Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pride and Employment

This is a follow up to two of my recent posts. In Pride and Prejudice, I urged readers to put pride in the back seat wherever they are in the law school process (applying, enduring, or graduated). In Honesty is the Best Policy, I further urged readers not to lie to try to finagle an interview.

How are the two connected? Well, let's start with the last post. The temptation to lie is quite strong because if you went to law school full time during the past three years and you don't want/can't find a decent legal job, you're in for an uphill battle in trying to secure non-legal employment. As has been stated time and time again, a J.D. makes you unqualified for most non-legal jobs, and a three year gap on your resume will likely also keep you from getting interviews.

Some of you may be puzzled. Where does pride come in? After all, if you're looking at non-legal jobs, surely you've put pride in the backseat by deciding to forsake the "prestige" of being able to call yourself a lawyer.

I'll address this in a minute. Before moving on, let me note that I'm certainly not an expert as to what to do next. After all, I'm presently unemployed and living at home with my parents. I have a lot of experience with what doesn't work, but not too much with what does. To bolster my credibility, let me urge you to read this entry from the (now defunct) Barely Legal blog before continuing with this post.

If I could choose one sentence from the entire article, it would be this: "You don't deserve anything because you have a law degree."

It may take some time to fully understand that point. In fact, the author's fortune in apparently getting interviews for and eventually accepting a solid white collar job may be somewhat misleading. It appears that he was able to wrap up his job search before the economy fell into the tank (and the job market got so bad). For whatever reason, he was able to get interviews with his law degree on his resume and then was able to spin the degree.

Sadly, until the economy picks up (which should be a while), employers are going to be inundated with resumes. Most of them probably aren't going to have time to satisfy their curiosity by wondering why somebody who has a J.D. or three years missing from their work experience is applying for their open position.

You see, according to the aforementioned blog post, you simply can't think of yourself as anything more than a college graduate with a couple extra meaningless letters next to your name. (Unless you have some post-college work experience.) In my opinion, however, this is actually only the best you can think of yourself.

Unfortunately, it may be necessary to take another step down the old dignity ladder - particularly if you go down the "three year gap" route. You're not just merely a college graduate - you're a college graduate who didn't do a darn thing (save some periodic internships) over three years.

Yes, sadly, this means you're even less qualified than the average recent college graduate. Does that stink? Sure, but fighting reality won't do anything for you.

What you need to do is try to find jobs with employers that aren't going to be that concerned about the three year gap and just want to hire reasonably intelligent people with college degrees OR find a way to mitigate the gap in the resume.

I have some suggestions, but obviously, I can't speak from experience. These seem to be the best options at this point.

Document Review

You may be thinking, "Wait, I'm trying to leave the law!" As any doc reviewer will tell you, document review has precious little to do with actually practicing law. It has a lot more to do with making enough money to keep your unemployable posterior off the streets.

Nevertheless, it may offer you an escape hatch through which you can escape the stigma of your J.D. For one thing, it'll allow you to start bulking up your work experience on your resume. True, extensive document review experience can often be seen as the kiss of death in the legal world. In the non-legal world, however, most employers don't really know what "coding documents" is. If you can spin it in the right way, you could make it look like you have the professional/white collar work experience for which many employers are looking.

If you can't parlay the doc review experience itself into the "professional experience" that is a prerequisite for many corporate jobs, there can be other benefits. One of the main reasons people go into document review is because it usually pays pretty well. If you can keep your expenses down, it may be possible to save enough money to help finance one's exit from the industry.

Some people have used their document review earnings to open a solo law firm - not recommended. If you're not inclined towards the law and have some other business plan, you could use your earnings to underwrite a non-legal venture.

If you're not so entrepreneurialy inclined, you could also use the money to invest in yourself. You could find a certification or training program that will help you acquire practical skills to help you transition to another industry. You could do this either in between document review projects or or even possibly at night while still earning an income.

The big problem with this strategy at this point is that document review jobs are harder than ever to get. If you don't have experience, it's particularly difficult. Not only that, the wages for document review have plummeted since the recession started. It may be possible to make the same or similar money without suffering in a document review sweatshop.

Back to School

This ties in with the previous suggestion. Obviously, it's advisable not to take on any additional debt if possible, so financing continuing education with earnings from other work (like doc review) is probably a good idea.

The last thing you want to do, however, is simply pick up another worthless diploma. Be very weary of any program that won't teach you practical skills. Even degrees like MBA's or masters in economics should be suspect. If you don't have something practical to bring to an employer, you'll have to market yourself solely on the strength and credibility of your degree. As we've seen, that doesn't work too well with a J.D. My understanding is that while an MBA is more practical and versatile, there are plenty of TTT MBA's who regret their decisions as well.

Certification programs in various areas of IT, culinary skills, and other vocations are probably the best road to take. Just be careful not to be scammed again. There seem to be a lot of fly-by-night on-line schools looking to separate students from their money.

I heard about one national computer training company with "campuses" around the country. It recently went bankrupt, but all it did was prepare students for various certification exams related to the Microsoft operating systems and servers. The company charged a whopping $20k for this education. The exams and books to self-study for them will only cost you about $1,000 -if that. (They were also quick to put students in touch with Sallie Mae to finance the COA.)

If you can't learn a skill set on your own, ask professionals in an industry what they recommend to get the training you need. The best bet is probably a local community or state college certification/training program.

The most important thing is leaving the program with actual practical skills that will make you attractive to employers in your new field at a cost that won't cause you to rack up significantly more debt.

Entry Level Training Programs

If you've had it with school and don't want/can't find document review positions, you'll need to find an employer who isn't all that concerned about your resume. Most opportunities that are specifically targeted to recent college graduates are out. They're usually looking for bright people they can develop from the ground up right out of school. If being three years removed from college doesn't nix you from their pool of candidates, having a gap on your resume will likely do so.

This is probably also true for many companies that don't have a specific program for recruiting college students but who are willing to consider recent graduates with no work experience for a position that has become available. A resume with such a gap in experience is going to be strewn aside like a law dean tosses aside whatever scruples he may have ever had.

Some companies have training programs that aren't necessarily looking for recent graduates or even the best and the brightest. (Sometimes they actually want people who have been out of school for a while.) These usually take the form of management training programs where you'll usually start off assuming assistant managerial functions and learn different areas of the business.

Companies I've heard about that have such programs are Wal Mart, the Honey Baked Ham Store, Blinds to Go, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car (among others). Sure, supervising the installation of discount blinds or scolding some frat boys for "ralphing" in the back seat of the compact car they rented for spring break isn't exactly what you were thinking when you signed that seat deposit over to that TTT dean, but let's face it, now is not the time to be picky.


Sales isn't for everyone. In fact, if you're gifted in this area, you probably have what it takes to network yourself into a better job. That said, these jobs will usually take anyone with a pulse. Usually they entail cold calling people, harassing everyone you've ever met, and/or making presentations to sell people insurance, financial instruments, or something else they could probably easily buy for themselves if they just logged onto the appropriate website.

Often times you'll need to get some sort of license (e.g. insurance, Series 7, etc.) depending on what you're selling. You'll need to be able to endure a lot of rejection and have a persuasive personality. In most of these jobs, your take home pay will be commission based.

Service Industry

Yes, at the bottom of the list are jobs you could probably get if you only graduated high school. In fact, they are jobs you could probably get if you just didn't have what it takes to graduate high school (i.e. two brain cells to rub together).

Some positions, by themselves, can be reasonably lucrative. For example, being part of the waitstaff at a fancier restaurant pays the bills for many young folks.

One, however, shouldn't overlook less lucrative options. While stocking shelves or loading trucks is a pretty darn pathetic position to be in after seven years of education, it could be your path to a decent corporate job. You see, companies want to hire people who are familiar with their products and services. Many times they will promote from within. If you do a good job and learn the ropes at the lower level, with your education, you should be a prime candidate for advancement to a position that offers more responsibility.

Prior Work Experience

If you have prior work experience in a professional field, now is probably not the time to think about switching to another non-legal industry. Both your resume and the job market are currently stacked against you. Try to get back into the field in which you have experience and do everything you can to spin your J.D. as an enhancement to the credentials you already have.

The only time a J.D. is really beneficial to a non-practicing attorney is when it's coupled with other skills and experience. Try to take advantage of this to set you apart from other candidates with similar non-legal credentials. A good idea to accept the same salary that someone with similar credentials (but no J.D.) would accept.

My Strategy

Personally, I'm going to try to continue pushing my previous work experience and spin the J.D. as best I can. Obviously, I've had little luck with this approach, but I'm also open to accepting document review positions. Unfortunately, these aren't as accessible as they once were, but I may have a project soon. I would then seriously considering using my profit from such a project/projects to get some training in another field or start my own enterprise.

The most important thing at this stage is to be realistic about how employable you are. I had a friend who just couldn't recognize how worthless a J.D. is. He kept urging me to look at executive positions that paid around six figures. He seemed to reason that just because top law grads could command salaries at that level (or above), the business world would be willing to pay anyone with a J.D. a similar salary.

Sadly, that's not the case. As I've said before, outside of the legal world, a J.D. is essentially just a fancy liberal arts degree. I might as well have pursued a Ph.D. in art history.

If you don't have anything to offer, but your J.D., then you really don't have anything to offer. It's best to shrug your shoulders, start at the bottom, and start trying to rebuild your life than continue chasing a dream that has morphed into a nightmare.


  1. Regarding further schooling....if you find the law itself interesting, you might consider becoming a law librarian. Sometimes you can even get a position as a reference librarian before you finish the library degree. And many library schools now offer the degree entirely online. The U of Alabama allows out of state students to pay the instate tuition rate. (At least it did; I haven't checked lately.)

  2. Getting in as a librarian is worse than trying to be a lawyer. Not sure about law librarians specifically but my spouse is a public librarian & there's NO entry-level work in that area unless you want to work 10 hours a week or work for 35 hours a week while having to do as much as a full-time employee. I know in NYC, there's no market for law librarians right now.

  3. Be a law librarian and work at a law school--a step closer to the top of the pyramid where the deans and professors collect their winnings.

  4. The problem with law librarian jobs is that most expect you to have an M.L.S. - a degree that might actually be worth the money to get if you can get a comfy university library job.

  5. You'd better have an actual job lined up. Otherwise, you're just throwing money away on another useless degree (though getting it should be a breeze compared to law school).

    My husband is a librarian & the director of one bar association I belong to says there aren't jobs for law librarians at the moment. Unless you have friends who will still make the hiring decisions someplace decent by the time you finish, might want to rethink that idea.


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