‘Please sir, some more gruel experience.’

Anyone who’s been following the implosion of the law school bubble is well aware of the fact that many recent graduates have been left floundering when it comes to employment prospects. And given the vast media coverage of the legal academy’s existential crisis, everyone and their mother knows that entry-level law jobs are few and far between. People are hungry for experience, but they’ve quickly come to the conclusion that it’s a real seller’s market out there. In today’s economy, it’s kill, be killed, or work in retail with a law degree (a fate which, for some, may be worse than even death).

As expected, some employers have chosen to take advantage of this situation. Take, for example, the “excellent position” we covered last summer, after a number of tipsters emailed us to express their outrage. The job was touted as providing “valuable experience,” and even though it had a sad little yearly salary of $10,000, some 32 people applied.

In the wonderful world of legal one-uppance, it was only a matter of time before someone came up with an even more audacious employment scheme. Would you be willing to pay someone for legal experience? Because that’s what this Connecticut law firm expects you to do.

Leave it to a lawyer to come up with a way to turn this dearth of job opportunities into a revenue stream….

Last week, an interesting job advertisement popped up on Craigslist, and thus far, it’s been covered by Law and More, Legal Blog Watch, and the ABA Journal. For those of you who haven’t seen the ad yet, we’re talking about the “pay to learn” law firm job that’s being pimped out in Connecticut. Sadly, “[i]t’s come to this,” as correctly noted by Jane Genova, who was the first to pick up on this ridiculousness. The ad begins like so:

ARE YOU RECENTLY ADMITTED TO THE BAR, OR AWAITING BAR RESULTS, BUT NEED EXPERIENCE FOR THAT FIRST JOB?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Any unemployed lawyer’s interest would’ve been piqued with an opener like that. But if you read on, you can see just what you might be getting yourself into (emphasis added):

General practice attorney with more than twenty years of experience is willing to train a small number of recently admitted attorneys, or those awaiting bar results. For a monthly fee, you will be able to shadow the experienced attorney, and learn by watching the day to day practice of law.

*INSERT RECORD SCREECH HERE*

Wait a minute, wait a minute… for a fee? Surely this general practice attorney knows that many recent law school graduates are struggling to find two pennies to rub together to pay off their loans.

Bruce Carton of Legal Blog Watch suggested that perhaps “the ad is just poorly worded, and … the “monthly fee” will be paid to the lawyer….” We wanted to find out exactly what was going on, so like any good journalist would, I decided to “apply” for the job. As it turns out, a little subterfuge goes a long way in this line of work.

Here’s the email I sent out. I thought it sounded just desperate enough to illicit some kind of response:

I’m interested in applying for your training program, but before sending along my résumé, I’d like to know what the monthly fee is. I’m operating on a limited budget right now, and if you’re willing to negotiate on price, I would be more than happy to send along any materials that you may need.

Apparently I was correct, because the attorney behind this job ad responded within seven minutes:

This is a new concept, and I have not determined the fee as of yet. I would like to see how many people are interested before agreeing on the fee. The more people, the lower the fee.

Oh, how kind of you to reduce the fee based on the number of applications you receive from people who are so hard up for a job that they’re willing to pay for one, even after shelling out hundreds of thousands of federally backed loan dollars in law school tuition. I guess this is the new world that we’re living in.

It was also quite kind of you to provide your name. In case you’re wondering about who you can thank for this wonderful job opportunity, it’s Kenneth A. Beck, of Beck & Beck, with offices located in Connecticut and New York. With a firm slogan like “It’s easier to prevent a legal problem than to solve it,” you’d think that this Quinnipiac Law grad would wade into the ever-burgeoning applicant pool with a little more caution.

So, being the Type A eager beaver that I am, I of course wanted to know who else had applied:

Thanks so much for your quick response! Out of curiosity, could you let me know about how many people have applied thus far? I want to see what the competition pool is like.

Beck quickly reported that he had “gotten 6-8 resumes so far,” but that he was “not sure how many people [he would] accept.” At this point, I can’t even decide why I should feel badly for those people — if it’s because desperate times sometimes do call for truly desperate measures, or if it’s because these people are getting duped into parting with their money on the off chance that they’ll receive a lousy little résumé line out of it.

Either way, for all of the law school deans and law professors who are trumpeting the value of a legal education, when job opportunities like this exist, perhaps you ought to examine your motives. The entry-level job situation is now so bleak that prospective employers are taking advantage of recent law graduates who are stuck between a rock and a hard place by charging them for the privilege of gaining experience.

It’s too bad that the legal job market is such that this scheme is getting traction with applicants. But just because you can do things like this doesn’t mean that you should. In fact, it’s just flat-out wrong, and quite frankly, it makes me ashamed to have graduated into a profession where this is the current state of affairs.

Are we ever going to learn? I really and truly hope so, because this is just embarrassing.

(If you’re interested, you can see the full Craigslist ad on the next page.)


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