date.

My grades were fine - I made the Dean's List, got an award, even graduated with honors. I clerked for a small firm my 2L year, volunteered for varies legal groups, networked, etc. Everything the good law student should do. During my 3L year I submitted an article to a law journal and it was accepted for publication. I also graduated with honors. I thought all of these things would guarantee me a job. Seriously, Master's degree, work experience, honors, publication - my firm bio would look beautiful. I was WRONG!

I graduated in May of 2006 and now it is March 2007 and I finally got a job - as a frickin' document reviewer...second shift. I'm not even good enough to get a 9-5 job. I'm pretty sure in my next few interviews I'm going to explain the gap in my resume as being caused by a very sick relative who eventually died.

I never understood why lawyers always told me never to go to law school. Now I do. Bar review is the closest thing to hell on Earth. When you do finally pass the bar you either stay unemployed or get a soul-draining job as a document reviewer. My advice to law students is - quit while you're ahead!

Thanks for letting me rant.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Plural of Anecdote is Data

I hope some of the legal employment anecdotes we've posted have scared you (and there will be more to come). But some of you are smart enough to say, "Russ, this is one person. Unlike me, they're unlucky/stupid/ugly/socially awkward/unconnected." We don't want you to trust law school brochure anecdotes so don't trust ours either. So, to prove there are more lawyers than there are jobs available, please look at the two links below: (hat tip: some UT student)

There are something like 1.2 million JDs in the US, but guess what, there are only about 530,000 practicing lawyers. What do you think all those other people are doing? If you don't believe me, have a look at these:

http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes231011.htm
http://www.abanet.org/lsd/stulawyer/sep02/thetruth.html

The second one is from the ABA. Even the national bar association is telling you to be prepared to do something else with your life.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Submitted Law Employment Story #2

From A Reader


While you may believe that this blog is unnecessarily harsh regarding law school, it is not. Every single syllable is true. I graduated from a big ten school with a 3.6, had a decent LSAT score and attended a local tier-three law school. I was the quintessential "average" law student. I tried my best but never managed to make Law Review or graduate in the top 20% of my class. Still, I thought I would make a "good lawyer" so I held my head up high and finished.

I graduated in May 2006, it's now March of the next year and I cannot find legal work of any kind-not contract work (because it all requires loads of experience), or even work as a paralegal (because no one wants someone with a law degree as their assistant). Employers ask, "Why should I invest in training you as a paralegal when you will leave if you find something better?" I'd like to respond that there is nothing better, but morbid negativity during job interviews is never a quality that gets you hired.

The irony is had I become a paralegal in undergrad I would have a great job. No one told me that good paralegals earn as much or more money than average lawyers. I saw two job postings today. The first posting was for a paralegal at a corporate headquarters for $55,000.00 with full benefits. The second for an entry level attorney at the county prosecutor's office for $35,000 with full benefits. I rest my case.

Heard the saying, "you can do ANYTHING with a law degree?" It's a lie. You can be a lawyer with a law degree. Unless the Gods have smiled on you, you will be unemployed. Having more education than your employer is never a good thing. Welcome to the world of you are "overqualified." Law school is like attending cosmetology school. Do you believe you could do ANYTHING with a cosmetology diploma (aside from being a beautician)? Of course not, well the same theory applies to law school.

The fact of the matter is unless you are the brown nosing legal eagle A student gunner that everyone hates, you have a relative that owns a law firm, you are independently wealthy or you are attending law school to put off marrying your father's best friend's daughter from your homeland-DROP OUT IMMEDIATELY.

The constant stress and anguish from attending law school is what I imagine having herpes must be like...just when you think you will never face it again, you have an outbreak. Law school ravages your finances, your self-esteem, and your relationships. I include relationships because your family and friends will gather together to harp on you and criticize you until you are ready to check yourself into a psych ward. Either your family has a successful lawyer who looks at you across the dinner table on holidays like you are a genetically inferior misfit because you didn't make big law at graduation and still can't find a job, or your family is middle America blue collar that feels having a J.D. is like having a winning lottery ticket. Both scenarios leave you drained emotionally, and wondering why you didn't become a stripper at 17.

I know you feel this will not be your fate. But it is the fate of countless people. Law schools do nothing to protect the profession. They churn out graduates like run-down online diploma mills. It is expected that Online-University.com may give you a degree that isn't worth the paper it is printed on. But waking up one year or two after graduating from local tier-three state university law school, and realizing your degree is the equivalent of toilet paper will be devastating. Especially when you are forced to live in a van down by the river because Sallie Mae reams you monthly with interest rates that are higher than credit cards. Another lovely consequence is if you miss a payment, not only will your credit score be 112, but you will jeopardize your license or getting one, if you don't have it, by putting your financial fitness in question with your State Bar Association.

In sum, law school was the single biggest mistake of my adult life thus far. It is a far reaching, expensive and painful mistake that will not seem to go away. Sort of like getting pregnant at 15 or becoming a drug addict. Take my words as a public service announcement. Don’t let my fate become your own.

Submitted Law Employment Story # 1

From A Reader

Mike and Russ, you are exactly correct on both of your posts. I graduated last May from a second tier law school. I was in the middle of my class. I put together what many have called a very solid resume for what I wanted to do (labor and employment law). I clerked for a year at a labor and employment law firm, I was the president of the Labor and Employment Law Society, I was on the Moot Court Arbitration Team and participated in our Unemployment Compensation Clinic. In May, I thought that there was no way I would have a problem finding a job. God, was I stupid! Big firms would not even look at my resume and the small firms are not hiring if you have no experience (they can't afford to pay to train you). I met with 40+ attorneys, went to CLEs to network, joined different labor and employment groups and I even started my own firm to take public defender assignments. What did that get me? Well, I got lucky, I got a job doing plaintiff side labor and employment law. I don't think it pays enough to pay all my bills (I am lucky to have a wife bringing some money into the relationship). It took me ten months to get a job. Luckily, I snuck in just before a whole new batch of law school graduates are pushed out of their comfy, fantasy land law schools into the real world where they will soon find jobs as waitresses, bartenders, and that guy from Starbucks who will give you his resume with your latte.

Thinking about law school? Seriously, don't do it unless you know what it is really like out there! And if you think you know, you don't!

Friday, March 23, 2007

You Don't Want To Hear This But You Should

Do you believe in irony? Well, I have been working as an attorney for a few months now and I really like my work. I am lucky to have such a great job. The sad part is, though, I am lucky to have any job at all.

The legal market is much tougher out there than law students expect. My conclusion is that career services aren't just useless, they're largely pointless because there simply aren't enough jobs out there for all law school graduates.

Here are your options as an upcoming law grad:

1) Big firm: You already know how these work. Either go to a great school or graduate at the top of your class. Otherwise, they're not an option.

2) Government: The public defender or the prosecutors office will hire anyone, right? True but they hire much more rarely than you think. In my county, they instituted a hiring freeze and all PDs and Prosecutors and clerks with less than 3 years experience have been let go. Do not plan to fall back on this because there are people with much more experience who also have the same plan (I interned for the State's Attorney where I worked under two big firm burnouts)

3) Small firms: These mysterious small firms are supposed to soak up the remaining law graduates. This is a myth. Small firms have neither the time nor the resources to train law graduates. You really don't know anything upon graduating and some attorney is not going to take an hour or two to train you each day because he simply can't afford to. Why would they, when they can just hire one of the thousands of people big firm and government shed each year.

4) Contracting: contracting firms do hire new attorneys to do document review. You spend all day, deciding relevant or irrelevant and privileged or unprivileged, while your career stagnates. Believe it or not, these jobs are competitive as big firm burnouts frequently gravitate to them for a well deserved rest.

Don't believe me? Look at your local law bulletin for "help wanted" ads. You'll find they all want at least 2 years of experience. The reason the employers ask for experience is because they can always get it as big firms shed employees each year.

I went to a good school, University of Illinois, and I know lots of people with good grades who are still looking for legal work. And, sadly, the February bar test takers will be flooding the streets of my state with 600 more attorneys and in May another few thousand grads will hit the market and the vicious cycle will continue.

If you are a law student and you have no way to distinguish yourself: good grades, good experience, good network, then you will most likely not be able to find legal employment. Not immediately after graduation. Not after you pass the bar. Not after a younger fresher class does the same a year later while you have to explain your year of unemployment on your resume. Save yourself a lot of grief and a lot of money. Drop out.

But, knowing law students, you all think you're the exception even though your 3.2 from the University of Toledo says you're exactly average.

So, law grads, e-mail us with your stories of unemployment, underemployment, or misemployment and we'll post them so that law students can be fairly warned.

Update: A 2L from a third tier school with a sub 3.0 GPA is both unimpressed and incredulous regarding my post. Someone set them straight.

Update #2: Mike added
his thoughts on the topic over at his new blog.