Depressing Things

There’s a reason the Hero’s Journey doesn’t take detours through law school. It just doesn’t feel all that epic to spend your day highlighting cases and playing gunner bingo. When the most famous films about law school involve a pathetic whiner terrified of his professor, a white guy in blackface, and a ditz trying to get back at her boyfriend, you know you’re not dealing with the Guns of Navarone.

Whenever law tries to get heroic, we tell tales of lawyers who champion the downtrodden. And then fail miserably.

So it’s no wonder that this kid who feels they really are a hero is rudderless in law school.

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A hallmark of horrible regimes everywhere is the insistence that everyone around them profess a deep and abiding faith that they are, in fact, super-awesome regimes. This is why Kim Jong-un has at least 35 laudatory epithets attached to his name and holds parades about how awesome it was that he sprayed the populace down with AXE Bodyspray. Or something. I’m a little shaky on the details because bad regimes make a point of keeping the truth out of the public eye.

At least one law school has taken a lesson from mid-20th century fascism and adopted a total blackout on the truth about the substandard results it’s been getting. A blackout so absolute that, while hosting a candidate for the open position of dean, the school reportedly asked the candidate to leave and threatened to call security when he or she brought up the fact that, “hey, enrollment is down and those jerks from Above the Law make fun of us for our terrible bar passage rate” at a faculty gathering.

Can’t let the proles hear that.

So let’s have some fun — which law school do you think it is?

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Ed. note: Please welcome Shannon Achimalbe to Above the Law. Shannon will be writing about the journey from solo practice to a larger law firm.

Since my last post, the ATL editors have been busy covering multiple layoff stories. That, along with news that hiring will not return to pre-recession levels, is scaring the crap out of me discouraging. But as every lawyer and law school graduate since 1950 knows, finding any lawyer job is a Herculean ordeal – whether boom or bust. And finding the right lawyer job is like finding a needle in a stack of needles.

Because of my non-peer pedigree and the continuing economic malaise, the traditional method of job searching is not going to work, and I’ll end up getting either nothing or a dead-end temporary job. In order to get the job I want, I’ll need to create and execute a long-term career plan.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the “shotgun” method of job hunting. Towards the end of my third year of law school, I sent at least 500 unsolicited cover letters and résumés to every law firm, recruiter, in-house, out-house and temp agency my career counselor and I can think of. I must have spent hours customizing each cover letter and résumé for each firm explaining why I should be hired without sounding like a blowhard or a wimp. I took advantage of the free law student bar memberships and went to every networking event I could.

How did this turn out?

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We spend a lot of time chronicling the lows of being a contract attorney. It’s the very bottom rung of the legal profession, but no matter how disrespected the job it is still an essential part of modern litigation. These jobs are rarely permanent positions so as contractors move from temp job to temp job there is an inordinate amount of terrible and just plain crazy jobs out there. Horrible working conditions, bad bosses and low wages are all par for the course, so it takes something really special to stand out.

This job posting a tipster sent in literally had my jaw dropping. So what job is flirting with minimum wage and has even a jaded industry insider like me shocked?

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Yes, today is one of those days: a day with multiple law firm layoff stories to report (not to mention rescinded offers).

This morning we brought you news of 20 support staffers losing their jobs and 10 offers getting rescinded. Now we share with you the story of a firm cutting almost 40 people.

Which firm just joined the nationwide layoff club?

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If you recall, back in the darkest days of the recession, we covered the topic of rescinded offers quite frequently. Now that the legal profession is in a slow recovery, it’s a rare occurrence.

But not today.

We’ve got news of a Biglaw firm that recently decided to axe half of its incoming associate class, just weeks before graduation. Lovely.

Which firm is making its would-be associates scramble for new jobs? Could it be yours?

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Ed. note: Please welcome Shannon Achimalbe to Above the Law. Shannon will be writing about the journey from solo practice to a larger law firm.

Some time ago, I met with a consultant to discuss how I could improve and expand my solo practice. I told him my future goals: to be recognized as an expert in my areas of practice, make lots of money, and have free time for my personal life. He said I could accomplish these goals, but it would depend on how much time and effort I put in. He then told me that I would need to “invest” money in marketing, blogging, networking events, and joining various organizations. I would also need to make plans to upgrade my office and get a staff. Finally, he told me to pick a religion, because I’d be praying often.

But when I looked at the projected costs to accomplish my goals along with the non-guarantee of success, I hesitated. A flurry of questions went through my head: Who do I need to connect with and hire? What niches are marketable and enjoyable? When would I start to see a return on my investment? Where are my potential clients?  How many more networking events do I have to attend? Why am I doing this? Am I going to enjoy doing this? When I found myself asking that last question, I knew it was time to look at other options…

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The Associated Press reports today that the indebtedness of over 37 million American graduates now tops $1 trillion. That’s more than the total American debt load from credit cards. It’s more than the debt load associated with car purchases. And somewhere there is probably some politician touting how college is now “affordable” for every child.

And, as usual, the plight of law students in debt is a great case study in how debt is crippling a generation’s ability to generate wealth…

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Yesterday, we brought our readers some “startling” statistics about law student debt levels. It seems that average indebtedness for law graduates increased by more than $50,000 between 2004 and 2012, with a typical law student saddled by about $140,000 in loans.

In fairness, those statistics probably weren’t all that startling to our readers — many of them are heavily indebted themselves. In fact, we know that many of them are carrying debt loads that surpass even that six-figure number.

Which law school graduates have the most debt of all? U.S. News has a ranking for that…

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Some of the study’s more eye-popping statistics pertained to law school students, whose job prospects are famously declining. The level of indebtedness for this group rose by more than $50,000 from 200[4] to 2012, with the typical law student now owing $140,000, the study found — a jump that’s unprecedented in any other field, including medicine.

Molly Hensley-Clancy of BuzzFeed, discussing a recent report by the New America Foundation about the student debt crisis.

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