You don't have to tell me that recessions stink. With unemployment hovering around 10% and unemployment for folks under 30 usually reported at about 15%, who knows when I'll ever find a job. Moreover, those statistics don't include the underemployed and people who have just stopped looking for work.
Recessions aren't bad for everyone, however. Those with stable jobs that are largely unaffected by the business cycle (or are living off savings) can enjoy an indirect boost in discretionary income due to the falling price level. Certain speculators can take advantage of depressed prices and eventually profit when the economy and prices rebound. Even scam artists can take advantage of those who are out of work and are looking for an easy way to generate extra income.
Speaking of scam artists, law schools aren't exactly hurting during the recession either. For one thing, the economic collapse has resulted in a skyrocketing demand for graduate education as throngs of dupes flock to the ivory tower to wait out the recession. This has allowed the law schools to keep the scam (and tuition prices) growing stronger than ever.
Not only that, it has given them the cover they need to explain away the disastrous employment prospects that await their victims, err, graduates. "Surely, the law schools aren't to blame for the downturn in the economy," they contend. "Why everybody is hurting, and unfortunately the legal industry has been no exception." Plus, they make sure to add, "Prospective students should not be deterred; after all, the recession will surely be over by the time you graduate. Pay no attention to the plight of the classes of 2009/10."
It's, of course, true that jobs aren't exactly plentiful in any field. Nevertheless, as I pointed in in my "Craigslist Test" post, while there are few if any opportunities for attorneys (at least at the entry level), there are listings for positions in other fields - even in legal support roles!
There have also been multiple Craigslist ads offering salaries south of $40k in which the employer is only willing to consider the most elite applicants. Other firms have sought to hire new "attorneys" at hourly wages comparable to what one could make at Home Depot.
This ugly scenario can partially be attributed to the recession, but the reason why the market for attorneys is particularly atrocious (when compared to other industries) is because it never was all that robust to begin with. When the economy collapsed, the legal labor market got pounded into the ground.
To be sure, aspects of the legal industry were booming during the middle of the last decade. The large corporate firms were raking in the dough, and as a result, graduates from the elite schools, the top 10-20% of the "decent" schools, and a few "affirmative action" picks from the true toilets made their way into the coveted SA positions and eventually landed cushy first year associate positions.
Those who were truly gifted at networking, were born into the right families, or were just plain lucky also did alright. Also, those who were willing to accept the vow of poverty could likely find some DA or PD position to allow them to get the experience of working in the courtroom and to call themselves attorneys.
For pretty much everyone else, the golden age of legal employment wasn't exactly golden. Sure the media didn't really start to notice until their Ivy League golden children were no longer getting wined and dined by the big law plutocracy, but life wasn't so pleasant for the average unconnected graduate of virtually every school below the top 25 schools (and that's probably being generous) during this era.
For one thing, grad plus loans and the IBR plan have only been available since 2007 and 2009 respectively. While tuition was slightly lower a few years ago, going into six figures of debt for a private law school degree was hardly out of the question. That meant that it was easy to rack up nearly half of ones debt in private, non-dischargable loans and essentially become Sallie Mae's indentured servant for life.
But let's put that aside because the debt issue has been "solved". (At least until the the expense of the IBR blows up in the government's face.)
One cliche from that "golden era" was that law students were forced to take the high paying but largely unfulfilling associate positions at large firms in order to effectively pay down their debts. The truth was, of course, that only a limited number of students even had this opportunity.
What about the rest of the poor schlubs who were saddled with just as much debt but less impressive transcripts and/or academic pedigrees?
It's true that between 2004 and 2008, this wasn't an automatic sentence of unemployment and living in your mom's basement. Instead it usually was a sentence of wishing you were unemployed while working in Paul Weiss' poorly ventilated document review basement.
You see, this age of abundance was an era when the bright and well educated were flushed out of the back of law school machine only to work for some ambulance chasing parasite, click a mouse for $35 bucks an hour in a document review gulag, or abandon law altogether, rendering one's entire graduate education worthless.
And you know what? Those really were the good old days! I'm serious. As mentioned, today's toilet law firms essentially want top 10% students from tier one schools who were on law review. (All for the princely sum of $35k/year sans benefits.)
Doc Review gigs now requires experience - meaning entry level attorneys are actually under qualified to click a stupid mouse. I've personally been waiting for almost nine months to get a JUNIOR doc review position that pays $17/hour. We all, of course, know the score when it comes to finding a non-legal job.
Still, while I am left to dream about the days in which I could sit around in some third-world-worthy landlord tenant court or where I could actually be taken seriously at an interview for a job that doesn't require more than a BA, it probably says something about the law school industry when its most prosperous years were still a vile nightmare for most graduates.
Think I'm exaggerating? Take a look at our friend, Big Debt, Small Law. He graduated in 2005, top 1/3 of his class, from a second tier school. His reward? Cutting and pasting some mind numbing motions while representing the dregs of society for some ambulance chasing chop shop. Somehow, I doubt that this lovely career option was in the ol' Seton Hall brochure.
Tom the Temp was around long before unemployment launched into the stratosphere. In fact, his website gained notoriety largely based upon the sheer number of law grads who were being carted into these legal gulags to help the large firms keep up with their reams of discovery during the last economic expansion.
At least back then, watching your career and dignity slip away into oblivion before your very eyes earned you around $35 an hour plus overtime. Today, if you can even find this sort of work, you'll be lucky to make $20. (Experienced "attorneys" only, of course.)
Recall, it was during 2005, the height of the expansion, that the WSJ blew the whistle in its print edition on the fudged employment statistics published by the TTT diploma mills and helped expose the subterranean, doc review sweatshops.
How about trying to jump ship and finding a career outside of the law? Well, admittedly, back before the recession, it seemed like more companies were willing to give those with law degrees a second look (or at least were more forgiving about resumes with an unexplained gap).
To be sure, this wasn't because non-legal employers valued a JD; they just had a smaller pool of candidates from which to draw their "talent". A writer from the now defunct Barely Legal blog successfully transitioned into the corporate world before the crash, but guess what key piece of advice he has for those following in his footsteps:
"[Your J.D.] doesn't entitle you to anything more than you were entitled to coming out of college."
Did you catch that? After three years of law school and hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt (and possibly securing a law license), you'd better not expect any special treatment when applying for entry level positions outside of the legal field. Just try going into an interview with any sense of entitlement, TTT Grad, Esq., and see how far that gets you.
On top of that, almost every employer that takes your application seriously for a non-legal position is going to grill you over your legal education to a degree that would impress even the fictional Jack McCoy. This might be the only time in your life that having moot court experience will actually be of any benefit - to help you quickly address a barrage of hostile questions.
Barely Legal claimed that the only way to handle this inquisition is to simply explain that law school was just a detour in your educational development that helped you prepare for entry into the business world. I have found this advice to be pretty accurate.
If you find this account unpersuasive, Calico Cat wrote a few years earlier (also during the same period of prosperity) that the only way he was even able to find a job was to leave the J.D. off his resume altogether. Oh, by the way, he graduated in the top 10 percent in his class* from a tier 1 school.
So, let's assume the economy bounces back tomorrow. Let's further assume that the legal market returns to the way it was before the recession. I'd be overjoyed.
Nevertheless, what would await the majority of graduates of the class of 2011 in this more prosperous environment? Working for toilet law firms for $30-$50k per year. Being able to take mind numbing, document review jobs for hourly pay without gaining any substantive work experience. Taking a job which only requires a BA/BS and therefore rendering three years of graduate education entirely worthless.
Not exactly worth the $150k worth of debt.
Here's the Essential Esq. Never Talking Point: DO NOT GO TO LAW SCHOOL!
*Based upon his final GPA; not his 1L GPA