Depressing stuff

… 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…

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I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked.

Howl expresses the rage of a lost generation struggling against a conformist and materialistic culture that drives its rejects to poverty, drugs, mental breakdown, and whatever mental condition leads someone to believe that “Baltimore gleamed in supernatural ecstasy.”

Craigslist provides us with a screed that resembles a latter-day Howl for attorneys. A free-form scream to the heavens — fittingly recast as the Internet — for an escape from the landscape of joblessness and debt that dominate the existence of young lawyers. A haunting vision into the soul of a lawyer who has crossed the mental breaking point and, in the author’s words, “given up hope.” A chilling account of the unemployed attorney as beggar asking not just for money, but masochistic abuse from others just to regain dignity.

Mostly it’s a rant that cuts through all the B.S. of every other job posting on Craigslist….

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Let’s not mince words: Patton Boggs is stuck in the muck. In the most recent Am Law 100 rankings, the firm showed a 15 percent decline in profits per partner — one of the biggest dips in the entire survey, contrasting with the modest growth that most of Biglaw enjoyed. Gross revenue also fell, by 6.5 percent.

The Am Law 100 rankings looked at 2012 performance compared to 2011 performance. Perhaps things have improved for Patton Boggs in 2013?

Alas, no. While many firms have resorted to voluntary buyouts or layoffs of support staff this year, few have laid off lawyers (at least not openly). But Patton Boggs has already been through two significant, open and notorious rounds of layoffs in 2013 to date, affecting not just staff but lawyers as well.

How is Patton Boggs trying to save itself, and will its plan work?

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As we’ve repeated countless times in these pages, Biglaw isn’t what it used to be, and good luck to you if you happen to be a partner. Sure, you’ve grabbed that brass ring, but you also have what could be described as “the worst job in Biglaw.” Here in the new normal, where layoffs and de-equitizations abound, despite increases in firm profits, many partners now have the same fears as associates.

So what happens when partners are pushed out of the law firms they once loved? Now we know, thanks to the results of a a new survey. You won’t believe how messy these bad romances can get…

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Regular readers of Above the Law are well aware of the bimodal salary distribution curve of starting salaries for new lawyers. Lawyers understand why the curve looks the way it does: there are a few “elite” firms that essentially engage in salary collusion at the very top (don’t everybody start thanking Above the Law at once), while most lawyers will struggle to find a job in the $40K – $60K range.

When non-lawyers see this curve, they are surprised. The curve popped up on Mother Jones the other day, and author Kevin Drum called the $160K spike “pretty weird.” Then the commenters on his post — actually HELPFUL commenters who managed to weigh in without personal attacks on the author — explained to Drum why it was so.

But that’s kind of the problem: people only become aware of the bimodal salary distribution curve after they’ve been to law school (and done things like become a regular reader of Above the Law). They don’t get the information before they commit to law school, when the information could be useful. In a world without time machines, hindsight is blind.

Still, even people who have already committed to their dread fate can benefit from an understanding of history. Do you know what the salary distribution curve looked like in 1991, during the last “great” lawyer recession? Do you think the people who are charging you money to go to law school have seen it?

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I recently started a new project (yay money). It was accompanied by all the usual strum und drang — the seating chart, the log-ins, the deadline — typical but annoying stuff. I noticed that a buddy of mine was there. Well, at least it was someone I’d been on reviews with before who was distinctly not weird. When you’ve been on multiple projects with the same agency or vendor you start assembling a cast of “regulars,” and these people can be your lifeline during arduous projects. We start to reminisce about past projects like old war buddies and it strikes me.

I’ve been doing this too long.

Not just in a “what am I doing with my life” existential crisis kind of a way, but for at least the foreseeable future this IS my life. Like anyone in any position for a bunch of years I’ve amassed tips and tricks to get through the day, and can predict the general course of a project. So in celebration of the stalled nature of what I, laughingly, call my career, I present the 7 signs you’ve been doing document review too long…

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The job market for new attorneys is bad, but you already know that. People are struggling to find any paying legal work of any kind, even as they hope that one day the investment they’ve made in law school will pay off. And you already know that.

Employers know that. Employers know that you are desperate and sad, and they’re happy to take advantage of that. But there’s an employer posting on Craigslist who wants to hire you, even though they know you’re going to spend a lot of your time there crying in your office.

I mean “cubicle”….

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I went to see “12 Years a Slave” because I thought it was the story of a lawyer on partner track in a Biglaw firm. Lots of cruelty in the flick, but no lawyers.

– A Biglaw refugee who was “bummed out” when the movie wasn’t what he expected, offering commentary on the struggles associated with making partner.

Searching for jobs is never fun.

Even in a job market that isn’t floundering and redefining itself every six months it can be stressful. This is especially true for recent law school graduates who have the specter of future student loan payments lurking in every corner. So when a law school makes an earnest effort to assist its students and alumni in obtaining the jobs that are available, the school should be commended.

This post is about what happens when the “available jobs” are contract attorney positions. It may not be the dream job you envisioned when you submitted your law school application three short years ago, but it is a living.

Which law school is leveling with its recent graduates by setting up a matchmaking service to get recent grads work reviewing documents for peanuts?

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Would that law school was affordable so that all one had to do was sell off childhood memories. Alas, stories like this one are not about students piecing together law school tuition in creative and interesting ways. Instead, this is another story about a law school graduate who learned, too late, that getting a law degree doesn’t have anything to do with getting a job that allows you to afford the degree.

It’s funny, collecting toy cars is a harmless hobby. Collecting post-graduate degrees is the dangerous perversion…

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