Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I Was Once Like You

The Legal Dollar is a great blog. For those of you who sometimes (or often) think the "Scam Busting" blogs are too filled with hyperbole for your taste, TLD is less geared towards law school bashing and more towards personal financial decision making for lawyers/law students. (Though the best financial advice would probably be don't go into debt in the first place to attend law school.)

Recently, the blog had a good post about the financial risks associated with enrolling in law school. One thing that caught my eye was the following anecdote:

When I mentioned that I worked with a lot of young lawyers and the job search was becoming more difficult, one of the potential students interrupted me and said very loudly and bluntly "That's not true." (Wilson's outbust of saying "You lie!" during an Obama speech had happened not too long before, so I got a little sense of something like deja vu.)

I assured the student that I had been working with recent graduates for several years and the task of helping them get jobs had indeed become more difficult in recent years.
They countered by saying that my comments were not in accord with what they were seeing in law school admission materials. To this I suggested that they might want to drill down a little with regard to what a "90% employment rate after graduation really meant."

They also preferred to believe the numbers put out by the law schools with regard to starting salary. They did not even want to believe the NALP median numbers and started trying to suggest to me reasons why the NALP numbers must be wrong.

Ah, the arrogance and naivete of the prospective law students. How sad that one day, with their hopes of living a stable lifestyle thanks to an advanced degree dashed, they too will lash out at the scam only to be admonished for their "lack of research" and "entitlement mentalities".

Nonetheless, I can only be so harsh towards these sorry lambs being led to the slaughter. You see, sadly, I too was once like them. I don't think I ever thought that six figures was in the bag just because I was able to sign my name to the check for my seat deposit (and a subsequent promissory note). I did, however, believe the data about the median starting salaries. I thought the employment figures were accurate. I even believed that my law school was interested in providing practical training and that its proximity to many large firms and businesses would give me numerous employment options.

Most embarrassingly, I even believed that my school's career service office had any real interest in helping me actually secure a career.

It's really a good thing I'm not a woman. Otherwise, I'd probably take every half soused goon at his word that he's really an internet-start-up tycoon even though he drives an '85 LeBaron and lives in a studio apartment on top of a bowling alley.

More than just accepting the distorted marketing materials produced by the schools (and industry publications), I also never really liked the occasional naysayers that popped up on discussion boards like Law School Discussion.

Back when I was applying, there wasn't nearly as much anti-law school information as there is now. It wasn't until after I started school that the infamous Wall Street Journal article came out where Law is 4 Losers and Loyola 2L were quoted and where a number of law school administrators admitted their statistics were based upon partially reported data.

In fact, I don't think it was until after I was already enrolled and taking classes that anti-law school advocates starting aggressively encouraging students not to attend law school (particularly the TTT's). This is when I was exposed to the infamous chart I printed earlier (reporting high salaries for some, low salaries for many, and middle range salaries for few). This is when I first heard about students from tier 2 and even tier 1 schools struggling to find substantive legal work (pre-recession). This is also when I first heard about the subterranean document review sweat shops.

As I mentioned, I was pretty incredulous of these claims. Surely, I thought there couldn't be that many students who resent going to law school. Those who were in document review must have just gotten in over their heads with debt and/or wanted an easy way to make some quick cash. It couldn't be true that so many students who missed the OCI cutoff had few other options for permanent employment other than toilet law or abandoning the field altogether. Surely, those people who took low paying, miserable firm jobs were people who were unwilling to leave the greater NYC metro area.

Moreover, the few anti-law school advocates with whom I came into contact did not come across well. One poster on Law School Discussion who went by the moniker "Wiimote" (referring to the Nintendo console) repeatedly posted on the message board that anyone who goes to law school is going to get hosed. I don't really disagree, but he never bothered putting his remarks in context. (Did he even go to LS?) He also never bothered engaging anyone who had any serious questions for him.

I don't know if 0L's currently deal with people employing similarly ill-advised tactics. Perhaps some of them see current anti-scam bloggers that way. When I've (rarely) ventured into the pre-law forums, I have tried to be as non-combative and charitable as possible. Nonetheless, like a sober man trying to deter an addict from continuing in his vice, I've been swatted away by the very people I'm trying to help.

Despite my differences with the OL's, I recognize that I was once like them. Still, for those of you considering law school, please realize that you can one day be like me.

It's easy to be incredulous of the idea that law jobs are hard to secure outside of OCI. You may be convinced that you'll never end up in document review. You might believe that you'll have the skill and savvy to go solo from the start, and of course, if all else fails that you'll know how to spin your law degree to help you land a solid non-legal job.

It may seem that way from where you're currently sitting. I thought so too.

Now, however, I know that going to CLE's and receptions gets you at best "well wishes" and at worst brushed off - certainly not solid leads for jobs. I've diligently scanned the job boards finding plenty of positions for legal assistants but precious few for practicing attorneys (and almost all at pay well south of $50k). I've personally investigated going solo from the start only to realize the expense of starting a legitimate practice and the difficulty of independently learning the necessary law and procedure while making enough to survive.

I've been referred to attorneys only to either get blown off or to learn that they simply can't/won't hire additional associates for their small firms because it's not economical. I've been unable to work with other contacts because their firms/organizations simply won't hire me because I didn't go to the right school or make the top 10%.

Right now, I'm even being strung along by temp agencies with the possibility of getting hired for JUNIOR document review positions.

Of course, I've sent reams of resumes and cover letters to non-legal employers with nary a response. Not only do I have an undergrad business/econ degree and a tech background, but I also worked for two years. I've applied for a number of positions that were actually related to my responsibilities at my former job and couldn't even get interviews.

Also, if you think I didn't have much of a candidate profile before law school, you're wrong. As I've mentioned before, I only searched for jobs for a few months post-college and had a number of interviews, multiple offers, and accepted a job for a position in which I was one of a hundred candidates. I don't say this to brag; I say this to assure you that the "x-factor" here is my law degree/three year experience gap.

Obviously, when I "open up" like this, I'm inevitably going to get a comment about "whining". I don't say this to elicit your pity. I say this because this is the frustration I (and many, many other law graduates) have experienced first hand. I didn't believe the warnings before or even during law school. Now I have no choice but to believe them. I'm living them.

Unless your personal goal is to also have an anti-law school blog on one day, trust me this is a warning, not whining.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Honesty is the Best Policy

You don't need to tell me how frustrating it is to find a job when you have a J.D. When you throw in the lousy economy and the fact that I'd like to find a somewhat respectable non-legal position (for which I'm supposedly "overqualified"), the situation is downright maddening.

I've written before about the great dilemma: whether to remove the JD and have a gap in experience on your resume or keep it on and be dismissed as over-educated before you can even get an interview.

This isn't a pretty choice, and veering in either direction can leave you unemployed and without any interviews. It's particularly bad if all of your professional experience is law related. I can imagine that if you've actually worked in law for a few years, dropping your JD, etc. from your resume isn't even an option anymore.

This situation leaves the job applicant with a strong temptation to lie. I've joked about this in the past, but it was only a joke. Lying on your resume is a bad idea.

This doesn't mean you can't skillfully market yourself. Only including relevant education and work experience (as long as it's labeled as such) is fine. After all, if you have a computer science degree and you're applying for a programming job, why include the JD if it's not at all relevant? If you were treasurer of both a controversial political club on campus and later the treasurer of your student government, you may want to include the club only if you're looking to work for a like minded organization and just mention your time as student body treasurer for all other positions.

Lying, however, will get you into trouble. Interviewers may eventually push you to bring up your JD or any other aberrations they see in your resume. If they do, be honest and explain away these issues as best you can. (I provide a hint for dealing with the JD in the post I linked to above.)

Moreover, lying out of the gate is even a worse idea. Once you go down that road it'll be hard to stop yourself before you're caught. What are you going to do, extend the date for which you worked for a company through law school? What if they call your former employer? Not only will you be busted by the potential employer to which you're applying, you'll ruin your good name with (and likely future references from) your former employer as well.

Are you going to make up a job? Do you plan to give your friend a cell phone and ask her to greet everyone with "Vandelay Industries!"when it rings? (This didn't work out too well for George Constanza.) This is the age of the internet; are you going to build a fake website for your fake company? Don't even think about using a real company when all of their contact information is available online.

Are you going to claim that you spent the last three years caring for a sick relative, backpacking through Europe, or helping out poor people in a foreign land? Not only is this particularly sleazy - not only lying about law school but also emphasizing altruistic personality traits you clearly don't have -but you'd have to find a company that would value this sort of experience. Most hard nosed corporations aren't looking for "free spirits" who decided to live abroad for three years to forgo being in the workforce.

Plus, wouldn't such avenues (at least in the latter two cases) naturally lend themselves to some stories in which your co-workers may take an interest? You better hope you can keep your story straight.

"So, Ralph what was it like to travel around Europe for three years?"

"Oh, it was great - I went to London, St. Petersburg, and Sydney."

"Uh, isn't Sydney in Australia?"

"Oh, I meant, uh, Sydney, Italy - it's a small town with, uh, good pizza...Speaking of which, who wants to get a slice?"

This also alludes to an additional problem - keeping the lie going. Don't other people know you went to law school? Better hope you can keep your parents, classmates, and (yikes!) exes away from your boss. Are you just going to continue on for years at a company telling tales about what you did during your three years "not at law school" and be able to keep your mouth shut any time a legal topic or (heaven forbid!) the issue of law school comes up? What if there's a job or promotion available where having work experience and a JD would be an asset?

Sure, this could make for a funny sitcom. (Hmm, NBC, call me. This can't be worse than the junk you're currently airing.) Nevertheless, it won't be very fun in the real world where you'll have to walk around on eggshells.

Also, don't forget, if you're a licensed attorney, you're still subject to discipline or disbarment for any misconduct you commit even outside of your role as an attorney. You may not care about practicing law, but having a professional license suspended or yanked isn't the sort of thing that you probably want on your record regardless of the jobs for which you're applying.

Above the Law recently reported that an attorney got busted for doctoring his transcript. He was later caught when he applied for jobs with his real transcript. Now, you may think this guy got sloppy. Maybe he did. There an old saw, however, that says: If you never lie, you don't have to worry about remembering what you said (or did) in the past.

We don't have much, my fellow law school scam victims, but let's at least keep our integrity.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Pride and Prejudice

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune can easily blow it by going to a TTT law school."

Okay, well, maybe that's not how Jane Austen's most famous literary work begins. I wouldn't know. I was assigned to read this grandmother of all chic lit back in high school in my senior year English course, but I never actually got around to completing the assignment.

Why am I telling you this? Well, the senior year English course in which I enrolled was an AP course. This was the last time - prior to law school - I both overestimated my academic aptitude and the benefit of being in a "prestigious" program.

For those of you who think this blog entirely ignores the consumer side of the law school scam, this post is intended to address the 0L mindset's role in this national debacle. I've written in the past how law school admittees can be compared to infomercial scam victims - sympathetic characters, but not entirely without blame.

I, of course, am not excusing the conduct of the law schools and company. As I've mentioned in the past, even if law school students are as unsympathetic as drug users, this doesn't absolve the schools from their culpability in taking advantage of the situation.

Returning to my English class example, as I mentioned, there are some parallels that exist between my decision to take AP English and to enroll in law school. I was under the impression that just because I had done well in previous English courses (including honors courses) prior to my senior year, I would do well in AP English. After all, I thought I was a good writer, liked to read, and had a robust lexicon.

Sadly, I was unprepared for the rigor of the AP course. The class required us to read full English novels and write 10-15 page papers on alternating weeks. This was in addition to the regular vocabulary, grammar, and other lessons we had to keep up with in the class. Of course, this was also on top of my course load of calculus and other AP courses as well as the little diversion of the college application process.

I'll be honest, folks; I had bitten off more than I could chew. This led me to hand in some*ahem* perfunctory papers and often fall behind with my reading (leading to some equally impressive reading quiz scores). Hence my failure to ever actually read the titular book associated with this blog post. (Hint to high school students: Trying to bypass reading the book by watching the BBC mini-series = a BAD idea; trying to sit through that sucker is worse than actually reading the darn thing.)

Now, of course, this post isn't really about that dreadful book. (So long female readership...) No, the title instead refers to a key problem for 0L's and law students: Pride. (I'm not sure where the prejudice comes in - maybe I should insert some Polish jokes.)

If you don't like my mangled quote from Jane Austen at the beginning, how about this verse from the Old Testament?

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. (Prov. 16:18)

Just like I thought my modest success in pre-AP English courses meant that I was prepared for the rigors of the class, I arrogantly felt that my undergraduate success, decent LSAT score, and interest in the social sciences would make me a successful law student. I would make the top 10% of the class, and even if I didn't, I'd be able to work hard in my internships and extracurricular activities and build an impressive resume that would afford me great employment opportunities.

If you've been reading this blog, you probably know this story turned out more like a Greek tragedy than an Austen novel where everyone lives happily ever after. It's not exactly "Oedipus marrying his mother" bad, but I'd say "I'm probably going to work doc review until they toss my corpse aside to make room for another coder earning $13.50 straight" bad is bad enough.

But I digress. You see, just because you earned a 3.9 in anthropology from a second tier liberal arts school where they wouldn't give a bag of lettuce less than a B+ in any given course, doesn't mean you're going to dominate your torts class. We're all real proud of you booking your "Feminist Mythology in Ancient Multicultural Societies" class, but I'm afraid that isn't going to prepare you for writing top notch law school exams.

For too many pre-law students, pride gets them into the law school mess in the first place. Everybody thinks they'll be in the top 10%. Even at schools where everybody is smart (save the truly elite institutions), only the best students will get the "good" jobs.

Another aspect of the pride principle is the average 0L's lust for prestige. Just like taking an extra AP course may have given the impression of a more elite transcript, earning a law degree from a good school is seen as quite the accomplishment by many. Sadly, getting a "C" in an AP course kind of takes the luster out of being in the top English class and being a permanent temp worker kind of tarnishes the old "Esq." title.

On virtually every pre-law message board, "prestige" is the key word. Everyone seems to think that going to a good law school (usually anything in the first two tiers) and eventually becoming a licensed attorney is the path to professional respectability. To be honest, many equally clueless people do regard law school and the title of attorney to be impressive. Trust me, they'll be less impressed when they learn that you're living under a highway overpass and the only thing between you and starvation is Burger King's recent decision to sell double cheeseburgers for a buck.

Of course, the problem with pride isn't limited only to the decision to go to law school. It also usually rears its head when it comes to the decision to stay in law school. To once again analogize LS to my ill fated enrollment in AP English, I actually had the opportunity to get out of my class.

There was an honors class that met at the exact same time my AP class met. I wouldn't even have to adjust my schedule, but I was stubborn and didn't want to face the indignity of being demoted from an AP to an honors class. (Though, in my defense, the students in the honors class had to perform in a play in front of parents and classmates. I don't have any problem with public speaking, but acting is another story. Esq. Never is also Thespian Never.)

Too many people in law school also fail to read the writing on the wall. Even though they're miserable, aren't in the top 10%, and don't even have much of a desire to become attorneys, they continue to plod along. This is part of the reason why the fallacy of the sunk cost is so powerful. Nobody wants to be labeled a "drop out" or "quitter". It's tough to give up on the idea that one may go through life without a coveted graduate degree. Nevertheless, that's simply pride talking. Ignore it. Pride may encourage you to move forward, but it's not going to be able to help you pay back those loans later on.

Worse yet is the idea that so many people think that they're the ones who can make it without top grades or great connections: I'll be on moot court; I'll be on a journal; I'll be on trial team; I'll flirt with the interviewers. Even if you do any of these things (and the last option isn't even available for graduates with 'Y' chromosomes), nobody is going to care. Law students with great extracurricular activities and internships are a dime a dozen.

Of course, if you do land a (non-OCI) legal job aside from document review after law school, it'll likely be for a low level firm that won't pay well or offer much opportunity for advancement - to say nothing about the lousy and unprofessional working conditions.

Here. once again, pride can play a role in making a ruinous decision. Everyone knows you're a lawyer, and everyone "knows" that lawyers are hotshots who make the big bucks. Clearly, you need to forge ahead and take any attorney position you can get just to save face.

Sadly, I haven't been able to check my pride until getting to this point and already doing some serious damage. Sure, working in a cubicle may not be fun, but it's certainly better than appearing in court during the day while living in a cubicle at night...and by a "cubicle", I mean a cardboard box near the subway.

Pride can take you to law school, keep you there, prod you into a depressing career, and eventually "throw" you off the GW bridge. I don't want to see that happen to any of you. Please quit while you're ahead...or at least before you entirely sink your life.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Public Interest" - The Last Refuge of a Scoundrel

For those fearing a screed against pro-bono or public interest legal services, fear not. I put the term in quotes for a reason.

Martin Luther King day is often touted by some activists as "A Day On, Not a Day Off". (Thanks to law school and the recession, every day is a "day off" for me.) As my belated public service for the holiday, let me take some time to warn you about the tantalizing allure of going to law school to pursue a public service career.

You see, with an overall saturated legal market and a recession that has hit the legal industry particularly hard, the days of law schools (particularly those near the bottom) being able to enroll students with promises of solid (if not astronomical) starting salaries may be nearing its end. This means the schools may have to eventually shift their marketing campaigns.

One tactic that has begun to take shape is the idea that public interest law is a viable alternative for those unqualified for or uninterested in the private firm route.

The best example of this is the University of Massachusetts' justification for acquiring one of the Bay State's two unaccredited TTTTT law schools (Southeastern Law). Tuition will supposedly be set at a "bargain basement" price of around $20k. Not exactly a steal (at least on the consumer's end), but UMass claims this will allow its student to pursue careers in public interest law.

I'll leave it to you to figure out exactly how borrowing $60k in tuition plus living expenses in costly Massachusetts translates into the ability to take a post-law school vow of poverty.

This little wrinkle aside, there's a larger fallacy at play here: The notion that public interest jobs are some sort of default for any TTT graduate who's not particularly interested in raking in the dough. The implication is that the only thing stopping the rest of us cold-hearted ghouls from being public interest lawyers is our lust for filthy lucre.

Right. Does anyone think that the sorry schlubs from Suffolk or other local TTT's are working at the local Burger King because the smell of flame broiled all beef patties beats helping out poor people? "Boy, it's pretty embarrassing wearing a paper hat and serving up Whoppers, but anything is better than doing public interest work."

Of course not. The reason why such graduates languish unemployed or underemployed rather than become public interest attorneys is because these positions are just as competitive as more lucrative private positions.

Don't believe me? Well, my half decent T2 school had a special program for a select group of public interest students. Essentially, they got either full or partial scholarships in return for a promise that they'd spend a certain amount of time after graduation in public interest jobs. Here's the rub, they only needed to spend part of the period actually in public interest jobs. I can't remember the breakdown, but it was something like five of the first seven years post graduation.

The reason? Because public interest jobs are so hard to come by even for good students. These students were selected based upon their high LSAT scores, GPA, essays, and dedication to service. They most likely did well in law school. These were not UMass' envisioned TTTTT flunkies trying to enter public interest law by default.

I saw a number of students with good grades and solid public service credentials pour their hearts into applications and essays to get grants for public interest work only to get rejected left and right. The US government's honors program is just as competitive as any big law SA program, and even DA and PD jobs are no longer as accessible as they used to be except for maybe some sparsely populated areas (i.e. not MA or NYC).

We hear quite a bit about how so many people could use the assistance of legal counsel who can't afford it. Surely there must be plenty of demand for public interest lawyers. Yes, if you're willing to give your services away. The problem is that many recent grads (as well as plenty of more seasoned attorneys) aren't that much better off financially than these needy clients. Few organizations/agencies are willing to pay us to provide this legal support, so we can't afford to be public interest attorneys.

It's kind of like the constant attempts by people to procure free legal advice. I could have a great solo practice if all I did was dole out free legal advice to people. Of course, once I ask for any money, these "clients" would decide that they can just figure things out themselves.

Pro-bono service and helping your friends out with legal issues is nice, but sadly, "good will" is not part of the Sallie Mae lexicon, and having a big heart won't stop them from breaking your knees (or put food in your belly).

If you're wealthy beyond your dreams and want to get a law degree to do good for the less fortunate or you're so enlightened that you eschew the material things of this world (and can live with your parents for life), then you'll have plenty of opportunities to help people out.

If, however, you're a normal person who is somewhat attached to the idea of living under a roof, having running water, and eating, don't fall for the law schools' promises of public interest work - unless you consider helping a law school dean make his mortgage payments on his third house to be in the "public interest".

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Even if You Win, You Lose

Anyone who reads this blog knows that Above the Law it isn't. That is, Esq. Never tends to focus on life on the wrong side of the legal industry train tracks rather than the world where associates get annual bonuses worth more than my car and would never dream of purchasing a suit off the rack from Goodwill.

No, usually we focus less on attorneys whose large corporate clients allow them to own nice downtown condos and more on "attorneys" whose court referred clients help them pay to heat their vans/homes parked down by the river.

Today, however, let's take a look at those who have "made it" in the legal profession. No, this isn't a sour grapes post. I'm not sure if working 90 hours a week performing associate level grunt work is exactly my thing. I do, however, know that actually having a job that's affords me a modicum of dignity while earning a salary that may give me a shot at paying off my debt some time before the sun implodes most certainly is "my thing".

Besides, I fully accept what I've been told a number of times: Those T-14 kids who reflexively understood that the LSAT passage about Harriet Tubman was a "whimsical analysis of an iconoclastic figure from Antebellum American history" are clearly our superiors. We're really quite impressed by you guys - honest.

Nonetheless, is a legal career that doesn't require one to click a mouse in a windowless basement like a retarded chimp really all that it's cracked up to be?

I'm actually not going to dedicate this post to the insane hours big firm attorneys need to work or the dry nature of most of their tasks (reading over SEC documents, etc.). I'm also not going to pick on the court room aspect of a successful practice - hauling oneself from court to court and dealing with obnoxious and annoying clients.

Instead, let me turn to an organization called Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. For those of you unaware of this organization, it's essentially a support group (found in most states) for the multitude of attorneys each year who fall under the sway of the bottle, pills, or seriously consider offing themselves (probably much to the glee of the lawyer-joke spewing populace).

Congratulations, everyone, we've selected a field which not only requires three years at overpriced, fraudulent "trade" schools and taking on more debt than the Democratic Republic of the Congo but that also likely ends with a trip to the Betty Ford Clinic.

What? You think this is just an isolated group that caters to a small segment of the profession? Perhaps you can then point me to "Systems Administrators Concerned for Systems Administrators"? Can you explain to me why every law school orientation I've heard about has a presentation by a representative from LCL before students even have their first classes? How come the freakin' number to their hotline is on the back of my Bar ID card?!

I still remember the poor schlub who was responsible for the presentation at my orientation session. I assume he had to further shame himself by sharing his story with us as part of his community service plea agreement. Apparently, the stress of law firm life had led him to become such an addict that he had resorted to drinking mouthwash!

You see - the long hours, demanding and arrogant firm partners, absurd clients, stressful court sessions, insufferable colleagues, and everything else adds up to a create a career that isn't too fun. In fact, it's so "not fun" that it drives an inordinate number of our "brothers of the bar" to depression, substance abuse, and even suicide.

I don't recall thinking, "Gee, I really think I'd like to join a profession where after driving myself deep into the red to face bleak job prospects, I'll also have the elevated chance of my family finding my body in a near catatonic state after sucking down a bottle of Listerine all night."

Yet, here we are.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

Sorry that I haven't had too many "feature" posts for while. I have some partially completed drafts sitting around in the queue. I hope to have some longer, more interesting posts out soon.

In the meantime, I thought I'd help publicize this well known (though not well enough known) chart depicting the bi-modal distribution of starting salaries out of law school.

I was inspired by a post by Exposing the Law School Scam, which linked to an advertisement by a firm looking to pay an attorney with a decade's worth of experience, $40k!

Yes, soak in this chart 0L's - this is the career you've chosen. Here the "winners" get six figure salaries (and 80 hour work weeks), and the losers get to represent other losers fighting their 6th DWI conviction all while living at the local bus terminal.

Do you think that if you miss the cutoff for working for the big firms at OCI that you'll just "settle" for 80k working for a mid-sized firm? Guess again. You might as well prepare your resume to work for the closest Big Foot sanctuary because entry level jobs like that are equally mythical.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Transitioning to a Non-Legal Career

Here's a short article about trying to pursue a non-legal career. Unfortunately, it isn't very detailed, but it does encourage the job seeker to adjust his strategy.

Usually, we hope that all of our accomplishments alert an employer to our general capabilities and compatibility with a position. Unfortunately, if the way we present those accomplishments makes us look qualified for a career in a different field (e.g. law), we have a problem.

If that's the case, we have to find a way to highlight what in our background makes us a good fit for the position to which we're applying. For example, if you clerked for a judge, you should emphasize your writing and research roles rather than the area of the law in which you gained experience.

Essentially, our resumes need to be a sales pitch as to why the employer should hire us. It should not simply be an autobiography that lets us bask in our own achievements. We always need to be sure to spin our experience to fit the position for which we're applying.

In other words, I think the article is telling us to lie...(j/k - I think).

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Three Evil Cousins: Freddie, Fannie, and Sallie

The following is a special guest post by JD Underground poster Diorama900 (a graduate of a T-14 law school ):

I have seen numerous bloggers criticize the ABA for its continued accreditation of law schools that are not needed in the legal market. No doubt, the ABA deserves condemnation for its refusal to protect the kids who enter these schools with no chance of getting jobs that will pay enough money to help them retire their law school loans. I was “lucky” – when I got into law school, a friend of the family was a law professor and he warned me that despite the $10,000 per year scholarship from Cardozo, I was better off paying full sticker at a T14 than getting a free ride at TTT. (Of course, even going to T14 was one of the big mistakes of my life, but that’s a different story.)

I think, however, that the bloggers are missing an important point of the story: The ABA is a culprit, but perhaps not even the worst culprit. Forget the deans at NYLS and BLS who need ever-increasing numbers of suckers to bleed dry. Worry about their enablers such as Sallie Mae.

The housing crisis presents a good metaphor for what is happening at law schools and many of our august institutions of higher learning like the University of Phoenix. I’m pretty sure that no one who buys a mortgage deals with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae directly, but everyone deals with them indirectly. Say you go to a mortgage broker for a loan. Also, say that you don’t have sufficient cash to buy that house you really want. The broker doesn’t care and he doesn’t have to care. It’s not his money that you’re borrowing. He is going to package your loan with 100 other loans and sell them to Freddie and Fannie who will package them with another 10,000 loans and sell them to China.

Why do you think so many loans were made to people who ultimately couldn’t pay? The brokers didn’t care about the credit standards as they didn’t have to worry about repayment once the crap moved onto Freddie and Fannie! Freddie and Fannie provided the brokers with the capital without any of the responsibility. Why didn’t Freddie and Fannie care? So many reasons – they bribed Congress with $200,000,000 in lobbyist money in their successful efforts to avoid regulation, for one major reason.

Politically, all parties were to blame. Most of that $200MM went to the Democrats; George W. Bush pushed the “ownership society” where he thought that if more minorities bought houses they would become Republicans; Alan Greenspan, the most craven politician in D.C., pushed too-easy credit for years. For those of you with powerful political opinions, I have equal contempt for both sides. How does this apply to the law school crisis? Replace Freddie and Fannie with Sallie Mae and Matasar and Joan King with mortgage brokers.

It costs you as much to go to some TTT like BLS as it does to go to Yale and yet in any rational market this wouldn’t be the case. This is because BLS doesn’t have to care about whether or not its students pay back the loans. That’s Sallie Mae’s problem. If BLS had to lend its students its own money – just like a mortgage broker who actually had to worry about the creditworthiness of the borrower – you would see BLS be much more careful about lending money to its students. And they wouldn’t dream of charging as much for tuition, if they even remained in business.

Will this change? Well, Freddie and Fannie just got an open lifeline from the federal government – lobbyist dollars very well spent. Sallie Mae is no less powerful. I was formerly an attorney with one of the major bailout banks and I can tell you that their political reach is without peer. Just like when the UCC gets redrafted, it is always redrafted from the perspective of the lenders, so too banking regulation. Rest assured, Sallie Mae will be taken care of when bankruptcy laws are revised, not the students who borrow from it.

Like the mortgage crisis, this is yet another well-intentioned government program gone awry. Who can argue with providing students with an opportunity to get an education? Well, there are thousands of TTT graduates with worthless degree who can. Sallie Mae didn’t help anyone except the hustlers who exploited the system. Just like Dubya’s ownership society and Maxine Waters and Barney Frank saying five years ago that Freddie and Fannie were well run and well-capitalized, that no regulation was necessary, that they provided the underprivileged with an opportunity to own a home. The cold, hard facts remain: some people should rent an apartment, not own a home, and some people shouldn’t go to law school.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Admissions Video Propoganda (Richmond Law)

Update: If you look at the comments section, you'll see there are a number of Richmond graduates who have weighed in. Whether all of these comments are the genuine opinions of Richmond alumni is questionable. Nevertheless, I remain incredulous that I just so happened to pick on the one TTT that's playing an honest game. In fact, after re-watching the video I'm pretty sure I'm not.

If there are honestly some happy Richmond grads, fair enough. I'm sure Brooklyn, Seton Hall, and Loyola (LA) also have their defenders. The fact of the matter is that the implication that the school's proximity to national firms and large corporations will lead to solid employment opportunities (except for the top of the class) is misleading. Emphasizing the city life (particularly of a dump like Richmond), the on campus activities, and the scholarship credentials of the professors are absolutely irrelevant.

Every school claims to have "practical training". Everyone touts how wonderful their career service office is, yet outside of the elite schools, I've never heard a kind word about a CSO. (In fact, the only reason why the CSO's at the elite schools were effective is because they could just hand their student job opportunities. Now that the economy is in the tank, even their scams have been uncovered.) Studying abroad in law school is simply absurd.

All of these "soft factors" seem to be present at every other school, yet they haven't kept non-Richmond students out of the doc review or PI salt mines or the unemployment line. Trust the comments if you'd like, but don't say you weren't warned.

Okay, class, today we're going to begin our lesson with a video. To get the most out of this post, turn off the lights, turn up the sound, and click play on the above Youtube video. When you're done, please continue reading the next paragraph.

If you watched the clip, you know that it's an admissions video for the University of Richmond School of Law. Now, I don't know anything about UR Law. I'm not picking on them because I think it's a particularly fraudulent school - honestly, I haven't heard much about it good or bad. It's probably not the Seton Hall of the South, but let's face it, I think it's fair to be skeptical of a school that's ranked #77 according to US News and makes some pretty bold assertions in its promotional videos.

I actually just typed in "law school" in the Youtube search engine to see if A Law School Carol is among the first results - fortunately it is on the first page, which means some 0L's looking for information about law school will stumble upon it. Unfortunately, for UR Law, their video also popped up, and I decided to take a look.

It has been a while since I've viewed an admissions video. Now, however, instead of viewing it through the lens of an eager 0L looking towards a new career, I'm looking at it through the eyes of a man who has been shot out of the back of the law school garbage chute.

The law school apologists rebuke us for not doing more research before we enrolled in law school. I'm not exactly sure where an 0L is supposed to get a realistic view of the post-law school employment outlook- aside from these blogs, which the law school defenders do so loathe - but it definitely isn't found in these marketing materials.

Let's take a look at what this lower ranked, tier 2 school promises by analyzing the above video clip.

Part 1: The University of Richmond Experience

In the first minute of the video, a number of different UR personalities appear on screen promising an environment that is supportive, welcoming, and with unparalleled scholarship. Now, there's nothing wrong per se with making these assertions, but it's amazing how the much law schools try to emphasize factors like these in their promotional materials.

It's very nice that professors and staff are supportive of the students - though I'd wait to see it to believe it - but things like this really have little impact on the primary purpose of a professional school: getting a job. Nobody is going to hire you because your professor patted you on your head or even published some esoteric article in the New Mexico Journal of Environmental Law and Spelunking.

Part 2: Career Options

This is where the video starts to become absurd if not downright offensive. After an unnecessary video montage, a narrator begins to talk about how Forbes magazine has ranked Virginia as the number one state for business - whatever that means. (I'm a little skeptical of "official" magazine ratings these days.)

First of all, it's Virginia not Richmond that has received Forbes' accolades, and I'm pretty sure a lot of that business success is due to the high tech rich area of NORTHERN Virginia (i.e. an area not exactly next door to Richmond). Second of all, why does this even matter? This is a law school, not a business school.

The school apparently wants us to make the logical leap that if Virginia is doing well economically and Richmond is the capital of Virginia, ergo Richmond is thriving economically. If you don't want to argue with that iron clad logic, let's hear them out as to the rest of their justifications: The narrator claims that Richmond is home to a number of international and national law firms, large corporations, and various other potential employers.

Right, of course, to have any shot at these heralded law firms, a graduate from a 2TT like Richmond is probably going to need to be at least in the top 15%. What about everyone else? How about those great corporations? Sorry, having a law degree makes you either unqualified or overqualified for any of their employment opportunities as well.

Maybe the video should have mentioned if those mega-firms had any need for temporary document reviewers. It could have at least given us a tour of the local PI firms and debt collection agencies. I think that would be a lot more helpful in deciding if URichmond Law is the place to go.

Part 3: Richmond: Cultural Hub of the World?

So, of all the things one could think to talk about regarding law school, the third thing on their list is apparently to extol the thriving culture of the city of Richmond. Uh, we are talking about Richmond, Virginia, right?

I don't know what cultural attractions they're talking about. I'll take their word about the robust night life because from what I've seen, I don't think I would want to even be in Richmond after dark. I remember in college some friends were trying to find a hotel to spend the night in Richmond. They pulled into one motel parking lot to ask about spending the night and some guy came after them with a baseball bat! That must have been the welcoming committee.

I'll spare you the rest of my anti-Richmond anecdotes, but once again, what on earth does this have to do with law school? Even if Richmond is "the place to be", I don't see what it having some restaurants and shops has anything to do with securing employment after graduation (ignoring the obvious joke).

Part 4: It's Like Going to College Again

So, the fourth thing they can say about their school is that you can essentially relive your college experience with a close knit community and all of the amenities of the undergrad campus. Uh, you do know that you can join a gym, buy a museum pass, and find way to make new friends for a tad less than the price of mortgaging your entire future, right?

Part 5: It's Pretty Much Like Any Other Law School

Richmond has some court houses. The school or at least its satellite campus is near those courthouses. Right, so was my school and most other schools I visited. Not exactly impressive.

I also thought that the comment that U Richmond is the only law school in the city was pretty weak. Yeah, I'm sure that will give one a leg up over students from William and Mary, Washington and Lee, and UVA when it comes time for hiring. Funny how they emphasize being in VA when it suits them and specifically being in Richmond when that claim makes them look better.

Part 6: All Roads Lead to Document Review

The next section gives an overview of all the academic paths a student can take like picking up an additional degree (two worthless diplomas are better than one) or work for some institute for developing unmarketable skills.

I found the "Institute for Actual Innocence" to be a particularly funny title. As opposed to all those other defendants, their clients are actually innocent.

Judge: Do you have a plea?

Intern: Your honor, my client actually is innocent.

Judge: Well, why didn't you say so? Case dismissed.

Part 7: The Keys to Admission

There's some more malarkey about U Richmond having a collegial environment, but then we get a real treat, the Assistant Dean of Admissions tells us how to get into into this illustrious institution of higher learning.

She tells that she that she wants to admit applicants who bring something special to the table (something that distinguishes them). I was about to retort - like an LSAT score that won't further erode their US News ranking - but then she goes on to claim that it's not just about the numbers.

Here, however, is the best part of video with the best unintentional humor I've seen in a while. As soon as she finishes saying "'s what you have besides the numbers that excites us", the camera immediately shifts to a shot of a black woman. Hilarious. Translation: It's about the numbers unless you happen to be able to help us out with meeting our diversity quota.

Part 8: Unemployment Services

There's actually another unintentional admission in this segment. The narrator says that the school is there to help students from the first day until they are admitted to the bar. The next interviewee is the representative from career services. Translation: Once you're out the door, good luck actually finding a job.

There's some more junk about one on one career services counseling - I'll save my own experiences for a later post. They also carry on some more about the professors and clinics.

There is, however, a choice quote that I find amusing:

One student claims that you'll learn what you're going to be doing after graduation while still in school. Really? They have course work on document review, collecting unemployment, and working at the local mall? Maybe they're right, they do offer practical experience.

Part 9: Goof-Off Abroad

Do I really need to say anything? How on earth does studying abroad assist you in gleaning legal skills. Everybody knows this is this just an expensive vacation designed to boost a sagging GPA. "Ordinarily, we wouldn't hire somebody with you class rank, but wait, what's this, you studied abroad in Guatemala this summer? Welcome aboard!"

Part 10: Conclusion: Come to Richmond Law; We're Not Like the Others

One professor claims that Richmond is dedicated to providing practical experience to students, but she really only mentions court room experience. My school's idea of practical experience was essentially to throw us all into a bunch of trial practice classes. Of course, most attorneys don't actually spend a lot of time conducting full blown trials, so this experience isn't really all that practical.

There's also a federal judge who claims that every student who has worked for him has performed at the A+ level. Of course, that's probably because, as a federal judge, he literally only works with A+ students. Tough luck for everyone else.

Finally, the assistant dean of admissions claims the Richmond law school experience is all about outcomes and they want to help their students get whatever results they want. Well, what I think most of their graduates want (or will eventually want) is not be saddled with six figures worth of debt and to have some viable employment prospects. Sadly, unless Richmond tells them to find something else to pursue, I don't think their graduates' wishes will come true.

Now, I've given Richmond Law a hard time in this post. I think if you produce indefensible marketing materials which will persuade students to hand over their futures in return for a meaningless degree (regardless of whether they "should have done more research"), you deserve such ridicule.

Nonetheless, Richmond is hardly alone in producing such nonsense. I'm sure even the bottom of the barrel TTTT's have similar videos promising their applicants the moon. Of course, at the end of the day, when the debt has piled up and the young maiden of law school admissions, whispering sweet nothings into your ears has morphed into the shriveled hag of law school graduation, yelling obscenities at you as she pushes you out the door, the results will be the same across the board: The law school administrators will shrug and say you should have done more research beforehand as they hand you a quarter and tell you to call somebody who cares.

University of Richmond Law STUDENTS (past or present), have I been unfair to your school? Is the city of Richmond some sort of legal Xanadu that we should all pile into the car and head to a la the Joad family in the Grapes of Wrath? Is Richmond really one of the few schools that actually provides you with practical training that is truly marketable at graduation? Or, as I suspect, is it just another TTT ripoff factory? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Government Contracting

Just a short post for now, but one of my "fans" in the comment section mentioned that getting a federal government job is actually pretty difficult even if it's for a non-legal position.

I think he's pretty much correct. The people I do know that have been successful getting into "government" work have been government contractors.

There are positions all over the country (none really seem to be legal positions), but the bulk are in the DC metro area.

I don't think they qualify for the public interest loan forgiveness under IBR because you're working for a private company that has a contract with the government.

While, the federal government has USAJOBS for federal government positions, there isn't an equivalent system for contractor jobs.

The Washington Post, however, has a pretty good listing of contractor jobs. If it's something you're interested in, you should check out this resource. You can even search for jobs in your area.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Year: Where We Stand

Happy New Year, everyone. Well, it's time to look forward to a new decade...that last one didn't work out so well (for those of you who have not been following the blog for long).

My new year's resolution is to focus on the job search aspect of this blog...for one post. Sorry for the sporadic updates recently, but I have a bunch of fun things in the works - including yet another animated video.

In this post, however, I'm going to make good on my resolution and update you on where we (and by that, I mean "I") stand in terms of my job search.

Recruiters: I've actually had some success going down this road. I was referred to two NON-legal recruiters. One responded back to me. The other has not. The fellow who responded to me was away from the office, but he got back to me quickly and said he was happy to work with me in regard to my job search, so there must be at least some hope for me. In addition to my resume, I gave him the rundown of my background - including the JD - and he's still interested!

I'm as giddy as a fat girl finally being asked to the dance...or, uh, something like that.

In any event, the other guy is pretty much a top tier recruiter, so I'm not sure if I stand much of a chance of working with him. He may only work with top candidates. Apparently, having limited formal training in the field in which I'm interested, a three year gap in one's resume, and an irrelevant (at best) graduate degree may cause me to fall just short of being a top tier candidate.

I'll report back with any advice I may glean from the first gentleman. I'll also keep you apprised of any progress I make via this avenue.

JD Underground? I'm referring to the content of my resume rather than the popular bastion of misery where graduate's whose law school dice roll "snake eyes" end up.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was leaning towards only mentioning my JD if it seemed like the position was one where a law degree could at least be spun as an asset for the position to which I was applying.

I've decided that when I talk to people about jobs in their field (rather than applying through a job board/website), I'm going to be upfront and mention my law degree. I assume that for all but the most cursory interviews, my law degree (and what I've been doing for the last three years) is going to come up.

I'm not interested in lying - and I really wouldn't have any plausible excuse for what I was doing anyway. I'd only leave my law degree off my resume (in the relevant education section) to help me get an interview in the first place and afford me the opportunity to explain away the degree.

When it comes to potential employers or other contacts I speak to directly, I already have their ears, and I don't want to them to think I'm intentionally misleading them by failing to disclose my JD. I, therefore, have decided to be a little bit more willing to share my graduate education experience.

Policy Positions - I've maintained that "networking" does work (at least to some degree) outside of the legal arena. I think I have some recent proof that buttresses my opinion.

A friend of mine recently let me know that a friend of his knew about some policy research positions that were becoming available. As someone who (sort of) worked in this area and as a field where a JD can actually be useful, these positions are always worth a look.

The primary position in which I was interested was related to economic research. Unfortunately, it looks like there may have been some miscommunication, and I'm not sure if this position is still available. I'm waiting for a followup. The other position was interesting, but I don't think it's something for which I'd want to move.

Anyway, I guess this is how networking is supposed to work. A friend of mine thought about me when he heard about these opportunities. He put me in touch with his friend. I spoke with his friend, and he gave me the contact information for his friend/contact who would be making the hiring decision. In cases where the position actually still exists, this seems like it would work out even better.

Computer Skills - For those of you out there who are under the impression that I spend most of my time behind the computer screen being unproductive, well, you may be right that I spend most of my time using the computer, but occasionally I am productive.

For example, I recently purchased some books about web design, PHP programming, and MySQL. I've spent a good amount of time recently learning about/reviewing these topics. I don't know if I could get to the point by learning on my own to become a full time developer, but if I can find a company that's will to train me, I think I could make a quick transition into such a position.

In addition, I think it'll make me more marketable for a business position with a e-commerce/IT company.

I'm holding off on pursuing any specific certifications until I talk to some more people in the field to see what if anything is particularly desirable at this point.

Job Postings - I don't know if it's the recession or my current resume that's holding me back, but virtually all my applications have fallen into the abyss. I haven't even received rejection letters.

I've changed tactics a little bit by applying for positions without my JD on my resume and by shortening my cover letters. I've already discussed my JD, but I think my cover letters were also causing me some trouble.

I think I wrote some pretty good cover letters for the jobs to which I applied. I had a bunch of people read them and they agreed. I even followed the format my law school suggested for writing them. As proud as I may have been of them, they probably were too long for most people to bother reading.

I actually saw this idea on another blog (which I can't remember), but I shortened my cover letter to about a paragraph getting right to the point and outlining my skills but not adding too much other information.

I'm not sure how these new tactics will work, but for the couple jobs to which I've applied using them, I haven't had any real luck.

Government Jobs - At first I was opposed to seeking a position with the government. I'm pretty interested in getting into the corporate world. Under the IBR, however, the government will pay off your loans in 10 years. Plus, if I have a position where I can actually glean some skills - learning about government contracts, financial analysis, db management - I may actually be quite marketable to private sector companies in 10 years once I'm out of debt.

Resume/Network - I'm working with a b-school grad to better structure my resume. I'm not sure I agree with all of the recommendations I'm receiving, but it can't hurt to have another perspective.

This person has also opened up her local network to me and has agreed to put me in touch with people who she knows who work for companies in which I may be interested.

Another friend has also promised to get in contact with some people he knows who work in e-commerce (one who lives in my town) to see if they'd be willing to have an informational interview with me.

As you can see, I have a lot of avenues to explore. There's nothing too concrete right now, but I think with the new year upon us, it's time for me to more aggressively move down these roads and see if there's any fruit to pluck.

Readers - comments, questions, advice, vitriolic name calling - as always, the comments section is open.
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