Thursday, August 11, 2011

Legal Employment... worse than your worst nightmare

It's no secret that the employment picture for law school grads is abysmal right now.  Frankly, I don't even think anybody is willing to explore the depressing realities for those who are graduating at the bottom of T3/T4 classes. 

If I had to thumbnail, I'd say your odds of getting a job as an attorney if you finish in the bottom 50% of your T3/T4 are probably somewhere on the order of 1 in 5.  Frankly, I think 1 in 5 is still too generous, but it's illustrative.

I was visiting with some new acquaintances who are all graduates of a similar law school to the one I'll be entering.  It's in the same state, classes are about the same size, and from what I can gather, the general characteristics of the school are pretty darned close to the school I'm going to.  (Same general rankings, historically, etc.)

Out of the 5 who I met, only one of them got a job after graduation.  The job was in document review for a relatively large firm. 

The real eye opener was when they mentioned the #2 graduate in their class who didn't get a law related job at all.

That was a new one for me.  Time was, you could still claw your way into a great law job from a lesser school:  you just had to graduate at or near the top of your class. 

Granted, these are anectdotes and based on secondhand accounts, but what a nightmare out there.  Take whatever you thought was a horrible law hiring environment and make it twice as horrible.  That's an idea of how bad it is right now.

For entering 1Ls or folks considering applying to enter in 2012, I'd say think long and hard about this one.  Really.  Then, think twice.

I can't tell you the number of times acquaintances (practicing attorneys) have said things like, "I advise young people that if you can do ANYTHING, anything at all other than going to law school, you should do that other thing." 

Granted, a lot of that is your typical whineyness that you encounter any time you bump into an insular professional group of people, but the information I'm getting from recent grads is so much worse than anything I could have ever imagined. 

It's unreal. 

Now, fortunately for them, they all found a career path (tangentially related to the law) that pays pretty well.  They could have gotten in with either an MBA or a JD.  Just so happens that they have JDs.  In fact, the recruiters for this field started hitting the law schools hard and heavy when they found out that JDs are just flat-out desperate for jobs.

So, I shared a view that I have, which is that prior to about 1970, a JD was a credential that was considered roughly on-par with an MBA as far as academic preparation for a career in business.

Granted, things were different, then.  Fewer part-time MBA programs.  There wasn't the proliferation of idiotic non-AACSB MBA programs.  Most MBA programs were 2 years long.

So, JDs and MBAs were more analogous back then.

I shared that with the guys and they pointed out that the starting salary in this field (which would be considered okay, but not great, for a recent MBA graduate) was a tough one to accept based on their student loan debt.

OUCH. 

(Contrast to their classmates who may have gotten MBAs after just one year of study, especially at the crappy non-AACSB schools.)

Law is a real pisser of a career.  Basically, if you don't get on the train right after graduating from Law School, it's going to be very, very difficult to get on the train sometime later in life.  Your destiny starts to be engraved in stone starting the day you start 1L.  It's very hard to distance yourself from a bad 1L year, a bad degree, a bad first job.  In the law, your first baby steps are pretty close to a destiny.

Also people are looking at this current economic downturn as something we'll "recover" from.  Like, after another couple of bad years, we'll go back to the way things were.

Personally, I don't think things are going to go back to how they were anytime soon.  Maybe not in my lifetime.  This thing shows every indication of staying bad for 10 more years at least.  And when they get better, they may get better very incrementally and slowly.

Honestly?  I think this is the new normal.  You can wait for things to get better if you want, but the people who succeed from this point forward are going to learn to fight the battle on THIS battlefield.  They're not going to wait for a recovered economy to save them.

I don't mean to beat a drum of doom here, but going to law school is going to be the biggest mistake a lot of young people could ever possibly make right now. 

Honestly, the prognosis was so dreadful that it made me question whether this is a good idea at all.  Under different circumstances, I wouldn't be doing this.  I think (perhaps arrogantly and wrongly) that what I'm doing and how I'm doing it will allow me to thread the needle here, but there's not a lot of margin for error for law school grads these days.

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