Depressing Things

Overcapacity. The Biglaw word du jour. Too many lawyers working in Biglaw to meet demand. Or is it too many lawyers in Biglaw to foist on that subset of clients still willing to pay those rates that guarantee profits-per-partner increases? Either way, the word is out. Biglaw is suffering from overcapacity. Something must be done.

Some firms will undoubtedly send out the message that every single one of their lawyers is in great demand. Debate among yourselves whether or not these firms are “stealth layoff” candidates.

Other firms have already taken action (e.g., Weil Gotshal) — sweeping, public action. Hopefully they did not enjoy what they were “forced” to do too much. The first cut is the hardest, as they say, and who can say that one of these firms won’t decide to wield the layoff katana like a sake-infused samurai?

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Some say that San Diego has the best weather in the continental United States. But it seems that the climate there might be less than hospitable for large law firms.

Last year, Baker & McKenzie closed its office in San Diego, finding the metropolis didn’t live up to its nickname of “America’s finest city.” And now we have news of another Biglaw firm shutting down its S.D. outpost.

It’s not on the scale of the massive Weil layoffs, but the closing could cause a significant number of lawyers and staff to lose their jobs. Here are the details….

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One of the more amusing law firm nicknames belongs to Weil Gotshal & Manges. As we noted a few years ago, some refer to the firm as “We’ll Getcha & Mangle Ya.”

Alas, the nickname is less funny in the wake of yesterday’s big layoff news. The firm announced it will be cutting 60 associates and 110 staffers from the payroll. Despite the generous six-month severance for associates, some probably feel like their legal careers have been mangled. The firm also plans to reduce the compensation of about 10 percent of its partners (roughly 30 out of 300, some income and some equity partners).

Let’s take a closer look at the layoffs and try to make sense of them….

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Why don’t your CSO officers look like this?

The official NALP numbers are out for the class of 2012, and they stink. We’ve known for a while that they were going to stink, but the final numbers stink slightly more than we thought they were going to stink.

While we had been hoping that entry-level hiring would be slightly up for the class of 2012 over the class of 2011, it’s actually slightly down. The overall employment rate for new law school graduates fell to 84.7%. It’s the fifth consecutive year that figure has fallen. The last time the numbers were this low was in the aftermath of the 1990-1991 recession. Things stink.

You don’t have to tell the class of 2012 that their hiring stinks; they’ve been living in it for over a year now. And you don’t have to tell the class of 2013 that their prospects aren’t much better; they’re out of school now, they know. Rising 3Ls in the class of 2014 might be deluding themselves that everything is going to be sunshine and roses for their class, but if they aren’t busy securing jobs this summer, they’ll learn what bitterness and failure taste like soon enough.

In fact, the only people who seem to need to be told that hiring is REALLY, REALLY BAD are American law schools, who continue to make statements and push programs as if getting a job in this market happens in a classroom instead of on a telephone or at a networking event…

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The Big Peach turns sour for one leading law firm.

It seems that “Hotlanta” was less than sizzling for one major law firm. A Biglaw shop has decided to beat a retreat from Atlanta, shuttering its money-losing operation down in the ATL.

What prompted this firm to hop on the midnight train from Georgia? And how many people will be affected by the office closing?

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This map, courtesy of Matt Leichter at the Law School Tuition Bubble, is a representation of the lawyer glut in America through the year 2011. Things may have changed slightly since then, but this is still a fairly accurate portrayal of the problem the legal profession is facing. If your state is in the red, then your chances of finding a job as a lawyer will be just as slim as your bank account balance.

Wait a second, almost the entire country is in the red. Congratulations, graduates, because it looks like you just walked straight into the Hunger Games of job searches. May the odds be ever in your favor.

So which states are the worst for law school graduates who are desperately in search of work?

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“In four minutes, it would be another hour; a half hour after that was the ten-minute break. Lane Dean imagined himself running around on the break, waving his arms and shouting gibberish and holding ten cigarettes at once in his mouth, like a panpipe. Year after year, a face the same color as your desk. Lord Jesus. Coffee wasn’t allowed because of spills on the files, but on the break he’d have a big cup of coffee in each hand while he pictured himself running around the outside grounds, shouting. He knew what he’d really do on the break was sit facing the wall clock in the lounge and, despite prayers and effort, count the seconds tick off until he had to come back and do this again. And again and again and again.”

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (affiliate link)

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a longish piece on just what in the hell was happening at the IRS office in Cincinnati. A Kafkaesque tale of bureaucratic intrigue, the treatment does little to tell us why in the hell we care just what in the hell was happening at the IRS office in Cincinnati. I’ll leave that determination to the qualified pundits and their punditry.

But what the Times article does do is shine a light on what it means to be a lawyer. What it means to others and what it means to us. Completely by accident, the mess at the IRS tells us how important lawyers are. And how impotent we are. This makes little sense even as I type it. But bear with me. Please. It is not often that meaning comes so nicely gift-wrapped.

What does it mean to be a lawyer?

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More trustworthy than any SCOTUS justice.

I suppose that’s a rhetorical question. When you live in a nation that’s been reduced to an army of mindless reality-TV-watching drones, it’s not exactly surprising that the average citizen is more inclined to trust a television judge than a jurist who’s been appointed to the highest court in the land.

We care more about the matching camouflage wedding couture Honey Boo Boo’s parents, Mama June and Sugar Bear, wore when they tied the knot this past weekend than the next round of controversial decisions that will be soon be handed down by the Supreme Court. We care more about the Kimye baby bump than the very existence of the Supreme Court, much less the names of the justices sitting on its esteemed bench.

No one who’s been paying any attention is taken aback by the fact that Americans care more about the people they see on television on a daily basis than names they once read in a textbook. That’s why the results of the latest Reader’s Digest Trust Poll as to this country’s judges are expected, and sad, and not at all surprising….

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New Rule: The next law school person who wants to bitch about the unfairness of the “employed nine months after graduation” metric must offer to make loan payments for all students who don’t have a job at nine months until they find one. If law schools are going to knock up their recent graduates they should at least have to throw in some child support.

Oh, wait, NO law school dean wants to actually be on the hook for student loans from when they come due six months after graduation until… whenever this unnamed point in the future comes when students can expect to have jobs. Given that, I don’t really want to hear about how your school is so freaking “unfairly” treated because CONSUMERS of legal education need to know if they will be employed within shouting distance of when they will start having to pay back their loans.

Fine, you want a compromise? It looks like we’re moving to ten months anyway…

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

– Allen Ginsberg, Howl

I am supposed to be paying something on the order of $2,500 a month in student loan repayments. I currently make a shade over $55,000 a year which, after taxes, comes out to a tick under $3,200 a month. Please don’t mistake me for a braggart, dear reader, as I am a man much like yourself. I get up every morning and slip my cheap suit on one pant leg at a time. Just like you! It’s just that, after my threadbare suit is hanging from my gaunt frame, I have dozens of dollars to my name. Dozens.

If you are reading this website, you are well-acquainted with the state of student debt in this country. Above The Law, once a bastion for bottles, models, bonuses, and benefits, covers the hangover now too. The hangover is a useful start for any consideration of debt in this country, as it turns out. Shot through with the morality that only the descendants of Puritans can muster, debt in this country is treated not unlike a sexually transmitted disease or pleated pants: it’s moral turpitude that led you here.

Remember kids, banks will never ever ever forget your student loans. They may forgive them, though. As if they’re handing out papal dispensations from on high, banks are passing moral judgment even when your duties as a debtor may be discharged.

This is the moral universe we currently reside in. And it’s one that has seriously warped consequences.

This story is about Nazis and sex slavery…

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