9/11, In-House Counsel, Job Searches

Do Not Become a Lawyer

The legal profession in happier times.

A few pending anniversaries to mention: the twelfth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks; my 45th birthday tomorrow; I have been practicing law for 14 years; and my second year of writing this column for Above the Law is fast approaching.

Really, the only date of any import is 9/11. A “first world problem” for me is that my birthday is forever the “day after” — but at least I have a day after. So many families were destroyed that day, and so many of us will forever duck a little bit when airplanes fly past our buildings. I cannot imagine working in downtown San Diego, where the approach from the East is so close to so many skyscrapers.

I won’t dwell too much on lower Manhattan today, as by now I think everyone remembers in their own way, but I will always cherish my thirtieth birthday, a surprise party held at Windows on the World, surrounded by friends and a swing band in the background. I found a picture from that party — I am hugging some buddies, and was a young buck associate at Coudert Brothers, a 150+ year old firm driven to ruin by poor cash management. Anyway, today will forever be bittersweet as I prepare to look to the future tomorrow, and will always remember that awful day 12 years ago….

I am sure that many of you associates are looking at your numbers and figuring out how many more billables are required by the holidays, and you newbies are still pondering what stroke of luck brought you paychecks so large. Meanwhile we “in-housers” are looking at the calendar and contemplating the end of Q3 with the knowledge that end of year is fast approaching. Here in town we are dealing with the latest big three “death,” as Bausch and Lomb’s OGC has been given until the end of this month. That is two major losses in as many years in a small legal market that cannot really tolerate even one department-wide layoff. With Kodak, and now B&L, gone, there is really nowhere for all of those attorneys to go. The only choice, and an unsettling one for most, is to leave the area. Something which is not taken lightly in an area where you can purchase a 2,000 square foot colonial for under $200,000.

Thus, the market here is frankly inundated with a host of qualified, smart, and experienced attorneys. Many of whom are colleagues, if not from firms, from the local bar. This is not a cohort of lawyers who can easily be subsumed into other firms, or even local corporations, because there just aren’t that many around. And even if they are brought in for interviews at their former firms, they can’t offer to bring “business” from companies that no longer exist. It is as depressing to experience as it is to write about.

As I read the articles about “which firm to choose from OCI” and “whether the third year of law school is necessary,” I am struck by the overwhelming need to tell the young folks to run far away from this profession. It is not what it once was. That does not mean that “glory days” will never return, it means that right now, this is one of the worst career choices one could make. Quite frankly, taking away that third year, in the near term, would only glut the market that much deeper that much sooner.

I realize how dark this column is, but the events of late take me where they take me. And on 9/11/13, the profession, for those of us who have been around since the late 90s, is a cold place indeed.

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 dmowry00@gmail.com.

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