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.


  1. Honesty is the best policy. (Are you listening, law school administrators?) Some companies may actually appreciate your candor. (It may be refreshing to hear such honesty in an interview - it will also set you apart from your bland competitors who will wear the same suit, hairstyle, and have the same mannerisms and rote answers to questions.) Just mix in some class. And avoid the "blame game."

    Employers DO NOT want to hear, "I can't get a job because the lawyer market is too over-crowded" - even though this is true. Remember, these pigs/assholes have contributed to the low-wage economy - and they are probably proud of their immense "achievement." Corporations also like to hire "safe" people, i.e. those who will not raise hell. This is why so many cubicle-dwellers are so bland, un-original, and boring. Such people cause less problems for the company.

    Tell potential employers: "I went to law school because I wanted to be a lawyer. After three years of legal education and several internships, I realize that this is not for me. I decided to stick it out, so that I could at least get the credential and finish what I started. I want to do something else. I don't want to be stuck in a field I don't like for the rest of my life, just because I have a JD. I have experience and practical skills in X field. I worked in X industry for 5 years, prior to law school. I know how to get things done."

    Try this approach. If it works, let me know. If it doesn't, let me know too - and you can yell at me.

  2. Haha, yeah, I should have added that "honesty is the best policy...unless you run a law school." Of course, one day this little scheme is going to go too far and finally collapse. Maybe then these crooks will get what they deserve.

  3. Just kill yourself. That is the best policy.

  4. Personally, I would rather be dishonest and employed than an honorable bum. To cover my tracks, I would list my experience as coming from a recently dissolved business in the field I wanted to be employed in.

  5. 7:21, hey JDU's Sarin_Gas, long time, no see!

  6. Esq. Never, I agree, I don't want to lie, but what the hell do you do in a situation where all your experience is related to your JD?! And it's one thing to be candid during the interview about your time in law school and transitioning out of the legal field, but it's quite another when the employer will take a look at your resume and discard it because of the 3 year gap. One has to get in the door first to be able to "explain."

  7. In all seriousness, suicide is not funny.

    7:27 I have to agree with you. If I ever got to the point where nothing else had worked and I had exhausted every available alternative, I would really consider creative ways of lying about non-verifiable small things. If you can get away with it, then do it. its better than killing yourself.

    Everyone in this world lies. Everyone is trying to manipulate and exploit everyone else for their own personal advantage. The whole world operates on the pretense of cooperation and serving the greater good. If you can lie without hurting other people or putting them in danger, do it.

    Like "God" and "progress", "Honor" and "integrity" are creations of the human imagination designed to help people sleep at night. They give us false reason to believe that things either will work out or that bad things happen for a reason.

    The bottom line is that the world operates on bad principles and nobody in this world does anything for any reason but to serve themselves. You do what you gotta do to survive.

  8. Above: As if you know what is and what is not simply the creation of the human imagination...

    Re: Resumes and "lying"

    Esq. Never et al.--don't forget that "lying" is not really the appropriate label for an omission from your resume. What employers, in general, care more about is you fabricating things that you never did, never were, etc. NOT omitting things that are not relevant to the job at hand. There is a big difference between the two, and that would not be lost on any reasonable employer.

    Don't give up.


  9. Doug pretty much summed it up for me. Honesty & ethics are a funny thing; they go out the window when you're dealing w/food, shelter, basic survival.

    When some of the pedagogues preaching these things lose their options & have to face the choice whether to commit a crime or keep their home/feed their kids/etc., then I'll listen to them. In the meantime, use your best judgment on what to say about your education or background.

  10. re: lies

    I assume the last three comments are directed at me. (Who else?)

    I never said that omissions are lies nor that one shouldn't market himself/herself in the best possible light.

    My concern is about simply making up experience to cover your law school tracks.

    If you don't like the ethics argument, I regret you feel that way, but there's also a good utilitarian argument against such fabrication as well.

    Like I said, you can get yourself in a lot of trouble once you start weaving a web of lies. What if a spouse/significant other comes to a company event and let's it slip you went to law school when your boss thinks you were in the Peace Corps? That could be a bad day.

    Or should we also lie to our loved ones to open up our dating options as well?

    1/25 - 8:53: I will address some of your concerns in a post later in the week.

  11. I've thought about taking the JD off for months but never ended up doing it. Why? Because we live in the 21st century where an employer can find out almost anything just by googling your name. If I lived 50 years ago maybe I'd try fabricating my resume but today if you've ever participated in any organization or function at your law school, your name and/or resume could be found on the website of your law school, a law school org, or a social networking site. Don't take that risk. Even if you get the job there is a good chance you'll eventually get caught.

  12. Lying on the resume may be necessary, and there is at least one way to get away with it with little to no risk. If you are close with a former employer under whom you worked before law school or during law school (part time), simply LET THEM KNOW your dilemma and that you will need their help. Ask them if they'd be ok with your stating on your resume that you worked with them for four years instead of two or that you worked full-time hours during law school instead of part-time(which is possible, even though it will prevent you from being a Holy Five Percenter).

    Everyone lies like this. It is what your competition is doing, folks. If you have that type of connection with an employer, use it to your advantage. Yeah, no one WANTS to do this, but there are no job postings for "Senior Honesty Specialist - $150k". I'm learning more and more that the world revolves around BS - not scoundrel-level dishonesty i.e. Bernie Madoff or the US Congress - but the light BS to get your foot in the door.

    We went to law school. We have brains. We can BS better than the GED BSers who are making more dough than we are right now. So why not do it?


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