“I kept asking Clarence why our world seemed to be collapsing and things seemed to be getting so sh*tty. And he’d say, ‘That’s the way it goes, but don’t forget, it goes the other way too.’ That’s the way [life] is… Usually, that’s the way it goes, but every once in awhile, it goes the other way too.” Alabama Worley, True Romance.
Someone wrote in recently that “it was about time that I was giving honest appraisals of real life,” or something to that effect. Obviously, I can’t sit here and name names from my past or current positions. But after thinking it through, I decided to give an assessment of how I landed here in-house, inclusive of as much truth as is prudent. Keep in mind that this post is in two parts, and due to space constraints, I simply can’t give all the details and dirty little secrets….
I graduated with honors in 1995 from Brooklyn Law School. (Let the TTT funny begin, but back then, if you wanted to practice in NYC, you went to the best school you could that offered you the best financial aid package.) I summered and was offered a job with Coudert Brothers. This was the time of the salary wars — and a then-powerful gossip site called Greedy Associates. In one week, our salaries went from something like 95 thousand to 125 thousand, all from peer and market pressure.
While at Coudert, I learned of a clerkship in my hometown of Oklahoma City. I moved my family to the Midwest for a year and worked for one OF the best judges I could imagine. Then, it was my wife’s turn, and she moved us to D.C., where I lucked into a gig clerking for another District Court judge. (Side note: by working Biglaw for a few years prior to clerking, I was able to take a 50% haircut instead of the newbie clerk salary of around 45 thousand.)
I felt I had done everything right, careerwise. I’d graduated with honors, been published in a journal, worked in Biglaw, and now had two federal clerkships on my résumé. My wife had obtained a prestigious position at the NIH and loved her job. We had a young son, and enjoyed living just north of D.C. in suburban Maryland. Our landlord was going to sell us the home we rented, for a fair price, and life seemed good. And when it came time to start looking for my next move, I figured it would be easy to land a good gig.
I was very wrong. I couldn’t, for the life of me, find a job.
I worked all of my connections in D.C., but no one was hiring. And those that were hiring didn’t hold my law school in high enough esteem to give me the time of day. I remember sitting in a private lunchroom at a prestigious litigation firm, enjoying a lunch with the head of litigation, until he asked where I had attended law school. What was a quiet enough space to begin with, suddenly became quite chilly. I soon learned how to cull law firm sites for members from my school, and to avoid firms that wouldn’t dream of hiring an attorney from BLS. And yes, I am looking at you Gibson Dunn. Around this time, Gibson famously refused a lateral partner with a great book of business (read: multi-million dollars), based on his law school. Just wow. But, they are entitled to their standards, and so be it.
There were also firms that would send to us clerks invitations to “social” events where we’d hear about outrageous clerkship bonuses of 35-45 thousand dollars. Did I receive a callback from any of them? I did not. Do not think me bitter, as I am not. I am a conservatory trained actor with a background in radio. I do very well in interviews, and speaking to different and varied strangers is not a weakness. I began to discern a pattern — a non-elite New York school equals nothing in D.C. I got the message.
But then, I couldn’t find work in New York City. Hiring had tightened up. I began to feel desperate. I interviewed with plaintiff’s firms, and anybody who would talk to me. Finally, a connection came through from my Coudert days. A partner who knew my work and who spoke up for me at his new firm got me an interview in Rochester, New York. Which is, coincidentally, my wife’s hometown. Now we were faced with the choice of leaving her gig at the NIH for a seemingly solid job in upstate New York. Some factors that went into our decision were: cost of real estate (ridiculously low), my wife’s ability to find a job (she is brilliant and exceedingly well-credentialed — three Ivy degrees). The cons were a lower salary than when I left Biglaw, and she would have to put her career on a different trajectory.
And then I made my biggest mistake. Even though the recruiting firm had an office in D.C., they wanted me to move immediately upon the end of my clerkship. This would mean living apart from my wife and son for about a year. I offered to work in D.C. at the lower Rochester rate, and the answer was no. But, I needed a job.
Next week, part two of this story, which does indeed have a happy ending.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.