In-House Counsel, Job Searches

House Rules: It Was the Worst of Times…

Last week’s column caused a bit an uproar at my attempt to analyze the recent JP Morgan loss of funds from an in-house perspective. I later posted the following in the comments section, and since most of you don’t venture down there (wisely), I am reprinting it here:

“I will take the heat for a column that should have flowed better from factual assertions to analysis. I take the point that attorneys may not have been at fault, and I should have made that point with more clarity in the column. I also should have been more clear in laying out a linear argument from the facts reported in the media. The point I was going for, however inartfully, is that this trade was likely reviewed by someone in a legal capacity prior to approval, and that review should have caused someone pause. Dimon himself admitted that this was a strategy examined by him and management over a month before being executed. [I] [a]gree that the risk analysis was likely not performed by attorney(s), but it doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to presume that the legal technicality of whether this was a proprietary trade or a hedge appeared on some lawyer’s desk. And given the distrust of CDS after the recent malfeasance rife in the industry, is it so hard to believe that … lawyers were involved? Nope, I wasn’t there, and I made a poor attempt to examine a scenario which only magnified my lack of fluency in the subject matter. Mea Culpa.”

Now, on to today’s attempt to offer an in-house perspective….

I had a conversation with a legal job seeker recently that left me disquieted. In speaking to this person, I ultimately had nothing to offer advice-wise, and my dissatisfaction has been palpable since that call. This person had already tried every strategy that I offered, and I ended up saying an amicable, yet unsatisfactory, goodbye. Since then, I have tried to come up with something more to offer this person other than platitudes, to no avail. The only thing I could say was to keep trying, and it gets better. But what if it doesn’t?

I went through a very rough job search before landing in-house, and I recall vacillating between the “keep trying” push and the “what if this fails” blues, sometimes within the span of a small time period. There is an incredible amount of anxiety in the knowledge that no matter your credentials or experience, you may be heading down a path with nothing but the prospect of unemployment at the end. But is that really the case? Are there really no jobs for you?

Of course there are jobs to be had, and money to be made. Taking a position or two outside of the legal field to pay the bills is no one’s idea of the ROI expected from a law school education and exorbitantly high loan debt. But, being in such a position is not the end of the world, and it is not the end of a legal career that is not yet off the ground, or that has been grounded.

As I discussed with this person, my search started central to my geography and pay scale. After depleting the opportunities in these areas, I was forced to explore opportunities outside the comfort zone of my home town and salary requirements. I was soon looking for employment outside my state and outside my salary range. But nothing panned out. And panic began to set in. However, I never stopped relying on my friends and colleagues. I am forever grateful to several people who were able to set my priorities back on track, and who were instrumental in helping me step back from the ledge.

It is not the worst thing in the world to take a job in a different field. It may not help your legal résumé, which, we are told by career offices should be a linear progression of legal employment with each position taking on more and more responsibility, but at least you can take pride that you’re paying your bills. And you know what? Screw those career services people. Defer your damned loans, talk to each of your creditors, and prepare yourself for a very bad period. No one promised us $160k upon graduation, and no one promised us a lockstep progression to partner if we simply bucked it up in Biglaw.

I am well aware of the various lawsuits over employment stats offered by law schools and the ABA, and those cases have perhaps some merit. Maybe some change will come as a result of some of the suits, but even if settled in a manner favorable to recent law grads, no one will see a windfall, save for the plaintiffs’ lawyers who will be the ones to benefit the most.

If you’re down to desperation mode, don’t give up, just think about what else you might be qualified to do. There are jobs out there that you can obtain more easily than in the profession. Put your pride in the back seat and do whatever you can to keep yourself afloat. And don’t ever stop looking for legal work. In my own circumstance, I was forced to prepare to temporarily move out of the profession to keep my family clothed and fed, and yes, I would have done whatever it took.

I realize that this is far from an uplifting post, and it may leave you as disquieted as it leaves me. But, that’s the point. The sun keeps coming up every day, and to avoid spending the rest of your days cowering under the sheets at home, you’ll begin to consider what else in this world you might be able to do, rather than continue to spin on the wheel of legal hiring discontentment. As always, best wishes to anyone looking, and it will get better.

After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at

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