Depressing Things

“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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Your final destination… is not a Biglaw job.

The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) has new numbers on the legal job market for recent graduates, and like it has been every year since the start of the Great Recession, those numbers are a horror show. A freaking horror show. They might as well put three recent graduates in a room with one job offer in it, handcuff the graduates to a pole, and give the offer to the one that eats through his arm first.

The other two would then get to leave the room unemployed, with some bite wounds, instead of unemployed with over $100,000 in debt, which is how people are actually leaving law school.

Do you want some good news? The lateral hiring market is hot. NALP executive director Jim Leipold called it a “feeding frenzy” for experienced associates. So if you got a job and held onto it through the 2009 layoffs, pick up your phone. It’s probably a recruiter calling. Congratulations on all your success.

If instead you were not lucky enough to be born five years earlier and have just graduated or are about to graduate, I don’t have anything for you — other than this here hacksaw. Chop, chop….

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Hello again from the 2013 annual education conference of the Association for Legal Career Professionals (aka NALP). People here are very friendly — although, as noted earlier, the law firm folks tend to be more welcoming to us than the law school crew.

That’s to be expected, given our sometimes critical coverage of law schools. We seek to promote consumer awareness when it comes to legal education, but some schools — especially those schools with weaker job outcomes for their graduates — perceive this as an attack.

Yesterday I attended a NALP panel discussion about law school transparency. In the course of discussing what we talk about when we talk about transparency, the panelists provided five defenses that law schools can use when faced with criticism over unemployed or underemployed graduates….

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Here’s one great benefit of blogging: Publishers send you free copies of books, hoping that you’ll review them!

I received and read, but now choose not to review, Steven J. Harper’s valuable new contribution to the literature: The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession In Crisis (affiliate link).

I’m not reviewing the book, but instead using it as a jumping-off point to discuss a tangent. Harper explains in his book two things that every sentient lawyer has noticed over the past several years: (1) students are graduating from law school buried under a mountain of debt, and many of those students can’t find jobs, and (2) many law firms have lost sight of the law’s noble history as a learned profession and are now obsessed with maximizing their profits per partner in the coming year.

Harper’s right about these things, of course, and this isn’t exactly late-breaking news to anyone who’s been following either Above the Law or Harper’s blog, The Belly of the Beast, for the last few years. Harper’s book advances the discussion, however, by exploring these issues in more detail than others have. He also proposes possible solutions to these problems, including “allowing the federal government to recover [law school loan] guarantees from a law school (and its university) whenever a student loan became the principal contributor to an alumnus’s later bankruptcy.” (Page 159.) Or encouraging law firms to release their “Working Culture Index,” which would show the percentage of lawyers billing more than 2000, 2100, 2200, 2300, 2400, and 2500 in the previous year (perhaps with separate totals being released for partners and associates). (Page 173.)

These ideas are well worth discussing, and I’m glad that Harper has taken the time to analyze these things. But I have another topic to highlight, which is an odd tangent to Harper’s two issues . . . .

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The job scene for entry-level attorneys is rough. As we’ve discussed, only 56 percent of the class of 2012 were employed in full-time, long-term positions where bar passage was required. If you strip out school-funded jobs, that employment figure slips back down to where the class of 2011 was, with just 55 percent of them employed as real attorneys.

Recent law graduates are understandably pissed off. They want to put their law degrees to good use, but the constricted job market is forcing them to apply for positions as baristas. They are seething with rage, and they can’t even contain it anymore.

What you’re about to see is the byproduct of what we presume to be a few months’ worth of a failed job search. This disgruntled job seeker took a corporate job advertisement for entry-level attorneys and red-lined the hell out of it — after all, this legal department is looking for red-liners.

Do you think this person should get the job? Check out his stunningly accurate work….

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I asked, and once again the readership delivered. I thought it would be interesting to hear from former Biglaw associates who had been passed over for partnership, and I was happy to receive some thoughtful responses.

As you will see below, and as I discussed in my columns relating to making partner, there are very powerful personal forces at work in these situations. As much as we can learn from our own disappointments, so can we learn from the experiences of others, especially those who have forged ahead despite a setback.

Biglaw can be a brutal business. We need to pause and reflect on the human toll that working in this environment can take….

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How do I know that these people are not lawyers?

Now that my wife and I have a baby, people keep telling us that we shouldn’t just find a bigger rental, we should buy something and put down roots. My wife, politely, laughs and says, “We’re thinking about it.” I angrily roll my eyes and say, “Why don’t you think about going and f**king yourself.”

You see, we are both law school graduates who debt-financed our educations and now live in New York. Property ownership is not something that will happen for us… unless we just want to give up and move to an oil-soaked subdivision in Arkansas.

But I am not alone. A law professor has crunched some quick numbers and determined that at least half of the class of 2011 wouldn’t be able to own a home….

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As we mentioned in Morning Docket, new employment numbers just came out, and it’s an old story of a soft job market.

Only 56 percent of the class of 2012 secured full-time, long-term legal employment within nine months of graduation. In this economy, that passes as good news because that figure is up one percent from last year. It’s kind like telling a terminally ill patient that his parking tickets got dismissed.

Law School Transparency reports that when you exclude school-funded jobs, the employment number falls to 55 percent. And there is more bad news when you dive deeper into the statistics.

But this is the class of 2012, the first class that really should have known that this was going to happen….

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Workplace satisfaction isn’t quite the hot topic it used to be. In the 90s, everyone got all touchy-feely because an unhappy employee could pick up stakes and move at a moment’s notice. Today, the primary axis of worker satisfaction is, “Am I working?”

But satisfaction surveys still fascinate, and Jacquelyn Smith of Forbes recently posted a new survey from a firm known as CareerBliss that used a multi-factor survey to determine the happiest and unhappiest jobs in America.

Wonder what came in the top spot? Well, OK obviously it was an associate. I’m not going to hide the ball here. If it was anyone else, we wouldn’t be writing about it. But what’s more interesting is who came in the rest of the top 10, because that really puts in terrifying perspective how terrible a job in Biglaw really is….

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Last week I wrote about some aspects of client service in today’s Biglaw. Today I want to focus on Biglaw’s embrace of partner de-equitizations and layoffs. These tactics are one of the ways Biglaw has been dealing with the fallout of the Black Death that has struck our industry.

Unfortunately, it seems like this year has gotten off to a bad start Biglaw-wise, in terms of both demand and a continuing lack of creativity by management at nearly every single firm. That brings consequences. Stay tuned. I have already said that I don’t mind if the paunchy mid-section of the Am Law 100 starts embracing a “bottom’s out” approach to the partnership — but at least have the guts to embrace it, not spin it.

I am really starting to dislike the tone that managing partners are starting to adopt when they talk about eliminating partners. Yes, I said eliminate. You may have seen them. Public statements where managing partner X almost gleefully informs the public of the elimination of nearly ten percent of his “partners” in the face of falling revenues. And looks for applause because his firm’s PPP went up $17,000 as a result. Go read some of the recent Biglaw “report cards” for a taste of this rancid stew.

We should be clear about the consequences of such a practice….

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