Here’s what you never hear anyone say at a Biglaw firm — followed by a discussion of why you never hear anyone say it.
Here we go…
Let’s work on this together. It’ll be more fun.
People write me all the time, complaining I’m too down on Biglaw. Nothing new there, but one guy, recently, expanded on the topic, adding that he works at a firm where everyone, so far as he knows, is happy — enjoying a rewarding career in a supportive, non-exploitative environment.
Perhaps you can see this coming: It turns out this guy owns the firm — and specializes in oral arguments before federal appellate courts. Prior to becoming managing partner, he attended top Ivy League schools.
By way of a reply, I opined: “Your experience might be considered atypical.”
Although Am Law and ATL covered the story first, the long spread in The New York Times alerted the whole world to the woes of Gregory Owens, a former Dewey partner who’s now a bankrupt non-equity partner at White & Case.
The legal blogosphere naturally lit up over this story, with Scott Greenfield dispensing his usual simple justice and the Volokh Conspirators (and their many commenters) debating Owens’ personal and professional worth.
But my emailbox filled up, too, with assorted reactions from people at all levels in the law. The most interesting rant — and the one I’m sharing with you today — came from a person who looks a lot like Owens; he or she is a non-equity partner at a Vault 50 firm who’s in his or her 50s. This person disagrees violently with the conventional wisdom about non-equity partners. My correspondent sings their praises and insists that both law firms and many law firm consultants terribly misjudge the value that non-equity partners provide to their firms. . . .
Let’s be honest: despite being the Biglaw version of the Titanic, the collapse of Dewey & LeBoeuf could have been worse. Even though the Dewey dissolution constituted the largest law firm collapse in history, many D&L lawyers and staff were able to find new employment. Even Steve Davis, the disgraced ex-chairman of Dewey, landed a new gig.
But not everyone emerged unscathed. Some attorneys and staffers never got back on their feet professionally. Many Dewey partners scored new positions, but not all of them took all of their people with them to their new firms.
And even some partners are still suffering. In fact, one former Dewey partner, now a partner at another major law firm, recently filed for personal bankruptcy….
(Please note the UPDATES at the end of this post.)
I find New Year’s to be a fairly depressing time of year. The calendar demands that you reflect on everything in your life over the previous, arbitrary, and finite period. And if you are naturally cynical, depressive, or even just ambitious, that reflection and self-assessment reveals flaws and unrealized potential.
It’s why the whole “New Year’s resolution” phenomenon is a thing. Every New Year’s resolution can be reduced to “I think I suck, tomorrow I’m going to try to not suck.” And, of course, New Year’s resolutions tend to be either petty or wildly unrealistic. If you can look into your soul and decide that the most important “self-improvement” you can make is to lose ten pounds and fit back into your wedding dress, I kind of hate you. But if you find yourself looking in a mirror thinking “okay, January 1, no more cocaine,” as if you can muster the Earth’s orbital transit to aid you in freeing yourself of addiction, then you’re also very annoying.
What I’m trying to say is that I’d bet that the seeds to the most terrible and irrational decisions to go to law school are planted on New Year’s (or your birthday). I have no evidence to back up this opinion, but “I’m going to do something with my life and go to law school” seems like exactly the kind of desperate thought that makes a lot of sense to people when the calendar demands they spend a lot of time gazing at their own navels.
Going to law school should be an intermediate step in a long-term plan, not the first step in a “changing your life” plan you’ve concocted because 2013 sucked and you don’t know what else to do with yourself. If you find yourself considering law school because your life looks like this guy’s, who’s jobless and living in his mom’s basement, STOP. BACK AWAY FROM THE LEDGE, have some Cold Duck tonight, and know that the blues will pass and that there are better ways to spend $150,000….
Meet Ludo. A graduate of a top-50 law school now living in Chicago, Ludo was no-offered after his stint as a summer associate in Biglaw. Unable to to find employment with this black mark on his record, Ludo was forced to take a job in retail, losing his last shred of dignity in the process. But Ludo’s job selling cologne hasn’t completely taken him off the legal market. As Ludo shares on his blog, his coworkers pepper him with questions about “peoples law” (in other words, the stuff you don’t learn in law school or practice at Biglaw) — like how to beat a traffic ticket, or whether a hospital can turn an uninsured patient away at an emergency room. But instead of offering up answers, Ludo simply shrugs off questions, explaining that “he didn’t learn anything practical in law school.”
Meanwhile, eight hundred miles east of the Chicago department store where Ludo works, meet Lou Cambria. Lou’s a Philadelphia solo who typically represents small-business clients and individuals who need help writing wills. But on weekends, you won’t find Lou in the office….
It’s absolutely detrimental. It was brought up in almost every interview I had after that. No one came right out and said I was rejected because of it, but you definitely get the sense that you are seen as damaged goods. A lot of the people I know who got no offered have been able to rebound from it, but they have all struggled. And that’s not even getting in to the psychological damage.
Some guy on Twitter was complaining that Above the Law focuses too much on the negative side of going to law school. Apparently this person mistakes us for a law school admissions office — people who ignore facts when they don’t fit their happy-clappy narrative. We do bring you some law school success stories when we hear of good ones. Do you know why those stories are “news”? Because law schools are so effective at leading people down a path of career frustration and financial ruin that when somebody beats the odds, it’s mildly noteworthy.
Law school is a good investment for some, and a terrible one for many. We say that all the time. The problem is that law schools do not give people enough information to assess whether or not they should go. The problem is that some law schools actively mislead people who are trying to make a sound decision. The problem is that even when law school “works out,” the tuition charged often vastly outstrips the value of the degree.
Sure, some people will succeed despite the high cost, misleading information, and weak job market. Law schools want you to think that those successful people are the norm, but really they are the outliers. (And, given the events of today, I guess I have to say that the folks who contemplate suicide are also outliers.)
This guy who recently bared his underachieving soul to Business Insider is the norm. This guy making $45,000 while carrying $200,000 of law school debt has the kind of life law students should prepare themselves for, regardless of what the admissions brochures and the guy on Twitter who made everything work out will tell you….
I really hope this Craigslist post can be filed under “ridiculous hyperbole” as opposed to “true story.”
A person has placed an ad on the Los Angeles Craigslist board with the subject line: “I will literally kill myself if I don’t have a job by New Year’s.” The lawyer then goes on to explain his professional experience and to express his willingness to do anything that carries with it a salary or hourly wage.
I’m not at all sure that threatening extreme action is the best way to secure a position as a trusted advisor capable of exercising discretion under pressure. And I think that history has shown that things like hunger strikes are more effective at engendering sympathy than straight-up threats of self-martyrdom.
But it is a tough market out there, and I suppose this is one way to get at least a few employers to give you a second look….
… because you’ll find a sad man crying himself to sleep.
Here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving, and it is traditional to publicly spew all of the things we are thankful for ad nauseam. Fine. Despite the horror of not yet knowing the exact bonus benchmark that “elite” firms will set for themselves this year, I am sure there is something for which I am thankful. Well, I am on a large project that seems like it will last through the end of the year. That is pretty much the best a contract attorney can hope for — especially in a week where we will miss out on two days of work (you call it a holiday, I call it forced budgeting).
This weekly column has really been about the nature of the worst legal job, and the underlying message is that it can be a sad existence. I am not saying this to garner sympathy — let’s face it, anyone who decided to go to law school probably isn’t a great candidate for sympathy — but rather to describe reality. Packed into a room of people who were positive, in the not too distant past, that they were better than the life they are currently living can be disheartening. We’ve focused a lot on the dollar amount associated with being a contractor, and the actual tasks you might do, but what is life really like for the legal underground?
You won’t believe the extremes one West Coaster is going to for an hourly wage…
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.
Whether you’re fresh off the bar exam or hitting your stride after hanging a shingle a few years ago, one thing’s for certain: independent attorneys who start a solo or small-law practice live with a certain amount of stress.
Non-attorneys would think the stress comes from preparing for a big trial, deposing a hostile witness, or crafting the perfect contract for a picky client.
But that’s nothing compared to the constant, nagging, real-life kind, the kind you get from the day-to-day grind of being a law-abiding attorney.
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