Ed. Note: Will the Lost Generation ever find its way back into Biglaw? This new column is written by a member of the Lost Generation who initially was thrown off of the Biglaw bandwagon but was able to get back on, and is now trying to hang on to his Biglaw second chance.
When I was no-offered in the summer of 2009, I felt worthless. I am not used to failing in significant endeavors. I prefer to reserve failure my smaller undertakings, you know the ones that are not worth over six figures a year. And this particular failure had an even harsher sting because I felt like an ineffective sell-out.
I had started law school with the fresh and heady eyes of a bachelor of arts who had no employable skills and wanted to save the world. I would wield the law as a tool to empower the weak and oppressed. I was seriously regulating my debt and pinching pennies so that it would be manageable with the $50K salary that I expected.
That was before I found out exactly how much Biglaw associates make per week. My public interest façade didn’t even put up a fight. I think I registered for O.C.I. the next day.
One year later, I was offended by lunches that did not cost at least $20, and I was happy to represent any client in any capacity for any purpose as long as I made enough money so that the amount I paid in taxes exceeded any of my pre-law salaries. I was no longer worried about taking out the maximum amount of student loans available to me. The days of conservatively accepting only part of my loans, and pinching pennies, were gone.
Sadly, I started spending before I actually secured post-graduate employment. Does that sound familiar to anyone…
I had sold out my public interests for Biglaw, and then Biglaw had sold me out. And, it wasn’t even some top Vault New York firm. It was a decent large firm that paid market-level salaries for its location. As one friend who was no-offered from a similar firm put it, “It’s like I tried to have an affair with some ugly guy, but the guy shot me down. I’m still a slut but with low standards and no sex.”
I was a sexless slut with low standards, and I needed to turn some tricks in order to pay off my stupid debt. And it didn’t have to be that way. My work over the summer was solid, and I was well-liked. But my judgment, at times, was plagued by a high level of stupidity.
The day before my mock appellate argument at the firm, I had a bit of an accident. Without going into details that have been successfully expunged from my record, I got drunk and ran into a half-way open door. One black-eye and swollen face later, I woke up and had to go to work. All morning, and for days afterward, I had to have the exact same conversation with staff, summers, associates, and partners.
“Oh my god, what happened?”
“Well, I was out drinking with some friends, and I ran into a door.”
I didn’t want to be seen as either violent or the victim of violence, so I mentioned the drinking to add some needed context to my story. The conversation would continue briefly, always filled with an air of disbelief and speculation. I can’t blame anyone for wondering if I was lying. I mean who actually runs into a freaking door?
Regardless, I went with the utterly suspicious truth instead of spinning tales of a wild softball pitch or dramatic mugging. In fact, before my oral argument, I ran into one of the partners who was on the mock appellate panel.
“Oh my god, what happened?”
“I ran into a door.”
“How’d that happen?”
“Well, I was out with some friends drinking and was goofing off.”
“That looks pretty bad. You should leave early and go the doctor.”
“Oh no, I’m fine. I have my oral argument today, anyway.”
Before the arguments started, I saw the three mock judges whispering, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they were looking at me. I convinced myself that I was being paranoid, before the chief judge said, “Due to a medical problem, we have agreed to change the order of the docket so that one of the litigants can leave early.”
Needless to say, I lost my argument. Emphatically. Two weeks later, I was no-offered. Emphatically. Did the black-eye have something to do with it? All I can tell you is that all of the summers who did receive offers avoided doors with shocking dexterity.
But I did find a job back in Biglaw, and you can too. Because we learn from our mistakes. Who knows, it’s certainly possible that I’ll get drunk and walk into a door again. But I’ll wear an eye patch and make up a much better story if it might cost me my job.