Depressing stuff

stat imageLess than three percent of applicants are accepted to Stuyvesant High School (Go Peglegs!). About three percent of Americans donate blood. Roughly three percent of U.S. citizens consider themselves agnostic. Three percent of us are allergic to bee stings.

Three percent is… not a lot. A new report published this week found that one fundamental failing of large law firms in this country could be expressed in the same terms. What is it?

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hungry unemployedLaw school has been a wild ride for recent graduates since the beginning of the recession. Would-be lawyers’ employment woes have been chronicled in detail in almost every major publication since 2011, when the New York Times focused on the grim job prospects that awaited people after law school graduation.

This was not the case for all law school graduates, though. Those who were lucky enough to graduate from top-flight law schools often found themselves with jobs at large law firms. If graduates of the so-called “T14,” the upper echelon of law schools, somehow found themselves hopeless and jobless, their schools were quick to create public interest fellowship programs that would employ and pay them for a time. When those jobs ended, they were left to fend for themselves and struggle like the rest of their peers. Some graduates of superior law schools have continued to struggle for years after not being able to get their footing following the conclusion of their school-funded jobs.

Can you imagine what it must be like for one of these people to pass multiple bar exams and be unable to hold down a job? Can you imagine what it must be like to be a degree-holder from a prestigious law school drowning in so much debt that you’ve been forced to apply for food stamps and receive public assistance?

This is exactly what happened to a recent graduate of one of the best law schools in the country…

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empty-pocketAt the risk of stating the obvious to this audience, the American middle class is in serious trouble. But why am I taking the time to state the obvious? Because it isn’t what we know, it’s what we do with what we know to reposition our solo/small firm practices for survival that matters most. Most solo/small firms are consumer-law driven. Since so much of the success of many a lawyer has been predicated on a stable middle class with disposable income, how a solo/small firm responds to their disappearing wealth is intimately tied to their professional success.

The middle-class share of national income has fallen and continues to fall, dropping many who were normally categorized as such into the lower middle class, even upper lower class. Middle-class wages are stagnant even though productivity time has increased dramatically, and we no longer have the world’s wealthiest middle class. I don’t even have to quote any sources on this information because you just have to Google it and you’ll get hundreds if not thousands of pages and articles on this alarming topic.

As painful as this squeeze is individually, multiply this by millions of families (your potential clients). Then aggregate this demand across all areas of the economy (obviously, the law), and you see why this will inevitably trickle down to cripple the following generations (also your potential clients).

But the story is much bigger than this and has another very important side….

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Businessman has lost moneyNo offense to $8 an hour document review jobs, but this listing probably takes the crown as the worst job in the legal profession.

It’s not that the pay is necessarily worse — though when all is said and done, it almost assuredly is — it’s that the job is a delicious cocktail of overwhelming responsibility and bad public policy. Every day on this job would require the lawyer to struggle to uphold the basic ethical obligations owed to a client while incrementally undermining the justice system as a whole. For peanuts. And no benefits.

Sounds like fun!

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Financial data analyzing. Counting on calculator.We can write about how financially imprudent it is to go to law school until we’re blue in the… fingertips? I guess? But for some of you, it’s just not going to sink in until you see it in cold hard numbers. Enter this handy student loan calculator that allows the user to enter their planned indebtedness and it’ll spit back the salary you need to earn in order to justify your decision.

Spoiler: law school is rarely justified…

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resume girlA few weeks ago, I asked for stories from former solo practitioners who have closed up shop and their reasons why. I received a fair number of responses. Some did well, moving on to BigGov, better larger law firms, or decent non-legal jobs, and some even started profitable businesses.

Others dug themselves into a deeper hole. Some got further into debt. Others made no money for years. And others became estranged from family and friends.

From time to time, I want to feature these stories as case studies for people considering going into solo practice.

For today’s inaugural feature, I will profile a lawyer who became a solo practitioner because he had no other options. Things seemed to be going well until something went wrong….

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When you are starting your solo practice from scratch with no connections, clients, or money, expect to make many sacrifices in the beginning. You must sacrifice time with friends and family to attend networking events meeting people — most of them in the same position as you. You will miss many Simpsons episodes to read legal treatises and practice guides. Money will be spent to pay for office overhead — gifts, luxuries, and even student loan payments will have to wait.

Unfortunately, for one solo attorney, her pursuit of professional success required her to sacrifice one of life’s most treasured partnerships: her marriage. Over the weekend, solo practitioner Vivian Sobers announced on her blog that she and her husband of 11 years have decided to separate and eventually divorce.

Vivian’s story is not unusual. Most of us in our line of work have either experienced rocky relationships ourselves or know someone who has. What is unusual is that she is open about it, and I commend her for that. But here’s the question: is her law practice is to blame for the divorce, or did she bring this upon herself by choosing her career over family?

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Law school can ruin your life if you are not careful. It’s very expensive and the rewards are far from guaranteed. And even if you reap those rewards, you might not like what you’ve become.

But if you do everything wrong, law school becomes just a tragicomic microcosm of poor planning and bad luck.

Forbes has an article up about a woman who is $350,000 in debt and living at the poverty line. Oh, but she has a law degree, and people who haven’t been paying attention are surprised by that…

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Being a lawyer is time-consuming. First, you’ll have to subject yourself to spending three years in law school cramming knowledge into your brain. After you graduate, you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time trying to pass the bar exam and find a job. (If you’re incredibly lucky, you’ll have a job waiting for you at a Biglaw firm.) Last, but not least, once you’re working as an attorney, you’ll get to spend the vast majority of your waking hours at your desk.

Most practicing lawyers are lucky if they see sunlight, let alone have any semblance of what could be called a social life. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish all of the tasks that need to be done. That’s why being a lawyer landed on the latest ranking of careers that could have disastrous effects on your social life.

How high did lawyer rank on the “No Life Careers” list? Keep reading to find out…

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Bert and Ernie. Peanut butter and jelly. Salt and pepper. Some things just go together; these natural partnerships add up to more than the sum of their parts. So when I came across a press release announcing a partnership between an ediscovery vendor and a law school, it made perfect…

Wait.

What?

There is going to be a doc review shop at a law school. And apparently the law school is okay with that, even excited.

What exactly is going on here?

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