Biglaw, Job Searches, Law Schools, Summer Associates

A Tale Of Two Law Students: One Summering At Cravath, The Other Still Searching For A Job

Law school isn’t a bad choice or financially ruinous choice for everybody — just for many people.

Given the state of the legal economy, it sometimes feels like law schools are pumping out two classes of law students. The first blessed group of people can follow a “traditional” path to financial security: summer at a Biglaw firm, get an offer, work there for a few years while paying off debt, etc.

The other group consists of the law school have-nots. They didn’t get Biglaw summer associate offers because the supply of legal jobs has contracted while the number of available law students has increased. The “secondary” or “local” markets aren’t hiring either. Public interest work doesn’t quite pay the bills. Nobody is coming to interview them 3L year. They are members of the Lost Generation.

There are, of course, more law school have-nots than there are lucky ones. That’s just the way of things. But law schools tend to trumpet the few stories of success while ignoring the many stories of distress.

We’ve talked about all of this before, of course. But today we have an interesting opportunity to take a peek inside the head of a successful candidate — and see just how myopic his worldview is. And we can look at the thoughts of a have-not — and see just how bitter he’s become.

Below are two emails. One came from a summer associate at Cravath, raving about his wonderful, awesome world. The other is a response written by a rising 3L describing his no good, very bad employment prospects….

Both of these students are rising 3Ls at the BYU – J. Reuben Clark Law School. Since they’re still law students, we’ve redacted their names and substituted pseudonyms. We’ll call the Cravath summer associate Mr. Stryver and we’ll call the disgruntled 3L Sydney Carton. (Obviously, the part of Lucie Manette will be played by Cravath presiding partner Evan Chesler.)

One note before we begin. Remember that our sources are telling us that Mr. Stryver’s letter was solicited and disseminated by BYU Law career services. It’s likely that the CSO office was asking for this level of happy-clappy joy.

Here’s Stryver’s email, which was reportedly disseminated to BYU law students by the career services office:

To all those considering working after they graduate from law school:

I am currently a summer associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York City. When I first went into the recruiting season, I wouldn’t have considered working outside of Salt Lake City. My whole entire family lives in Utah, and at the time, my wife’s whole entire family lived in Utah. I love the out doors, I love to ski, I love to water ski, I love to mountain bike, hike, etc. etc. I love Utah, I really do. There didn’t seem to be a reason to leave. In fact, in the beginning, I only applied to the firms in Salt Lake City. THAT WAS A MISTAKE. Shortly after the recruiting season started, I thought that I might look into working in a few different markets as a backup. That was the best decision I have made regarding my legal career. I mainly applied in Las Vegas, Chicago, and New York. Through the application process, I did quite a bit of research on firms outside of Utah. I reviewed many of their websites, I looked them up on Vault, I googled them, and I talked to a number of attorneys in Salt Lake City about my target markets. I was very surprised about what I discovered.

First, surprisingly, in many cases it is easier to get a job at a biglaw firm outside of Utah than it is to get a job at a Utah law firm, particularly in this economic climate. I have discovered that much of the reason for this is because the Utah market is so small that many of the firms are not hiring at all, and the firms that are hiring are only hiring one or two people. In contrast, many of the biglaw firms outside of Utah are hiring many summer associates, Cravath, for example, hired 53 summer associates for this summer; I believe that Kirkland & Ellis hired a similar number for their Chicago office. Some of this is because Utah is still feeling the effects of the recession. Generally, Utah’s economy lags behind many of the big cities’ economies. Utah didn’t feel the serious hurt from the great recession until about 1 – 2 years after the big cities did, and so the rebound is delayed as well. Based on my experience, New York City is definitely feeling economic rebound, as is Chicago.

Second, as described above, I was a home grown Utah boy and never thought I would live anywhere else. I love to travel and have visited many other places – somewhere around 26 countries – but I still never thought I would live outside of Utah. Although I had visited many other cities, I had not viewed them from the perspective of actually living there until I had interviews in those cities. Once I truly viewed them from that perspective, I was amazed at what they offered. Just this past month alone my wife and I have seen 4 Broadway shows, we have eaten the best cheesecake and the best doughnuts in the entire world, and we have absorbed the culture in one of the most culturally rich cities in the world. Our experience here has truly been fantastic.

Third, these law firms offer the best experience and the best work there is in the world. I have talked to many Cravath associates so far this summer about why they came to Cravath/NYC etc. They told me that they came here because of the experience. Although you may be required to work hard, really hard, while you are at a firm in Chicago or New York, the experience will be extremely valuable and will make you more marketable in the future. Don’t be scared of the hard work, after all, you came to law school and you knew it would be hard work.

Fourth, this may sound silly but if you can secure an offer from a firm in Chicago or New York, then you will become MUCH more desirable to ALL of the law firms that you interview with after that. I experienced it first had [sic]. Once I had an offer from one law firm, every law firm I interviewed with after that gave me an offer. It is odd, but it really happens.

In the end, I ended up with an offer in Salt Lake and offers outside of Salt Lake. Because I was willing to open my mind to other opportunities, I chose to come here to New York and I don’t regret it.

Thus, I think it would be in your best interests to seriously consider applying and interviewing in big cities, particularly New York and Chicago. The legal community in Chicago has many BYU alum and, in my experience, they are all VERY happy to help you in any way they can, they all really want more BYU alum in the city. Also, BYU has a pipeline into a few great firms here in New York. Although I didn’t do early interviewing days, I recommend doing that because the earlier you can be considered by these firms, and the earlier you can get your first offer, the better.

If you have any questions or want any advice about the process of getting into one of these markets please, PLEASE email me or call me. I know quite a bit about Chicago and New York, I have done hours and hours of research and have interviewed in both cities. I know some about Las Vegas, and I have close friends in Texas, DC, and California that would be happy to impart whatever information they have. WE WANT TO HELP!

Good Luck,
Mr. Stryver

Obviously, I could rip this apart; I am a cynical guy, after all. But I don’t have the time. Between Broadway and cheesecakes and mugging FTs from Salt Lake who are looking for an authentic New York City cultural experience, I’ve got better things to do than explain to this guy that the “best work in the world” is the kind of thing people crow about right before they get punched in the face (or saddled with document review).

Instead, I’ll let a classmate, Mr. Carton, explain his views on this matter:

Dear Mr. Stryver,

First of all I need to say I have appreciated my association with the CSO over the last two years and for the most part have found everyone in the office incredibly helpful. I understand that this market is putting you guys in a pretty brutal place, but also know you always appreciate feedback. So with that being said, after reading this letter I was left scratching my head and thinking “Is this a joke? This has got to be a joke. Let this be a joke.”

I’m usually pretty kicked back about these kind of things, but as the bitterness of last years job hunting season is quickly turning into a type of soul curdling “holy-crap-how-am-I-going-to-feed-my-family-and-pay-off-these-damn-loans” fear, I am becoming increasingly more flummoxed by advice like this. After discussing this email with law school friends, I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the tone of the advice reflects, at best, seriously being out of touch with the nature of most students efforts, or at worse, a deep amount of condescension. I need to be clear I don’t think either of those apply to the CSO, but I do think Stryver’s email is a total and complete waste of time to 80-90 percent of the class.

While I appreciated getting to know more about Stryver’s love of world-class donuts, traveling to approximately 26 countries, and participating in all of the adventures that wild Utah has to offer, I’m not sure what else 3L’s and 80% of 2L’s were suppose to get out of the email. It’s not a well kept secret that the Cravaths of the world are not not looking for the Sydney Cartons of the world. They’re not looking for me, because they aren’t looking for most BYU students (admittedly I might add that after being rejected by more than 55 firms in markets from Orlando to Oslo, it became extra apparent they were especially not looking for me). The 10% they are looking for, except for apparently Mr. Stryver, are already applying to them. And if there is anyone in this market foolish enough to only apply to SLC firms, perhaps they should be going hungry, or at best not cluttering up the legal field with idiots. So it leaves me asking, who was this advice intended for?

As we head into another brutal recruiting season, and as 3L’s stare at a cratered and burned over legal employment landscape, perhaps the last thing I want to hear from a classmate is the “Don’t be scared of hard work” tone of advice. As many nervous 11 pm conversations by 3Ls in a dark law school parking lot, after being rejected by yet another firm, can attest, this isn’t a group of people scared of working hard to feed their families. Rather this, from my experience, is a group of men and women who got destroyed by one interview after another. Who watched the handful of paid offers get recycled through the top students of the class, and who are now scraping by and making it work this summer. I don’t think there is a single person in the bottom 80% of the class who would turn down an offer from Cravath right now if it meant not defaulting on student loans and moving into their in-laws house.

So if there is any advice I wish the CSO would give, it would be; “Hey 2L’s if you aren’t top 20%, forget about the traditional legal hiring process. Sure there are outliers but you probably won’t be one. You’ll just have to be more scrappy. And 3Ls, you’ll probably land on your feet. Most people do. Good luck.” It seems, after looking at what my peer groups is stuck doing this summer, anything besides that and a hug, is nothing but sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Once again, I appreciate you guys, and know your heart is in the right place, but this email really rubbed me the wrong way.

Sydney Carton

The only thing here is that Carton is letting his CSO people off the hook. This was their idea. They asked for this; they sent it out to the entire class; they’re the ones who want you to think that all you need to do is “work hard” and you’ll score a job at Cravath.

In any event, congratulations to Mr. Stryver. I’m sure everything is working out just as you had always hoped and dreamed. We’re all sure that your glorious summer experience is very much like what will happen when you join Cravath after graduation! I mean, doesn’t every Cravath associate have time to see a bunch of Broadway shows with the 8 p.m. curtains and then sample the finest dessert cuisine in all the five boroughs? I think so! But in the unlikely event things turn sour, just remember will always be there for you.

For Mr. Carton, I don’t know what to tell you. Keep your head up. Keep fighting. Time and pressure are your allies.

(hidden for your protection)

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