A little over a year ago, law firms came up with a unique plan to deal with the problem of too many associates and not enough work to go around: the deferral. It did not apply just to incoming associates; it was also offered up to those already at the firm who were open to a year-long sabbatical.

We know that many of you decided (or had to) seek out work in the public sector. But when the mainstream media picked up on the fact that law firms were paying their employees to go away from a year, they focused on those doing fun things, like the Skadden Sidebar associate planning a trip around the world. How many other deferred dreamers have taken the opportunity to do something offbeat?

Or something about beats. Rap Genius, a website that analyzes rap lyrics (called ingenious by Nick Antosca of the Huffington Post for its breakdown of Empire State of Mind), is the creation of a DL Pursuer. The site is now nine months old, and Mahbod Moghadam (Stanford Law ’08) is hoping it’s his escape out of law. Which would be a good thing, since Dewey & LeBeouf is having a hard time reabsorbing its DL Pursuits associates.

Moghadam is quite a character: he sent us a bizarre photo involving a carrot, he’s the ex-boyfriend of Victoria of Downtown Girls, and he convinced two Yale friends to quit their jobs (at Google and D. E. Shaw) to work with him on Rap Genius. What kind of Jedi mind tricks is this guy using?

Mahbod Moghadam, deferred Dewey & LeBeouf associate

Mahbod Moghadam was a first-year at Dewey & LeBoeuf when he went on DL Pursuits in June 2009. The deferral was 18 months to begin with, but now it seems like it’s going to be longer.

He originally planned to do legal research back in California and try to get an academic fellowship during the deferral. But during his last week in New York staying with friends, one of them asked him to explain a Cam’ron song. That’s when he came up with the inspiration for Rap Genius. (No, the friends did not include Victoria Eisner of MTV’s Downtown Girls. They broke up years ago and “are not on great terms.” Though he says she’s very smart and went to Brooklyn Law School as an “anthropological experience.”)

Moghadam somehow convinced two friends from his undergrad days at Yale, Tom Lehman and Ilan Zechory, to quit their jobs and join up with him in interpreting rap songs. While he had a deferral stipend, they quit cold turkey from jobs at D. E. Shaw and Google, respectively. They’re hoping to make more money from Rap Genius, once they start integrating advertisements. “On the one hand, I know it’s a huge risk,” said Moghadam. “It’s hard to get a new business started.”

But Moghadam points out that the business of providing lyrics is an undeveloped market on the Web — many sites are laden with spyware and flashing, annoying ads, in part because “lyrics is the most popular word searched on the Web after Facebook,” said Moghadam. He claims that the leading lyrics site, Metrolyrics, makes $10 million a year, and they don’t even offer exegesis.

The site is run Wikipedia style, with new interpretations and definitions of lyrics invited from readers (though editors pick and choose the best of them). Lawyerly rap fans helped out with the interpretation of Jay-Z’s 99 Problems, for example. We think Rap Genius is pretty cool, though the Daily Swarm was less impressed, saying it explains rap in “the whitest language possible.”

Moghadam would love to get Dewey partners involved in the site in some way, since there are some there with music industry connections who could help the site take off. His dream would be to link up with music and entertainment partner Londell McMillan, who has repped Michael Jackson, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Usher, L.L. Cool J, Kanye West, Mos Def, and Russell Simmons, among others. “He’s kind of a meme at the firm,” explained Moghadam. “Everyone wants to get in with him.”

He imagines spin-off sites for rock music, poetry and the Bible. “We’re hoping to explain everything with cute little pictures and pop ups,” said Moghadam. “That’s what’s cool about a recession. It frees people up to go off on tangents.”

Rap Genius [official website]
Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” Broken Down for You by the Scholars at Rap Genius [Huffington Post]
Rap Genius: How Bland Are You? [Daily Swarm]

Earlier: Dewey & LeBoeuf Has a Backlog of Associates Returning from the Deferral Year
Why Unemployed Lawyers Shouldn’t Go On Reality TV Shows — Exhibit A: Victoria, of MTV’s Downtown Girls


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