Unemployment

Unemployed (and underemployed) lawyers are a common theme around here. We talk about layoffs, bogus firings, and always the pain caused by carrying crushing debt without the means to pay it off. We even boast regular coverage of contract attorney problems.

All of these topics combine to form the rich tapestry of sadness that is scraping and struggling as an out-of-work attorney in a market that hates you. However, you have to read a number of ATL stories to see all sides of the unemployment problem. There just isn’t “one stop shopping” for how much it sucks.

But then this came along and summed up the whole experience of unemployed lawyers perfectly….

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Brian Zulberti

As many of our readers know, the job scene for recent law school graduates is more than a little rough around the edges. The employment rate is still way down for the “lost generation” of lawyers, and desperation and despair have started to rear their ugly heads. In times like these, you may have to do some crazy things just to get noticed by potential employers.

For example, back in July, we told you about a young man named Brian Zulberti. He emailed the entire Delaware Bar in an effort to procure a job, but he didn’t bother to include his résumé. Instead, he attached a picture of himself in a Villanova Law t-shirt, sleeves rolled up and guns blazing. After a quick search on Google, we found this poor young stud’s half-naked photos. His story went viral, and he has passionately (and perhaps foolishly) tried to extend his 15 minutes of fame ever since.

Even though he claims that he’s received several job offers as a result of this whole affair — and no, “not as a [sic] escort” — Zulberti is no longer in search of a legal job. Right now, he’s trying to bring justice to those who have been damned by the perils of social media in conservative professional spheres like the law. He wants these working stiffs to take back their social lives, and once again he’s emailed hundreds, if not thousands, of practicing attorneys, trying to spread the word about his movement.

And he thought the best way to inspire people to join his cause was to post pictures of his penis online…

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These days, when we speak about new lawyers, we tend to focus less on the mere accomplishment of graduating from law school, mainly because the only admissions requirement at some institutions is a pulse, and more on sobering topics like incredibly high student debt loads and rampant joblessness. This is the “new normal” for law school graduates, and it isn’t as appealing as deans would have you believe.

Given the fact that the market for legal employment dropped out from underneath those who graduated between 2009 and 2011 (and continues to falter to this day), servicing high amounts of law school debt is more difficult than ever before. Declaring bankruptcy isn’t a real option for many, and enrolling in income-based repayment is a temporary solution that has been called a ticking time bomb. You just can’t win.

Unwelcome debt situations usually go hand in hand with law degrees, and they can happen to the best of us — even those who were once lauded as geniuses, like Andrew Carmichael Post. In America, even if you graduate from college at 17, enroll in law school at 18, and pass one of the most difficult bar exams in the nation at 22, you’ll still be saddled with unmanageable debt — in this case, to the tune of $215,000.

How in the world will Post be able to shoulder such a heavy debt burden?

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The life of a law school dean.

Law school deans are used to begging. They beg their faculty to assume additional teaching responsibilities. They beg their university presidents to stop slashing their budgets. Mostly, they beg wealthy alumni and community members for money. More money. As much money as they can fix their mouths to ask for. If law school deans could play instruments, they’d be on the subway begging for change.

But in this market, instead of begging alumni for money, law deans really need to be begging their alumni for job openings. Deans should be on the phone every day, talking to people who are in a position to hire graduates of their law schools.

Are law deans doing that? Are law deans taking the responsibility unto themselves to relentlessly push for job opportunities for their students? Beyond New York Times op-eds and grand re-imaginings of the third year curriculum, are law deans digging in and doing the person-to-person work of begging powerful alumni to hire new graduates?

I think some of them are. I know some of them are not. Here, we have one law dean’s letter to alumni that can serve as a kind of blueprint for how a dean should be hawking her students. Maybe you can send it to your dean and ask if she is sending out the same kind of letters…

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[T]here are those who argue that there have been permanent, structural changes to the legal market that will reduce the number of legal jobs, and there is no denying that law school tuition remains daunting. But the demographic factors suggest the real culprit in the law school graduates’ jobs dilemma of today may be the law school graduates of four decades ago.

Robert Anderson, a professor at Pepperdine University School of Law, explaining how research shows that the large Baby Boomer bulge and the fact that lawyers are retiring later in life are likely both major contributors to the employment woes of recent law school graduates.

The job scene for recent law school graduates is still pretty rough. A little more than half of the class of 2012 managed to secure full-time, long-term positions as lawyers within nine months of graduation, and now that a year has passed, many of them are still struggling to find employment. They’re doing anything and everything they can to find work, from advertising themselves in text ads on Google to trawling the legal/paralegal section of Craigslist all day long.

Others, however, have resorted to more guerilla-esque job search tactics, like sending out emails to hundreds, if not thousands, of practicing attorneys across an entire state. We managed to get our hands on one such desperate email, and rather than including an accompanying professional photo, the sender decided to attach a grainy picture of himself with his sleeves rolled up, showing off his guns. Seriously? Has this man no shame?

After a quick Google search, it seems like the answer is no. Protip: If you’re trying to find a law job, make sure there aren’t half-naked pictures of yourself readily available online…

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A happily employed NYU grad?

Those are real, serious challenges. Stated, those extremes are not representative of what’s going on at NYU or, in my sense, at any other of its immediate peers. I think a question for all leading law schools to answer is to what extent do they feel a need to respond to any of the changing dynamics and challenges in the legal profession.

Trevor Morrison, the newly appointed dean of NYU School of Law, commenting on the problems currently affecting the legal academy, and the elite law schools that he believes have overcome them.

This isn’t the first and it won’t be the last time we have to knock down this ridiculous argument. There’s simply a lot of money invested in making prospective law students believe it.

And it makes a certain kind of sense. We’ve extensively reported on the decrease in law schools applications. We’re at all-time historic lows. It’s a comforting and mathematically banal argument that the lack of applications now will lead to a dearth of law graduates in 2016, which will mean great times(!) for the class of 2016. More importantly, law schools want people to believe those brave enough to apply to the class of 2017 will benefit from an “undersupply” of new lawyers by the time they graduate. I promise you more than half of the class at Cooley actually believe this crap.

The problem, of course, is that it’s not true. It’s not true, and the people who say it’s true have no evidence that it’s true. Heck, there’s an “undersupply” of lawyers right now, if you look at poor and low-income clients. But that hasn’t actually resulted in a vibrant hiring market for new and recent graduates now, has it?

It’s a bad argument, but let’s walk through it so you have something to link to when you hear it from friends who don’t know how to use Google….

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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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The vast majority of our readers are members of the legal profession in some way — and whether you’re a prospective law student, a current law student, a young associate, or a partner, chances are you’ve all had similar worries about the future and its many uncertainties. Will you be able to find a job? Will you be able to pay off your loans? Will you even enjoy being a lawyer? One thing, however, is for sure: you’d prefer that your children not suffer the same vocational fate as you.

But when it comes to the other members of society, well, they’d just love it if their sons or daughters were to become a lawyer (or marry one). Despite what we know to be true in most cases, it seems that the people who pick up their phones to respond to survey questions have been left in the dark when it comes to the current state of lawyers and their livelihoods.

Take a wild guess at who thinks this career path is still the road to riches….

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