Monday, November 30, 2009

This Really Says it All

Take a look at this Craigslist ad (credit to JD Underground).

To summarize, a Northern Virginia firm (right outside of DC) wants to hire an entry level, licensed attorney with "excellent academic credentials". Starting salary: $35k.

I assume by excellent academic credentials they mean graduating from one of the VA or DC tier one schools in the top quarter (or maybe the top third) of the class.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, here is your reward: for studying hard enough in college and for the LSAT to get into one of these top 50 schools, working yourself silly to be in the top of your class, and paying the big bucks for the prestige, you get $35k at a small firm doing traffic and PI work. The DC area is also one of the most expensive areas in the country. Good luck getting by on $35k with sky high rental prices and hefty student loan payments.

To underscore just how lousy of a deal this is: I made the exact same salary coming out of college. I also worked for a NOT FOR PROFIT (which today would make me eligible for the 10 year loan forgiveness unlike this joke of a job). Furthermore, I didn't have the stress of being an attorney. In fact, on most days, the most difficult task I had was determining which take out restaurant I was going to go to for lunch.

Game over, man. Game over.

New Esq. Never Movie: The Versatility of a Law Degree

Who says there aren't other options besides practicing law if you have a law degree? Not the hosts of The Law School Connection.

I Never Thought Going to Grad School Would Ruin My Life

I've touched on this tangentially in other posts, but I'd like to address the issue directly in this post: Why did I go to law school if I don't really like the law or have any interest in actually practicing? It's a fair question. The simple answer was that this wasn't actually my attitude when I first enrolled in law school.

Before going into more detail, let me say that I accept that I wasn't blameless in my decision. I've noted before that I fell for a scam a la one of those late night get rich quick infomercials. I'll concede some pride and greed played a role in my decision. I was naive and should have looked into the decision more.

That said, my decision to pursue law school wasn't entirely illogical. I didn't just decide to go on a whim.

Before going to law school, I worked for an organization that did a lot of business oriented research. I was bored at work, and I knew that the people who received the more interesting assignments and had greater seniority all had graduate degrees. Many had law degrees. I thought getting such a degree would enhance my employment opportunities. In the area of work I was once interested, I felt having a legal education would really be an asset.

I also was under the impression that if I did well enough, I had a good chance of getting one of those coveted summer associate/big firm offers. I believed a JD would also open a bunch of doors for me. Additionally, there were aspects of the law that interested me. I really enjoyed legal/political/constitutional theory. I thought I would also find some intellectual satisfaction in law school. Furthermore, I was curious about practicing law: actually going into a court room, dealing with clients, and being an advocate.

On top of this, I thought that even if I didn't end up working as an attorney or in another legal oriented position, law school would still pay dividends. I would have a graduate/professional degree. I thought that it would be helpful in securing employment in other fields. I would learn critical thinking and research skills. I would meet new friends in my age bracket and make new contacts. It would a great experience and would pay off in the long run.

Disagree if you want, but even though my life long goal wasn't to be a practicing attorney, I think I had a pretty sound plan. Now, it turns out most of my assumptions were rather unrealistic and unfounded. That's why I use this blog (in part) to stand as a bulwark between 0L's and law school misinformation.

It turns out that the field I was in does hire attorneys, but the positions are usually very competitive. I have some connections that many other people do not. I don't want to move at this point, so I can't really try to even get back into my old company. The big law option was largely illusory. The employment/salary figures were misleading if not fraudulent.

Listening to some walking corpse drone on about the Penoyer decision wasn't exactly intellectually stimulating. (Apparently, discussing the efficacy of law and economics or debating originalism is for political theorists not budding attorneys.) Surprisingly, despite the dry and formulaic instruction we received, none of it was actually very practical.

Practicing law is also pretty disappointing. Appearing in court can somehow be both boring and tedious. Much of small firm practice is just pushing paper and dealing with procedural minutia. Clients are aggravating and in many cases not very admirable individuals.

A law degree is of no real use outside of the law (despite what the law schools often tell us). Having a graduate degree is not really that impressive to employers. (It and a strong back can get you a job stocking shelves at the local Piggly Wiggly.) Nobody pays for critical thinking and research skills - especially when college graduates with degrees in economics, political science, etc. can say the same thing.

The people in law school are amazingly arrogant, duplicitous, and unkind. Most professors do not care enough about their students to serve as useful contacts. I've found the same to be true about many practicing attorneys.

To be fair, there were some exceptions to my criticism of law school, but overall, most of my expectations were dashed.

I didn't enjoy learning about the law. I haven't found any practice area particularly compelling. (Not that it matters since there aren't any jobs.) Even trial practice gets old quickly. My law degree isn't opening doors in other fields (in fact, it may be closing them). With few exceptions, I didn't make any lasting connections from law school. The only thing I have to show for my three years is a diploma that's holding me back and a ton of debt.

This is why I'm looking to get out of law, and this is why I don't want others to make the same mistake.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

E-mail Scam Alert!

I just received the following e-mail scam. Fortunately, I'm too smart to ever fall for something like this, but I wanted to warn my readers about it.


[City Redacted], UNITED STATES








Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Roundup

Let me tie up some loose ends from earlier posts:

  • Thanksgiving has come and gone. As predicted: good food, annoying company. Fortunately, law school didn't come up too many times. The unnecessary "congratulations on passing the bar" did find its way into the conversation. I tried to remain as uninvolved as possible, which may have shielded me from the rest of the usually obligatory inquisition.

  • I did overhear one 20 something talking about going to law school, but she said she had decided not to go through with it, so I didn't have to launch into my 20 minute rant. Funny, she mentioned that she was interested in "corporate law" - aren't we all? Any temp workers out there want to share the joys of "working in corporate law"?

  • My friend who is in IT told me his story of getting into his current position as a financial analyst/programmer. He actually didn't complete his senior year of high school - he just took night school classes in English and U.S. History (which he failed in 11th grade) and somehow got his diploma (not GED). He worked in a call center and learned databases, VB, and how the company's accounting worked (through on the job training). Now he has a great financial analyst job because employers actually care about people who know what they're doing not fancy degrees.

  • I have another friend who also has worked his way up from a call center into a management position. He didn't avoid the college debt, unfortunately, but he also didn't actually graduate. Apparently, that slip of paper isn't holding him back. Here's the lesson kids, a year in the call center cubicles beats four years learning about "Feminist Folklore in Multicultural Societies" at a four year liberal arts TTT. Oh yeah, "But I Have a Law Degree!"

  • Coming soon, a new animated movie mocking the law school industry.

  • Upcoming posts: Updates on my job search, tips on getting into IT, a review of Kim Walton's Guerrilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams, and more!
Did I forget any promised updates, readers? Let me know. I hope everybody had a happy Thanksgiving.

TTT: A Dangerous Misnomer

You don't have to hang around law school related forums, blogs, or other internet resources long before being exposed to the abbreviation TTT, which stands for Third Tier Toilet. The origins of this term seem to be a bit nebulous. Apparently, it was first used to describe poorly ranked colleges rather than law schools.

Regardless of where the term originated, today it is used (rather imprecisely) to describe "bad" law schools. The term is used both by supercilious elite law students/graduates (such as those who post at autoadmit) to denigrate the masses and by disgruntled non-elite students/graduates in reaction to their less than stellar job prospects.

The imprecise application of the term, however, can mislead students seeking to enroll in law school. Folks at autoadmit, for example, may go as far as to call Georgetown (at T14 school) a TTT. This leaves many with the impression that the label "TTT" is the byproduct of snobbery - people from better schools just looking down their noses at lesser institutions. They, therefore, ignore warnings about their TTT's because they consider all such advice to be suspect.

The actual term "Third Tier Toilet" is also misleading. The top 100 law schools ranked by US News and World Report, are ranked above the third tier. Many people reason that if their school escapes being classified at below the top 100 (or is only occasionally ranked outside the top 100), they are safe from the fate that awaits those who attended third tier (or lower) ranked schools. Surely, they assume, a better ranked tier 2 or any tier 1 is a sound investment.

This is not true. TTT's are not necessarily schools that rank below the top 100. Rather they are schools that offer disappointing career opportunities. Most schools outside of the top 14 (maybe top 25) send only a small percentage to the large firms via summer associate programs (even during good times). Other students may get decent job opportunities, but usually these pay well below $100k. The rest of the students are left to rely on family connections, usually ill fated networking attempts, or settling for small firm settlement mills or temp work. Many, either out of frustration or necessity, abandon law altogether.

Some people may not like referring to their school as a "toilet" especially if it takes good grades, solid recommendations, and 160+ LSAT scores to get in. I, however, think it's a fair description of a school (regardless of its other credentials) that sucks in unwitting students with promises of great careers, convinces them to work themselves silly while bowing down their professors, and then leaves a substantial number (if not a majority) of them without any option to find decent paying work.

This describes plenty of so called first and second tier schools. Sitting in your mom's basement staring at your American, Villanova, or Pitt law degree and wondering how you'll ever make a living is just as depressing as doing the same if you have a Suffolk, Roger Williams, or Elon law degree on the wall.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I Don't Hate My Law School

When the subject of law school rip offs comes up, there are number of schools that consistently get named: Seton Hall, Loyola (LA), Brooklyn, and Drake. Most of the New York schools ranked lower than Fordham have gotten their fair share of bad press, and I've heard critical reports about law schools across the country ranked from the first tier down to the fourth. (Some of the famous posters/bloggers such as Lawis4Losers, Loyola2L, and Thirdtierreality have helped make their schools' misdeeds even more public.)

In many of these cases, I think it's fair to be angry with one's school. Seton Hall's reported employment figures are laughably absurd. They claim that people who go into business will (on average) make in excess of $100k. There are legitimate MBA programs that don't promise that. Fourth tier schools that charge nearly $50k a year to students with low LSAT scores who are just dying to be accepted to any law school are nothing short of criminal enterprises. There are plenty of stories of soulless deans, administrators, and professors outright lying to their students.

Nonetheless, as angry as I am about my decision to go to law school, I personally don't hate my law school. During good times, the top 20% of the class had pretty strong employment opportunities. Everyone in the top 50% (at least if they were willing to remain in the area) could get a decent job. Those in the bottom half would struggle a bit more, but they could actually pick up some practical skills and alumni connections and eventually land some legal work (albeit not exactly in the downtown area of a major city). Yes, some did end up in document review, but I didn't hear too many stories about that from alums or students. If you end up in the bottom part of your class at a tier two, I don't know how reasonable it is to expect to make $70k+ a year outside of doc review.

Of course, when then the economy tanked, the house of cards that was the legal industry came crashing down, exposing the vulnerability of having second tier credentials. The elite schools have been hit hard, and it's been a disaster for those of us lower on the food chain. It wasn't like my school asked for the economy to collapse, however. Prior to the recession, I would say my school was a respectable, regional institution where someone could launch a decent legal career (albeit with a high price tag).

This isn't to say that I like everything about my school. The employment statistics were (and continue to be) exaggerated. Many of the professors were condescending and arrogant (who didn't care that the students paid their salaries). While they urged people in the bottom of the class to take remedial measures to make sure they could pass the bar (and thus protect the school's US News ranking), they never informed anybody about possibly dropping out to avoid a difficult job search. There were more than a few buffoons in the administration and there were a bunch of dopey diversity and "inclusiveness" initiatives.

At the end of the day, however, I had no business being in law school. The best thing my school could have done for me would have been to reject me. All of things I mentioned above could really be said for almost all but the best law schools. The problem really lies in the nature of the law school industry. Moreover, it also rests in too many budding law students entering law school with unrealistic expectations (usually largely influenced by misleading data).

While bashing individuals schools may be fun (and even justified), the bigger issue is trying to encourage future students to be very careful about what they're getting themselves into. Even at the schools that are generally honest and responsible, it is still easy to graduate with massive debt and be either unemployed or underemployed. If law school isn't for you, it will be three years of misery. The study and practice of law aren't like social science classes or what's shown on TV. It's tedious, stressful, and rarely glamorous.

I don't hate my law school. I hate that it's part of a system where distortions and charging obscene tuition are common practices. I hate that it's hard to get a full understanding about what law school is like before you go. I hate that the legal market is saturated and abusive of entry level and seasoned attorneys alike.

I absolutely regret my decision to attend law school - just imagine how I'd feel if I were a Seton Hall alumnus.

The Thanksgiving Turkey

Ordinarily I like Thanksgiving. I like eating and turkey and its related side dishes are some of my favorite foods. Usually, I can live without the company, but I guess that comes with the territory. In law school, I either skipped the holiday or went to a friend's house to avoid driving on the busy roads.

This year, however, I am back at home, and I am not looking forward to the day at all. You see, at my parents' house there will be two Thanksgiving turkeys - the actual bird and me. There will be a bunch of people coming over (some of whom I don't even know). I may have never met some of the guests, but I'm sure they know one thing about me - I'm a "lawyer". Though I haven't been formally admitted, they know that I graduated and passed the bar.

On top of all of this, of a reasonably well educated guest list, I stand out as arguably the best educated. Personally, I'd give the edge to my dad who has an MBA from an Ivy League school, but in term of shear years (particularly including the bar), I edge him out. I believe my dad and I will be the only people with graduate degrees. I'd say between four and six guest will have college degrees from respectable school. Three went to a small TTTT state college and two have some college or technical school credits. Guess who is the only person who isn't a retiree or housewife and doesn't have to worry about going to work on Monday?

(I also assume the combined student loans of everybody else at the table is less than the interest I owe on my loans.)

This anomaly won't go unoticed or uncommented on. Sure, some of them have jobs working at supermarkets that I could get myself (if I'm not "overqualified"), but I'm the only person presently living in a guest bedroom. Anyway, I anticipate a barrage of embarrassing questions. Obviously, I need to be polite when I get asked (and I can't let the cat out of the bag yet that I'm looking for non-legal employment), so I'm going to going to use this opportunity to give my Thanksgiving Answers (TA) and my Real Answers (RA) to a list of anticipated questions.

Q1: So, you're a lawyer?

TA: Yes

RA: No

Q2: Where are you in the process (becoming a lawyer, looking for a job)?

TA: Well, the market is a little tough right now, but I'm searching for opportunities and talking to various people about different places to work. I have to get sworn in first before I can practice.

RA: The swearing in ceremony is a sham and this year will double as an unemployment convention. I'm just using it as an excuse for not aggressively seeking legal work. I spend most of my time reading/writing blogs and forum posts about how awful this industry is. I'm also conducting a covert campaign to get out of this mess of a profession.

Q3: What type of law do you practice?

TA: Well, we don't really specialize in an area of law in law school. I'm open to different avenues. I have some experience in criminal law and estate law.

RA: Aside from contemplating ways to sue the ABA, US News, and maybe my law school for fraud, I don't practice any law. In fact, I don't know anything about practicing law. Most legal secretaries would be more help to you in solving legal problems than I would. If you'd like a lecture on 16th century property law and the history of substantive due process, then I'm your man. Apparently, writing wills or actually representing clients isn't something law schools feel an attorney needs to know.

Q4: Can you offer me free legal advice about [some issue]?

TA: Well, I'm not really familiar with that area of law. [Gutless Offer] Maybe I can do some research for you at the local law library, but I can't officially offer you any advice until after I'm barred.

RA: As much as I'd like to get disbarred before I even get my law license, I unfortunately never acquired any practical skills in law school, so no, I can't help you. I probably could look it for you, though. Maybe when I come over in December to shovel your driveway for free and vacuum your house without charge, I can share with you my pro bono research.

Q5: Congratulations on passing the bar. That's a real accomplishment.

TA: Thank you! I really appreciate it.

RA: That's nice of you to say, but all it proves is that I'm not a complete moron. Almost nine out of ten first time test takers had their results rubber stamped. In high school, the percentage needed to pass the bar is what we would call a "D+". Even the vast majority of the students at the local barely accredited TTT's who couldn't crack a 150 on the LSAT passed this test.

Q6: I can't believe there is a shortage of work for lawyers. There are so many laws and such a demand for legal services.

TA: Well, the economy is tough for all fields. I'm sure things will pick up soon.

RA: Yes, there may be some demand, but there are 200+ laws schools pumping out J.D.'s like a politician pumps out platitudes. Do you really think the PI and DUI attorneys on TV are doing that work because they love it? Did they go to law school and think, boy I hope I can dedicate my life to chasing ambulances or defending drunkards who have no respect for other people's lives? Right now there are thousands of law students groveling to work in windowless basements to review boring documents for $20 an hour.

Q7: You should talk to my [some relationship] who is an attorney at [BIGLAW Firm]?

TA: Thanks for the offer. Unfortunately, I don't know if BIGLAW is right for me and they are facing some real economic challenges.

RA: Do you also have a cousin who plays in the NBA. Maybe he could get me a spot on the Cavs or the Lakers? I'd say the odds are about the same that either could help me out.

Q8: Wow, I'm thinking of going to law school myself! Have you ever heard of [some TTT]?

TA: Well, good luck with that. I'm sure you...No, I can't stand by and let you destroy your life no matter how annoying you may be. Everything I said was a load of malarkey. I have no prospects, and I went to a half decent tier two. I hated law school and most people don't realize what it's like. It's too much work and too much money for such a small return. I'm actively looking into entry level jobs geared towards people with just BA/BS degrees. I'll be lucky if I end up making $40k, and I'll be paying at least 10% of my salary to Sallie Mae until I'm as old as my dad is now. Run! Save yourself before it's too late! Oh, and can you pass the gravy?

RA: Uh, see above.

I'll let you know how many of these questions pop up.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Guerrilla Tactics for Remaining Unemployed: Legal Networking

Most readers will recognize the title of this post as a playful twist on Kim Walton's "Guerrilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams". GT is a "so-so" book often touted by career service offices in law schools as the definitive guide to gaining legal employment. For my twenty five bucks, it certainly was worth more than the career services office.

At some point, I plan on issuing a review of the book, but for the time being I'm just going to more broadly discuss its key concept: Networking.

Before criticizing this tactic for securing legal employment, I'd like to advise you to read a pro-networking post: Here's the link. Its author is a guy who goes by the name of Matthies on Law School Discussion. He wouldn't know who I am, but I used to sporadically post on that board back when I had a more sanguine view of law school (a view shared by most posters). Matthies has done well for himself despite attending a non-elite law school and not being in the top 10% of his class. His secret is in the aforementioned link. He built a strong network of attorneys and judges and tapped into it to gain access to a wealth of employment opportunities.

I congratulate him, and I wish him well, but if you read the post carefully you'll realize that his strategy certainly isn't feasible for everybody and isn't the same sort of networking Walton, et. al. advise. You see, what he did wasn't just throw his business card at some lawyers at a cocktail party or wait to strike up a conversation with a sympathetic employer at a CLE. What he did was actually become friends and even colleagues with the people in his network. I'll let you read the post itself for more details.

There are, however, some problems with this post. For one thing, you need to start this process early - either before or soon after your first day of class your 1L year. If you wait longer, you'll have less time to foster these connections. If you wait until you graduate/take the bar, you'll be unemployed for a long time before you see any fruit. For another, this tactic doesn't really work too well if you don't want to stay in the area after law school.

It's also important to note that Matthies had somewhat of a unique situation. He was a full time-part time student. This gave him a lot more time during the day to make these connections and one more year to see them develop than a full time student. He also went to law school in a fairly populous state with only two law schools. Furthermore, he came into law school knowing what he wanted to pursue (some sort of natural resources/environmental law). This also limited his competition a bit.

Not only would this be harder to pull off in some of the more attorney saturated states in the Northeast, it's also a difficult proposition from the outset. Most 1L's from the first tier down to probably the better 3rd tier schools are very interested in doing well their first year in order to have a chance at the coveted summer associate positions at Big Law. If you're going full time, there isn't a lot of room for Inn of Court, charity events, or playing racket ball with a local solo practitioner.

It's also questionable just how effective attending these events are for building a network. For example, a friend of mine was involved in the Inn of Court near our law school. She said it was worthless because most of people were either semi-retired or too far out of the loop to have any real contacts for the student. She did, however, have to waste her time performing in some stupid play about criminal procedure for a ridiculous competition.

I, myself, went to a number of CLE's - not with the intent to network but to pick up some of the basic skills they neglected to teach us in law school - and with one exception, I never saw the same two people ast any of these CLE's. Also because they were introductory legal courses (why would I attend anything more advanced?), the bulk of the audience were solos trying to pick up an extra practice area, newbie lawyers trying to learn the ropes, or other students.

I tried talking to some of the panelists, but most of them were tired and while they didn't mind clarifying advice they gave in their remarks, you could see them shudder when they got the "How can I get into X law" question. I sincerely believe most of these guys (at least in areas with lots of law schools) have been hit up repeatedly with thinly veiled attempts by students to weasel their way into a job.

I could go with the anecdotes (and I'll save some for my GT's review), but at the end of the day, I'm not sure that even if Matthies' advice works for you, it exonerates the law school cartel. If you go into law school accepting that you need to get out there on day one and build this network and that law school and the bar are just a sideshow you need to pass to get the legal credentials to practice, fair enough. Most law students, however, don't go in with this impression and this advice certainly isn't stressed in law school. Also, if this is what it takes to get a job (or at least a good job) for what exactly are we paying a small fortune?

This brings me to my rant for today. Feel free to stop reading if you don't want to be exposed to some Esq. Never rage.

/* Begin Rant

When we accept admission into law school and agree to pay them (or borrow against our future) to teach us the law, we don't do so because we're merely curious about the American legal system. Nobody borrows the equivalent of a first mortgage to satisfy his/her intellectual curiosity. We made this agreement because the skills they were supposed to impart to us would allow us to make a better living or earn our living in a more interesting and rewarding field.

No, this doesn't mean we're guaranteed a job. It certainly doesn't mean everyone with a J.D. is entitled to six figures upon graduation. It's perfectly reasonable that slackers at the bottom of the class without any initiative struggle to find legal work and that people who went to small, local schools will have to stay nearby after graduation if they want attorney positions. What is unreasonable is that the result of this agreement for so many students (including those who did well and are from good schools) is of no discernible benefit (and even an actual detriment) to their career.

It's all well and good that some outgoing people have learned to work the system and met the right people to help launch their careers, but I'm sorry, this shouldn't be necessary. If students are required to borrow as much as $50k a year alone JUST for tuition, suffer through three grueling years of school and exams, and then take the king of all exams (the bar), they shouldn't have to also play politics to have a CHANCE at landing a real job. They shouldn't have to play dodge ball with judges, pay to go to CLE's, or make fools of themselves acting in Inn of Court plays to avoid being sentenced to the bowels of Big Law document review. What's next, should we volunteer to babysit a small firm partner's kids or mow his lawn just to keep us fresh in his mind?

Yes, I know plenty of things in life are about who you know and not what you know. I recognize that plenty of law students just work for dad or one of his connections after law school, and if we aren't fortunate enough to have this path available to us, then we have to blaze it ourselves.

Again, however, if this is the case, what exactly are we paying for? Six figures worth of tuition (which could easily reach as high $200k at some point) isn't enough for us to be credentialed for a decent job without three years of brown nosing? We sure as heck don't learn any practical skills that are marketable either to existing firms or potential clients. How many law school graduates know how to write a simple will, represent a DUI client, or write a sales agreement? Do most students have any idea how to set up their accounting system properly without getting disciplined?

What other sort of program operates like this? Maybe an MBA program, but at the very least it's cheaper and more flexible than a J.D. Even PhD's at least learn how to be professors, and even if there are a lack of professorial positions, most of the time their education was subsidized. Once we get into more practical programs like M.S. degrees in accounting and computer science, we see that people do actually pay money to learn marketable skills that are important to employers and clients.

I could probably keep typing until the end of the night, but here's the bottom line: If getting a legal job costs an arm and a leg in tuition/expenses, requires a ton of work in school, AND requires a politician's dedication to networking, then law schools should tell us that up front. Of course, as we all know, they don't care as long as they have our money. That's why we "whine" and that's why these blogs exist.

End Rant */

Matthies' advice for networking is pretty good if you're willing to take the same initiative he did. If you're not and you're not going to one of the elite schools, do yourself a favor, don't go.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Job Search Round Up

As promised, here's the current status of my job search (the ostensible focus of this blog).


I found an opportunity to volunteer on a local campaign. Okay, yes, that's weak, but I've actually done this before. Politics seems to be the one field where people really want to network - everyone always wants as many connections as they can get. Because I enjoy campaign work, I put a lot of effort into the last campaign on which I worked and got recognized for it. Had I decided to go into politics at the time, I would have had some good connections. This will also build experience for me to market myself for some of the major campaigns coming up in 2010. There may also be some residual benefits in meeting people in other fields.


I spoke to a friend in the IT field - more on him in a later post (get ready to weep some more, fellow J.D. scam victims) - and while he couldn't do much for me directly, he gave me a decent suggestion. While entry level jobs in IT are a bit difficult to come by ITE and often require greater proficiency than I have in certain software and/or languages, he suggested looking into temp work to build my resume.

I'm not sure why I didn't think about that before. Actually, I know why. The words "temp agency" and "computers" usually conjures up visions of TTT J.D.'s slaving away in a boiler room, clicking their mouse buttons like trained chimps - only with less self respect. Nonetheless, this isn't a bad suggestion and opens up some new opportunities. (I'm going to discuss the advice I've received for getting into IT in another thread.)


I have a friend who's pretty connected to the local business community. He was working on finding some contacts for me. I was going to have lunch with him this week to discuss my job search, but something came up, so it has been delayed until next week. I'm going to let him know of my new found interest in moving in the direction of working in IT/IS. Perhaps he knows someone who works under a CIO or COO.


Despite my best efforts to abandon this field, people are still trying to push me in this direction. One friend of mine gave me the name of his former boss who runs a local issue advocacy organization. A number of her family members and friends are apparently attorneys. He suggested I contact her.

A number of people have also approached me about handling some legal matters once I'm formally admitted to practice. (I passed the bar, and I'm just waiting for the final certification.) How willing they are going to be to actually pay me is a different story. At one point I thought going solo would be great alternative. Now I realize that it is just a hassle. If I was looking to go that route, maybe this would build experience, but I think I'll leave the solo market slightly less saturated. Starving solos, if you'd like to thank me, you can refer your pre-law friends to this blog.

The best connection I actually made was through my mom (which is pretty freaking sad). Apparently some woman she knows who is in her early 30's works as the in house counsel for a local company. I'd actually be tempted to contact her because at least it's not working for a firm, but she said they're not currently hiring.

This isn't actually all that interesting by itself. In fact, it could easily just by a courtesy she was showing my mother. However, the next time the two of them ran into each other, she went through the trouble of writing down her contact information and the web site of the company. She also gave some details about what she does. Apparently, she's actually a VP at the company.

Like I said if they were hiring, I probably wouldbe more willing to explore this avenue. Because I'm not really interested in the law at all - in house counsel seems just as boring as anything else in the law - I'm not sure I want to waste her time. I'm also not sure why she would go through all this trouble if there aren't any job opportunities. Maybe my mom lied and told her I was good looking and she's looking for a date. Sorry ladies, Esq. Never's looks are about as impressive as his career prospects and current living arrangement.

Yes, folks, this is legal networking. Having your far more extroverted mom try get her friends to employ you. It kind of reminds me of when I was teenager and my mom picked up some job applications from local retailers for me to get me out of the house during the summer. Would anyone else like a cup of my dignity?

Take My Wife...Please!

Alright, readers it's confession time. I've recently done some internet stalking. No, I don't mean following some poor person's every (on-line) move. I stay away from Facebook like the plague. I don't want to share my personal activities and status with every person with whom I may have had a two minute conversation over the past twenty years. I also don't want to be tempted to obsessively spy on various acquaintances from the past.

If I'm going to share my opinions and personal experiences, it's going to be about law school and it's going to be anonymous!

In any event, back to my confession. Despite my best attempts to stay away from the social networking wasteland, Google still offers it's own temptations for internet "sleuthing". Recently, I decided to Google a girl from my past.

We had a somewhat bizarre but meaningful relationship during college. I think at one point we both were under the impression that we would eventually wed. As it turned out, we had a number of differences that would probably make a successful marriage impossible. We ended the relationship on pretty good terms and actually remained close friends for a couple more years. Busy schedules and geographic barriers eventually caused us to fall out of touch.

I'll admit I had Googled her in the past, but this time I added her middle name. Sure enough, it pulled up an archived web page from her local newspaper announcing her marriage to another man a few years ago. Readers, perhaps you'll permit me a slight bit of jealousy. It's not particularly becoming, but it's human nature. Nonetheless, it would be unreasonable and cruel of me to neither expect nor want an attractive, nice, traditionally minded girl to get married relatively early in life.

Unfortunately, my unease grew a bit as I continued reading about the nuptials. It turned out they got married quite soon after we fell out of communication. Ouch. The gentleman she married was about a decade older than her, which struck me as particularly bizarre and unnerving for some reason. But here's the kicker (and why I'm posting this anecdote on this blog), her groom's profession: Attorney.

Nice. Fortunately, it doesn't appear that he's some hotshot big (or even mid) law associate or partner. Otherwise, I think I would have literally morphed into a green eyed monster. (No, I'm not proud of myself, readers.) It appears that he's a solo practitioner in a smaller community, but even so, this wasn't exactly the news I wanted to hear.

So, essentially this guy is married and romancing the woman I once thought I was going to marry while supporting both of them with the career I once thought I wanted and invested so much into securing. Hey, while you're taking things off my hands, buddy, I have about six figures of student debt which is yours for the asking!

Putting my ignobly jealous rant aside, I think you can tell I'm an unemployed law graduate when I actually considered sending him the following e-mail.

Dear Attorney X,

You do not know me. I at one point, however, was in a relationship with your wife, Mrs. X. Recently, I was electronically stalking her and learned that the two of you were married within the past few years. Congratulations. After stalking both you a little bit more, I learned that you are an attorney. I too have been recently been admitted into this profession, and I am looking to break into small firm practice. Do you have any advice for me or contacts with whom you can put me in touch?

Thanks for your attention to this matter (and not seeking a restraining order).


Esq. Never...Unless you have some good contacts

Remember, kids, never pass up an opportunity for networking and getting your name out there!

NB: Most of this post is written tongue in cheek. I do not honestly believe either of them owe me anything or have taken anything from me. I wish the happy couple the best. Now back to my regularly scheduled life of being unemployed and living at home with my parents.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Getting the Non-Legal Job of Your Dreams - Or that at least pays the bills

Here's link I promised in my most recent (and much longer) post below. It's from a now defunct blog called "Barely Legal". The author ended up finding work in a field outside of law. He has some good advice, but remember, he graduated during better times, so it may take more (or less - i.e. don't mention the J.D.) to even get an interview. I hope the advice helps.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Post Law School Options

If you graduate from law school and didn't land a job via OCI, you're certainly not alone, particularly in this economy (ITE). Unfortunately, while misery may love company, knowing that others are in the same predicament doesn't put food on the table.

While there may be other reasonable options, I can count four general paths an unemployed law graduate can take (assuming he passes the bar). (Unreasonable options that are not mentioned include fleeing the country to escape one's creditors, going on welfare, turning to a life of crime, and taking a swan dive off a tall building.)

I'll analyze the pros and cons as well as how each path has been affected ITE.

Small Firm Employment


Most people will assume this is where you will end up after law school if you didn't go to one of the elite schools. You'll be using your law degree and license, so you won't feel ashamed of wasting your education. Depending on the type of law you practice, you may actually do "lawyerly" things such as take depositions, interview clients, and conduct trials. You may be able to build skills and establish a client base that will allow you to eventually move to a better firm or open your own practice.


While small firms are often touted as a "fallback option" if you fail to get an associate position through OCI, this isn't really the case. It's true that smaller firms are less concerned about grades or journals than the prestige focused elite firms, but what is also true is that they don't really have an accessible hiring process. Small firms tend to be small for a reason. Either they don't have a lot of resources or their business model is based upon only one or two attorneys offering legal services out of a small office.

Moreover, small firms don't have the resources for recruitment or training. Finding a good small firm job usually requires very good connections, luck, and/or prior experience in an area of law. The small firms that tend to hire entry level attorneys most faithfully are the personal injury and insurance defense mills. They tend to have high rates of turnover because the working conditions aren't very pleasant.

Most small firms pay low salaries - usually less than $50k and nowhere near the promised "average starting salaries" of $70-120k so many law schools advertise. Benefits are also rather limited and the work environments are notorious for being unprofessional and disorganized. Cities that have the most available openings for small firms tend to be large and expensive (e.g. NYC). This makes it difficult to balance loan payments and personal living expenses.


As job options at the top firms have shrunk considerably, the entire legal industry has been affected. Students who once wouldn't have deigned themselves to chase ambulances, are now chasing these lowing paying jobs. Small firms have their pick of law review, moot court, and first tier law students. This has made positions that were once relatively easy to secure far more competitive.

Contract "Temporary" Document Review


For some people, document review may be the ultimate job. You can get paid a lot of money to do very little work. Sometimes doc reviewers can get paid as much $40 an hour and over $60 for OT. (The usual rate tends to be around $35 in New York City.) Not all document review is the same, but usually it consists of reviewing electronic documents using different computer programs and marking files as "relevant" or "irrelevant". A person who is able to line up a number of consecutive document review projects (some lasting as long as a year) can usually earn between $75k and $100k a year (depending on the pay rate and OT). Not bad for clicking a mouse and having no real responsibility or work related stress. Some positions even include perks such as meal and transportation vouchers. A few temp agencies even offer benefits such as health insurance, dental insurance, and 401k retirements plans. A few years of frugal living and many document review hours may even be able to wipe out your entire law school debt.


There are whole blogs and articles dedicated to the trials of suffering through document review projects (see the links to Temporary Attorney and Big Debt, Small Law). The most offensive places to work seem to be in New York City. There are nightmare stories about terrible working conditions, beastly supervisors, and duplicitous temporary agencies. Many times the document review projects are conducted in the subterranean floors of major law firms. Some projects prohibit "attorneys" from eating, speaking, or using the internet while on the job. The work is almost always tedious and redundant. Projects can often end without warning forcing temps to quickly scurry to find other work. Associates and permanent staffers at the law firms usually look down on temps with disdain - apparently knowing how to solve some puzzles on a standardized test makes you a king among men.

The worst part is that you don't gain any appreciable skills by doing this work. If one works for too many years on document review, many legal employers will automatically reject them from consideration for more meaningful jobs. It also won't help build a resume for someone seeking to leave the law. Even if one can pay down his debt, he'll still be left with few job prospects except for document review, but how much of this work can a person take and is this really what somebody wants his life to be like - clicking a mouse until retirement?


Big firms and the financial sector have been hit hard and this has greatly affected document review opportunities. At one point anyone with a J.D. and a law license (sometimes only the J.D.) could find a document review position. Temporary agencies and their clients can now be more selective. Not wanting to train new "attorneys", most advertisements for document review work list previous experience on document review as a prerequisite. Moreover, rates have reportedly plummeted. Many assignments have rates of under $30. Some cities have rates under $20. ITE, document review work is no longer as accessible for entry level candidates as it once was nor is it as lucrative.

Going Solo


If you're sick of working for "the man", going solo could be a dream come true. It means setting your own schedule, practicing the law you want to practice, and owning all of the firm's profits. Hanging one's own shingle is dream of many lawyers. If you have a network of people who need legal advice, representation, or documents drafted, you can take their cases and build your reputation in the community as a competent attorney. With the right mix of marketing, networking, and legal skills, for the right person, this could be a very lucrative and exciting venture.


I actually tried to acquire practical legal skills in law school. Honest. I, however, would not feel comfortable writing a basic will, representing someone in traffic court, or suing to get a security deposit back. If med school was anything like law school, nobody would survive surgery. Law school doesn't teach you how to do anything practical. It's pretty much all theory (with a trial advocacy and civil pretrial class thrown in there every once in a while). Going solo right away can be a very precarious move. Unless you invest some serious time in learning one or more areas of the law and/or have a solid attorney mentor, you're asking for trouble. Missing deadlines, having an IAC claim, or making accounting mistakes can spell the end of your attorney career.

Even if you can avoid a malpractice claim and the disciplinary committee, there are still many other hurdles. You need to find clients. If you don't like networking for jobs, good luck find referrals, etc. You can start off working from home, but you'll eventually need some meeting space and/or office. This can be expensive. You'll also absolutely need malpractice insurance. There's also a steep learning curve for court procedure and using the appropriate forms. You'll need to be very cognizant of your state bar's accounting and ethical rules.

This isn't to say it's impossible, but it's definitely not a default position.


This area may be the path that's the least affected by the recession because people's demand for personal legal services hasn't declined (though their discretionary income has). Still with more seasoned attorneys having this same idea, it certainly doesn't make surviving any easier.

Non Legal Work


Maybe now you see why I'm in this camp. Legal jobs (at least the one's accessible to most of us) really stink. They aren't necessarily easy to get. There's a whole world out there of other, better careers. Plenty of people have done well for themselves who are not attorneys. If you don't love the law, or think it's going to be lucrative, or feel that you're just following it to a dead end, find a job that will serve you better. There's no law that law school graduates need to be lawyers. If the other options aren't for you, it's better to bail out now rather than dig yourself further in.


Pride and the perception of others may stop many a law graduate from fleeing the legal industry. To go into another field is to admit defeat. It means three years of your life and a ton of money have been wasted in pursuit of nothing. Friends and family may be disappointed in you (particularly if they gave you financial support). Your mom may want to announce to her friends that "her son is a lawyer". Your neighbor might want to "come by the office" for legal advice. Friends may want to know when and where you'll be establishing your practice. People may have been rooting for you during the entire law school/bar exam process. I'll admit, being recognized as an attorney makes you feel important. (Being unemployed, chasing ambulances, or sitting around in the basement of a law firm, however, probably will make you feel less important.)

There are also less superficial downsides to leaving the law. For one thing, a J.D. may make it tough to get a non-legal job. If you can't explain why you want to be an accounts receivable clerk when you're educated to be an attorney, you're not going to get the job even if you're the most qualified candidate. Another problem is that (unless you have significant non-legal work experience) you're not going to even have a chance at the big bucks you may have anticipated. You'll have to start off in an entry level position like everybody else. There are few jobs where a J.D. will enhance your marketability that are not specifically attorney positions.


I read another blog post created during better times about finding a non-legal job - I'll link to it after positing this. The author said he got a lot of interviews and calls just because employers were curious about a guy with a J.D. who wanted to be an entry level [fill in the blank]. With double digit unemployment, employers are so swamped with applications that they probably don't have time to be curious anymore. Sadly, if you're sending out resumes, the best thing you may able to do with your resume is re-label you "Education" section as "Relevant Education" and drop your law degree. I know, it hurts. (More on this later.)

None of these options are particularly appealing, but they're better than pan handling...I think. Good luck to everyone else in the same predicament. Am I missing something? Am I too generous towards any of the career paths? Too harsh? Let me know in the comment section.

Friday, November 20, 2009

To Be or Not to Be

I know some people who went to college who ended up majoring in drama. They're what we call future law school students! Ba da ching!

Is this thing on? No seriously, I actually know some people who went to school with the intention of becoming actors. Now becoming a professional actor/actress is one career path that's actually more difficult than becoming an attorney. None of these people are currently (or likely will ever) be able to make acting a full time career. They either work in retail, teaching, or on the business side of the theater/entertainment industry.

Now, some might be disappointed that there aren't more opportunities (particularly compensated opportunities) to use their skills. Nonetheless, only the most quixotic drama majors with visions of being a Hollywood celebrity actually think there's a good chance he or she will make any money following this path.

Nonetheless, many still flock to this industry in droves in hopes that they will end being the fortunate ones who will live a life of fame and fortune. They do this because they have a dream and have a passion for what they do. Good for them.

Budding attorneys, on the other hand, flock to law schools not with romantic visions of stardom in their minds (for the most part). They go to law school for the exact opposite reason: to be pragmatic. They want stable, well paying careers.

Almost everybody knows about the starving artist/actor. It's common knowledge that only about 1% of the actors guild is employed full time. Parents don't encourage their children to go into drama. If anything, they encourage their children to forsake their naive dreams and pursue more practical skills.

We, of course, all know how lucrative everyone thinks being an attorney can be.

Starving actors and actresses are starving because they're waiting for something better. Starving lawyers are in the poor house because they have to pay student loans and can't find good paying legal work. Actors can always leave their dreams (and service oriented jobs behind) and join the full time workforce (usually with experience in customer service). Lawyers have been typecast into one career, being an attorney - they're "overqualified" for most other positions.

Actors and actresses can go to bed at night with the (albeit remote) hope of making it big and having fame and fortune. What can an attorney dream about? Hourly document review wages rising back to pre recession levels? Doing well enough as a trial lawyer so he can one day slave away for a big firm? Not exactly what we fantasized about doing when we were in elementary school is it?

The moral: If you're not going to pursue practical skills and career development, at least do something you love. (NB: I don't have any interest in being an actor.)

One Small Step

I have had a few developments in my job search, which I plan to share with you next week when they become more concrete.

For now, here's a quick post about a small step I plan on taking in developing some marketable skills. As I've mentioned, I wish I developed my computer and IT skills instead of going to law school. One area in which I have some (albeit mostly amateur) experience is web design. I learned how to script HTML (before the wysiwyg editors were developed) in the early days of web. I even hosted a few websites, so I knew about web servers and ftp, etc.

Sadly for me, things have changed quite a bit in web development since those days. There is more structure to web sites and commercial sites often require interactions with data bases and graphically intense interfaces. Web developers usually have to be familiar (usually intimately so) with CSS, CMS, Flash, PHP, SQL, JavaScript, VB Script, and XML. At a minimum, strong skills in HTML, CSS, and PHP are required for entry level positions.

I'm pretty familiar with HTML (and related development software). CSS is pretty straightforward (it's just a method of standardizing the appearance of multiple pages on a website). What is more complex is PHP, particularly in interacting with databases. PHP uses programming concepts to manipulate user inputed data (usually to query or edit a database). I have familiarity with programming concepts, and I'd even say I have a working knowledge of PHP, but that's not enough to really advertise it as a particular skill of mine.

I've decided to spend some of my free time (of which I certainly have plenty right now) learning PHP to the point where I can get a certificate. The training is self paced, and free, but the test/certification does cost a modest amount. It's from a website that is often noted for setting the standard for scripting and web development.

Now, I'm not under any illusion that a simple certificate (with no real work experience) is going to let me walk into a great IT/web development job. What I do hope it will do is give me credibility in applying for other jobs where there is a web development/database component and where I can get practical experience. Also, it may help me get a part time web development position where I can begin to build a portfolio.

Web and computer savvy readers, feel free to weigh in in the comment section.

A Law School Carol

Just in time for the holidays, Esq. Never present its first feature film, A Law School Carol. Based upon Charles Dickens' classic tale of the miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, this revision of the classic story explores Steve, an arrogant and naive 1 L's struggle to understand the truth about law school.

Like in the original tale, the protagonist is haunted by three spirits and is warned about the course his life has taken. Will he repent and take a realistic look at law school, or will he stubbornly cling to the idea that law school is the path to prosperity? Click on this link to the Youtube playlist to find out. Be sure to watch all six parts.

(I know I threw in some humor and some parts are kind of lame, but I do really hope 0L's will watch it and take the commentary to heart. Please help me promote this video series. The link to the playlist is You can alternatively link to this post. I don't really care about the credit, I just want to get the word out about law school. I hope this is an amusing approach to doing so.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A J.D. Who Escaped from Shawshank

Today's inspirational story comes from CNN (as linked from JDUnderground). Apparently, one recent law graduate from New York Law School has decided to go solo, but he's not offering legal services. Instead, he's selling cupcakes from a cupcake truck in the city.

Too bad he's saddled with a law degree, but maybe his company will grow large enough one day for him to help a couple fellow TTT graduates out with jobs in the in house legal department.

Visit his website at, and if you're nearby, make sure to help a fellow comrade out and purchase a cupcake (assuming you actually have any money to spare).

Not All Job Searches Are the Same

A number of people have encouraged me to contact either attorneys or other employees that they know who work for large firms. I have resisted. I try to be pretty respectful of other people's time. Assuming I actually wanted to be an attorney, contacting these people wouldn't be much help. Sure, they would probably schedule a courtesy interview with me. Maybe I could even glean some information from them that may help in my job search, but that would be it.

Those people who have offered their contacts, however, seem rather perplexed when I (politely) decline their offer of assistance. You see, most non-lawyers simply don't understand that the legal industry doesn't work the way most other businesses do. Even if large firms weren't neglecting their usual sources of new associates and laying off current associates and support staff, they still wouldn't hire me. I didn't go to the right school or have the right class rank.

In most other industries, a good connection can help out a lot more than in law, particularly when comparing large firms/companies. True, there's a certain level of snobbery in all businesses. I've heard the large software company, Oracle will only hire developers from the best computer science programs. If you want to work for a major financial firm, you better have top grades in a finance or economics major (preferably from a good school). Nonetheless, big corporations do hire people from all sorts of schools. Plus, even if you come in at a low ranked position, there's real room for advancement. (Good luck going from paralegal to associate at a major law firm.)

In addition to there being more opportunities at large corporations (and more corporations than large firms), the rest of the legal industry also operates differently than most other industries. Certainly, there are numerous midsized companies that hire people without elite pedigrees. In law, the midsized firm is all but a myth. If you're an entry level attorney, you might as well look for work at a unicorn ranch. Sure, midsized firms do exist, but they hire almost exclusively from large firms, which shed talented associates every year who are looking for better working conditions. A whole layer of the legal industry is inaccessible to virtually all new attorneys (and even many seasoned small firm lawyers).

Finally, there's the small business. This is also a viable place for one to start his career. In law, many attorneys attempt to start their careers working at small and solo practitioner firms. This isn't as easy as it seems. Small firms have tight budgets; it's not like they're sitting on a ton of money just waiting to hire a new associate. Moreover, they have to be willing to train a new hire since most law students don't have any real practical skills. Furthermore, if one is hired by a small firm, there is almost certainly an expectation that he'll bring in new business. This is almost as bad as being an insurance salesman trying to rope your friends into buying additional coverage. Oh, and unlike most small businesses, which are often times trying to expand, most small law firms are usually one or two guys just looking to offer their legal services, not trying to become larger firms.

Now, in addition to this restrictive business model, the market is flooded with people who are only educated/trained to be attorneys. Also, thanks to the bar exam, there's little mobility from state to state. In other industries, of course, there is greater flexibility. You can go from being a manger in one field to being a manager in other field. You can be an accountant for a big, medium or small company. You can do web design in Arizona just as easily as you can in Ohio.

Sure, there are some other options for lawyers such as government attorney positions, DA/PD offices, and public interest law, but these can be just as competitive as coveted firm jobs (particularly in this economy).

There you have it. You can't work at a large firm without the right credentials. Midsized firm jobs are largely make believe (at least at the entry level). Small firm jobs aren't particularly accessible and usually don't pay well (I hope you don't want health insurance) or provide great opportunities for advancement. Plus, you're competing with hordes of other similarly situated individuals for the few jobs that exist.

I'm working on a post about networking, but this is part of the reason why networking works so poorly for attorneys. There simply aren't enough jobs even for those who are well connected.

True, other industries have their problems and barriers to entry, but few others cost six figures and three years of your life just to have the opportunity to find a relevant job.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Don't go to law school"

I was warned. Well sort of. I heard about people wasting money on TTT's - unfortunately, I thought the warnings only applied to schools truly ranked in the third tier or below. I never thought things could be so dicey for even tier 2 and tier 1 grads. I also wasn't aware of JD Underground or some of the other warning sites when I applied to law school.

I did, however, receive a personal warning from a recent law graduate in my old office. My organization had hired two relatively young female attorneys. They were going to show me how to do research at a local law library. I was making small talk with them as we headed into the library. At one point, I mentioned that I was planning on going to law school. At first, both of them gave the typical response, asking me how I was preparing for the LSAT and where I was looking to go to school.

While we were in the library, something strange happened. One of the women pulled me aside and looked at me with an expression I'll never forget. It was the expression someone makes when they know they're powerless to stop you but want to emphatically encourage you to reconsider your course in life. I assume it's the same face a mother may make as she tries to talk her adult son out of enlisting in the army or another parent may make when he/she seeks to persuade his/her child from moving in with a significant other before marriage. Instead of trying to shield me from from potential death or social shame, she pleaded with me "Don't go to law school."

I didn't really understand. This also came from a woman who paid reduced tuition at a tier 1 school and had a decent job. Unfortunately, I didn't realize why she was warning me about this path, and before I could inquire further, the other attorney came by and told me that she "loved law school".

The first attorney never expressed her concerns again nor did she explain her objections. I assume I can now guess her reasons. I suppose I can't say I was never warned, but I'm going to pledge to always take the time to explain why law school is a bad idea to anyone who asks. I'm also going to try to be more persistent when warning people about this sad path.

But I Have a Law Degree!

When I tell people about my educational background, most of the time people are favorably impressed. In some cases they may just be acting nice, but I've seen different reactions to people who went to "less impressive" schools. Also, I got even better reactions when I lived closer to where my undergraduate and law schools are located.

Honestly, I'm not particularly impressed with the names on my degrees, but many other people (at least those who didn't graduate from the truly elite schools) seem to hold a different opinion. I was recently waiting for a train, and a guy who was involved in international business struck up a conversation with me and went on about how my education was going to let me do really well. If only I had decided to move away from the law at that point, I could have groveled for some assistance in my job search. (I guess he would have been less impressed.)

Many of us who follow law school and legal websites, blogs, and message boards really live in a bubble. For many of us, we know plenty of people who went to elite schools. We're often times are less impressed than we are jealous of those people. We often see them as kids who just so happened to solve some inane puzzles on a standardized test one Saturday morning. As for schools like Pitt, GW, Florida, Penn State, BU, American, etc., graduates of these institutions are a dime a dozen (at least in our circles).

We often forget many people end up at local no name schools. Plenty more don't even go on to college. We also seem to forget that most of these people go on live perfectly normal if not successful lives.

C's to Degrees, had a good post about people who had great careers despite their lack of higher education. I have a few examples of my own of people who didn't rack up the mass student debt for the "prestige" of an elite undergraduate degree or an advanced graduate degree. (I've changed the names to help preserve their/my anonymity).

1) Bridgette actually did get an undergraduate degree from a private college. I would call it a "no name" school, but chances are you've actually heard of it. I'm not going to name it to avoid any related controversy. (I also don't want to be responsible for any drastic actions readers may take after learning just how much better off this person is than are many of them.) Oh, and the school is unaccredited.

I believe she started out living at home after college and had to use her parents old car. Eventually, she ended up getting a job for a small company in an interesting field (at least it is for girls). By the time I met her, she lived with a roommate in a nice apartment. She was able to buy a car and go out with her group of friends on a regular basis. Eventually, both she and her roommate were able to rent a pretty nice house. She always wore pretty fashionable clothes. By the time I left for law school, she had been promoted to a managerial position. Not only that she actually had marketable skills and knew how a growing industry worked.

Last I heard, she ended up getting married and bought a house (or condo) with her new husband. She's about thirty years old. We actually lived in a pretty expensive area. Of course, she has no undergraduate debt.

But I have a law degree!

2) Kevin's story is even more depressing. This guy could start the rebuttal blog to Angel's - It would be called, "I Did Everything Wrong...But At Least I Didn't Go to Law School." My mom was somewhat friends with his mom. I suspect my mom secretly liked bragging about my "achievements" over his shortcomings. If she did, I agree that wasn't very nice. Nevertheless, he's presently beating me in the game of life.

Kevin was the sort of guy who struggled in school both academically and personally. He always got into trouble and received very poor grades. I believe he ended up dropping out of school and got a job delivering and stocking shelves at supermarkets for some food vendor. Oh, did I mention he got his girlfriend pregnant as a teenager?

Well, it turns out, he ended up marrying his girlfriend (who had their child). He now is able to afford his own home and lives their with his family. I, on the other hand, am writing this blog from my parents' guest bedroom and have too much debt to even consider getting married or having a family.

But I have a law degree!

(This also poses the interesting question: What's the worse move in life? Knocking up your high school girlfriend or going to law school at full price?)

3) Finally, there's Brett. Brett actually went to law school. How does this make him different than any of us? Well, for one thing, he never went to college. Yes, you see, he went to an online law school, which didn't require an undergraduate degree. Now, before you yuck it up over his attendance at a TTTTT, recall that he didn't have to pay for or waste time taking undergraduate courses, and the price of an on-line law school is a pittance compared to the price of an accredited school.

Okay, so his debt was less, but how on earth can somebody with such a crummy degree and no college diploma have a shot at a legal job when the rest of are struggling to find any legal work? Well, he didn't just sit at home learning law online. He also got involved in politics and actually ended up working in a pretty high ranking position. Afterward, he used his political connections to a land a job at a law firm WITHOUT even being licensed in the state.

Like the others, he's been able to afford a house and has gotten married. Oh, and if you think "real law schools" prepare you better than their online counterparts, he passed the CA bar on the first time without taking BarBri and studied WHILE he was working.

But I have a law deg...oh, yeah, he does too. Nice. Well, at least I went to a tier 2 school that may one day become a low ranked tier one. You can't say that, Brett. Oh, and if you happen to be reading this, do you think you can lend me a couple bucks?

First Steps

Now that I've narrowed down my focus to working in the corporate/business world with a heavy preference for getting some IT, database, etc. experience, I'm in the process of locating the right job for me. When I found my first job out of college, I used a combination of OCI, job fairs (on campus), and on-line job listings - specifically targeting recent college grads.

I had decent luck, but this was back in 2004 (the beginning of the last "boom" period), and I had much better credentials as a graduating senior than I do as a law graduate. In fact, the career services office at my business school was so worthless, I was never even informed that fall OCI was when many of the big companies made their hiring decisions (somewhat like law school).

Regardless, I had interviews at four companies and received call backs from two of them. I even got a physical rejection letter from for one competitive position to which I applied - a minor courtesy I haven't yet received (even by e-mail) this go around. Some of my resumes did indeed go into the "void" never to be heard from again, but these were mostly for positions for which I was unqualified.

In the end, I think there was only one application I sent out that I was disappointed I didn't get a response, and I only flubbed one interview for a job I actually wanted.* Now this wasn't exactly the equivalent of the hundreds of job offers Barack Obama received out of law school, but bear in mind that I only spent a month or two applying for jobs, found the job I accepted after only a few interviews, and never once wrote a cover letter.

This time around things are much different. I'm not a recent college graduate. The economy is in the toilet, and my law school credentials are less than stellar - and even if they were more impressive, they could still be a detriment in the non-legal job search. I don't have access to OCI and there aren't any campus career fairs. This leaves three options: on-line (or print) job postings, non campus job fairs, and *ugh* networking.

The first option hasn't worked out so well. I've actually found Craigslist to be the best source for job listing (or least the most easily navigable). Monster makes it a little more difficult just to browse through relevant jobs - there seem to be a dearth of entry level or limited experience corporate jobs. Career Builder is a little better, but so many of the listing seem to either be questionable sales positions or outright "work at home" scams. Does anyone have suggestions for other resources or making better use of the ones I already mentioned?

I actually found some decent job listing (before I became dedicated to escaping the legal industry). I really put a lot of effort into writing three cover letters, and I took on the law school issue early on - explaining that I went to law school to enhance my academic credentials and to seek greater personal maturity. If that doesn't sounds convincing to you, apparently the recruiters didn't think so either. I really think those positions were close enough of a fit to my resume that I at least deserved an interview (or a freaking rejection letter!).

We'll address dropping the J.D. from the resume in future posts.

How about job fairs? actually is going to host one in a nearby city quite soon. I'm not planning to go because I don't feel prepared. Even in college I really struck out at those. As I mentioned in a previous post, I don't frequent bars, so I don't know what it's like to try to woo members of the opposite sex at such establishments. If it's anything like working a job fair, I'm really glad I've never tried. Pretty much you go up to different booths, try to impress some bored recruiter or HR staffer, hand over a resume, thank them and then go on your way. This wasn't very effective when recruiters were anticipating talking to awkward, college graduates. I'm not really sure how to approach them as an "overqualified" J.D.

Has anyone had any luck with events?

Finally, I'm also turning to networking. Not the N-word, right! Well, I'll discuss law school networking for those of you who are as cynical as I am in the future. Outside of the legal sphere, it's less futile. Remember, while there are more law graduates than jobs, if one is willing to be more flexible, there are far more options. Right now I'm talking with a friend who is plugged into the local business community who has a lot of good contacts. I'm also going to contact some friends in IT to see what they suggest about building my skills to potentially transition to their field.

In summary, the plan is to make contacts with people in the business community (obviously a much larger, less insular group than the legal industry). I'm also going to keep my eyes peeled for any good opportunities on the job boards. I may try out some career fairs, but I think the first two options work better.

* For those of you who love to hate career services, there's actually a funny story about their contribution to the aforementioned "flub". You see, the night before the interviews there was an information session, which gave applicants the opportunity to ask questions and meet some of the financial analysts. Sadly, career services never bothered to inform me about this information session (this was an OCI interview). Now, maybe I'm dodging some personal responsibility, but I'm pretty sure I actually put some effort into the interview, and I would not have ignored an e-mail or information in the job listing about this event.

Of course, the first question I received was "Why weren't you at this event?" I was entirely caught off guard, and I think my claim that I didn't know about it was met with considerable skepticism. I think the exact (snidely delivered) retort was "Somehow everyone else seemed to know." You can guess how the rest of the interview went.

What really annoys me is that I think working as a financial analyst for this company would have been a great opportunity and led to a rewarding career. In fact, had I been selected, I may not have even been tempted to go to law school. Hmm, actually, on second thought, this story isn't so funny.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Getting Started

Okay, this is my first post specifically chronicling my attempt to secure non-legal employment - the stated purpose of this blog. I'm going to resist the temptation to give you more background or curse the law school industry.

I think there are several fields outside of law to which my background lends itself : politics, computers, writing, research and business. I'm not qualified for anything in the arts, skilled labor, science or medicine. I really don't want to be in sales (insurance, financial or otherwise). It would be pretty easy for me to get a real estate license, but the market is bad, and the industry is still very sales oriented.

Let's take a look at the fields that are feasible for me to enter:

Politics: Like many of the fields I'm willing to explore, this is a broad area. It could include working on campaigns, lobbying, working for an elected official, or writing about politics/government. Unfortunately, most of the campaign jobs I've seen require past experience (of which I have very little). I could volunteer, but I'm really trying to find long term paying work. I'm also a bit uneasy about having my career tied to a field as controversial as politics. I don't really want to introduce myself as a flunky for Party A or for Cause B.

Computers: As I mentioned in a previous post, I should have probably pursued this route further. I really love working on computers and fiddling with software and web design. Unfortunately, I never really kept up with it in recent years. I really never bothered learning the intricacies of any OS after DOS/Win 3.1. I know HTML pretty well, but I only have a working knowledge of PHP. I don't know much about networks. I think I could learn a lot of this easily, but I really don't want to go back for an IT or CS degree. Maybe I can get some certifications some day, but I don't know where to get the relevant work experience. I may be able to transition to this path at a later point, but for now, there aren't really too many jobs that will take on someone with a working knowledge of computers/IT and train him. Alas, if only this were the 90's.

Writing/Research: I've considered looking into writing positions, but the compensation is really low. It is an area that is usually considered fairly "intellectual" - usually good writers are college educated. The J.D. may also not be a barrier. I'm going to hold off for now. There aren't too many good jobs at this point, anyway. As for research, I'm referring to collecting data and then analyzing it - kind of like what I did before but perhaps dealing with more interesting subject matter and working for a more meaningful company. It's a possibility, but I would need to make sure it's the right fit this time.

Business: Much like the same category on law school employment reports, this is a very broad field. Business could be anything from being a sales associate in a big box store to being an executive at a corporate headquarters. My hope is to either get hired for an entry level job with solid prospects for advancement or maybe spin my couple of years of work experience (and maybe even my JD) to help me get something a little more advanced.

I think the business world offers me the best hope of eventually working my way into a meaningful job and career. I initially went to school to try to land such a position and took a detour (or should I say a wrong turn through the bad section of town) on the way. There's the possibility that I could even acquire some of the computer/IT skills I've been looking for and may be able to move in that direction.

Now that I've narrowed things down a bit, I'll keep you posted on my next steps.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Don't be a Chump

In law school I used to keep odd hours. Studying, awkward class schedules, and anxiety about the future will do that to you. Therefore, I spent a decent amount of time watching late night/early morning TV. I only had basic cable, so there wasn't too much available to watch at 3 A.M. A man can only take watching "Celtic Pride" on TBS so many times, so I often resorted to flipping through the channels to see if there was any refuge in this backwater of the television schedule.

Not surprisingly, most of the programming at this hour was "paid programming" where various hucksters tried to sell viewers (who were usually already down on their luck) on an assortment of marginally legal products and "systems". If the late night infomercials are to be believed, we could all have chiseled bodies, be free of disease for life, and increase the size of...*ahem*...well, you get the point.

While potency pills, acne creams, and outright medical voodoo all occupied the late night circuit, the king of the nocturnal scam was the get rich quick scheme. Everyone had a "system" to sell, nay, "share" with you. You could purchase dilapidated properties and "flip" them. You could sell all sorts of merchandise to other Heck, there were even currency swapping systems for the truly ambitious. I mean how hard could it be to profit from currency exchange? It's not like you need to know anything about finance or international economics, right?

Just for fun, I used to Google these scams, and there were more than a few people who got burned on these deals. Some really got hosed - losing perhaps tens of thousands of dollars (if not more). Usually, the get rich schemes encouraged their victims to continuously invest in new "training", products, or leads.

It's not hard to get upset at the the charlatans that push these scams. They don't produce anything of value and prey on the sorts of vulnerable people who watch late night television (the unemployed, the depressed, and students). It's also easy to feel sympathy for those who get taken for a ride. They may have driven themselves into massive credit card debt or blown their life savings chasing some phantom prosperity.

On the other hand, as the adage goes, "You can't cheat an honest man." Sure, the purveyors of these schemes are as slimy as they come, but what about those who are duped? In order to fall for the scam one has to believe that all of the "chumps" who go to work every day just haven't been fortunate enough to see this infomercial. "Don't they know they could be making thousands of dollars a week in their spare time by just using Joe Blow's special program?"

How reasonable is it to believe that some guy on a fake talk show set at 3 A.M. on channel 72 has a guaranteed method for making you wealthy beyond your dreams? Is the bimbo, sporting too much cleavage (to keep you from flipping back to Crank Yankers on Comedy central) really interviewing people who "just tried Joe's system" and now own a yacht for every day of the week? Can anyone really believe that you can become fabulously wealthy with no work, special talents, or risk?

Of course, believing any of this baloney isn't reasonable, yet people still fall for it. The reason is somewhat simple - people want to believe it. They want to believe that there's a quick way to "beat the system", but at the end of the day, they end up being the real chumps.

Does this this strike a bit close to home for many law students/law graduates? Maybe it should. Now, our decision was a bit more justifiable than the get rich quick dupes. After all, few parents push their kids into becoming one of "Joe Blow's Special Partners". Society, not a bunch of "actual success stories" tells us that being an attorney is to be a member of a coveted profession. It's established institutions of higher learning, not some fly by night operation, that stand behind and promote their law schools. Nevertheless, we really should have made a more responsible decision.

Think about what one has to believe if he goes to law school: I know how I'm guaranteed to get a good paying job and start off on a path to a great career. All I need to do is enroll in a graduate school that pretty much anyone who was smart enough to get into college can get into. I need to graduate from said school (which is virtually guaranteed at all but the worst schools) and pass a test that about 80% or more people pass on the first attempt. It doesn't matter if I have to borrow as much as some people take out in mortgages to finance my education (even if the debt is not dischargeable). Even though I won't gain any specific skills and have the same degree and license that thousands of other people receive every year, I'm guaranteed to be employed at a great job with a salary vastly superior to my friends who only have undergraduate degrees.

Sorry folks, there's no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. You're not going to make thousands of dollars your first week by flipping houses that nobody else wanted and a piece of paper from a non-Ivy league school isn't going to let you bypass the process of climbing the career ladder. I'll admit it - I was a chump. Please don't be one as well - oh, and the law school "system" doesn't have a 30 day money back guarantee.

Why am I here?

No, I'm not mocking former Vice Presidential candidate, the late Admiral James Stockdale. Instead, I'm continuing my previous post with the sad tale of how I ended up in law school.

I am a nerd. I was actually really excited to head off to college, and it wasn't because of the freedom, parties, or the all you can eat buffets (well, maybe that was part of it). I don't even drink - though suffering through law school certainly made hitting the sauce more tempting. No, I actually was excited for college because I wanted to take classes in subjects that weren't available to me in high school.

I really had a hard time settling on a major: I wanted to study history, political science, computer science/IT, economics, and business. I was wise enough to realize that history and government were part of the fast track to working at Denny's, so I eschewed them in favor of more practical majors. As much as I enjoyed computers, I just felt CS/IT was too utilitarian, and I wanted something more intellectually satisfying. (Sadly, you can't pay your bills with intellectual satisfaction.)

Initially, I settled on economics. I thought if I could get a PhD in economics, I would be able to make a good living and possibly influence public policy in favor of sound economic reasoning. I really enjoyed economics, and I still read up on the subject in my spare time. (Like I said, I'm a nerd.) Nevertheless, getting a PhD in economics was more work than I was willing to invest. Not only does it take 5 years to get a degree, but to have any shot at getting into the better programs, you need to have undergraduate courses in Advanced Calculus, Linear Algebra, Differential Equations, and Real Analysis. I actually did alright in Calculus I, but I couldn't imagine seeing the rest of the sequence through, and so I opted for Plan B.

I ended up taking a double major in business and economics. I probably should have taken a more practical concentration in finance, etc. in lieu of the second major in economics, but I just didn't want to give up the major I so enjoyed. It didn't turn out that badly for me - I ended up getting a decent job before I graduated, but unfortunately, the seeds of destruction were planted at this point...

At first my job seemed ideal. I would have the opportunity to use all of my skills - statistical, computer oriented, and writing. The organization valued both my knowledge of business and economics. The job even tangentially touched on public policy and politics.

As it turned out, nobody really contemplated what my role would be. There was a lot of down time, and the projects I did work on were petty and/or tedious. I don't want to go into too much detail, but somehow the job was both boring and stressful. It was boring because there were some days where I'd just put in my time by staring at my web browser. It was stressful because if I had one miscalculation out of the reams of data I had to compile, my boss would have a conniption.

There was one other thing I noticed - the people who got substantive work and assignments were people who had graduate degrees - particularly PhD's in economics or J.D.'s. You can probably see where this is going.

Yes, to make a long story, not quite as long, I decided that to advance my career I needed a graduate degree, and what's commonly considered a versatile yet practical and highly coveted graduate degree? Sadly, as we all know, I'm or course referring to the Juris Doctorate degree. Bad call, man. Bad call.

(There's more detail which I may go into at a later date, but I don't want to make my posts too autobiographical. There's a non-legal job to find and a law school industrial complex to bash!)

Who am I?

I guess it would help if I gave my readers some insight into who I am. While I obviously am a law school graduate, different graduates will have different career options depending on their previous educational and work experiences.

Law School: I went to one of the "better" second tier law schools (ranked between 50 and 75).

Bar Admission: I passed the July bar exam, and I am currently waiting to be fully admitted.

Law Related Experience: I interned (in court) for a big city DA office, interned for a state trial judge, worked in a county probate office, and interned for a PI law firm. I also did legal related research for a think tank.

Undergraduate Education: I went to a good, but certainly not elite undergraduate school. I was wise enough to major in business, but was not wise enough to take a concentration in finance, accounting, or IT. (Instead I took a double major in economics.) I had a pretty good resume of student activities and internships - all of which are moot by this point.

Real Work Experience: I spent two years prior to law school as a research analyst for a business oriented association. I conducted research, compiled/calculated statistical studies, and wrote some policy papers. Trust me, it looks better on paper.

Other Skills and Experience: I've been told I'm a decent writer - I'll let you decide. I'm pretty knowledgeable about current events and public affairs. I have a decent background in computers. I know HTML - and have a working knowledge of CSS and PHP. I've programmed in C/C++ and done some Java Script. I'm pretty quick at learning new software. Unfortunately, I'm not as knowledgeable about networks or as proficient in software development as I'd like to be (or to a degree that will allow me pursue an IT career). Oh, and once I saw a blimp.

Why am I sharing my resume with you? For one thing, it may help readers get a better perspective of what I'm looking for in my job search. For another, I want to help future law grads transition from the legal market wasteland to alternative careers. Not everything I do will be applicable to every person in this situation. Someone who has a liberal arts degree from a complete no-name school and who went straight to law school is going to have to tailor his job search to a different background.

Part of my impetus for getting out of the law is that I had something of a career before going to law school. Unfortunately, I never developed a very specific skill set - I'm not a statistician, IT professional, or an accountant. I thought law school would help me develop a defined skill set. Unfortunately, all it did was saddle me with skills for which nobody is really willing to pay (and for which I don't really want to get paid).

In my next post, I'll continue with the sad tale of how I found myself in this mess.
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