Friday, July 16, 2010

Carrot on a stick for 3Ls

With yet another horrendous academic year approaching, there are many jobless 3Ls wandering the world in a shellshocked state. The few who landed gainful, paid employment for this summer are scrambling and praying they are one of the elect who will snag an offer. Many more are volunteering at places that are glad to take their free work, but that will never consider offering them a real, paying job, even if they had the funding. It’s a grand feeling, paying for “work clothes,” gas, parking, and lunches just to work in a back room at some shitty government office that doesn’t care about you and is just glad to cut down their workload. It’s doubly fun when your school offers to charge students tuition for these unpaid internships. Apart from these privileged pay-to-work students, maybe some lucked out and are doing 10 hours of research for a professor every week. In any case, 3Ls must be looking forward to the coming semester with dread. 3L OCI doesn’t exist, and those who didn’t snag one of the few remaining “real” jobs this past summer are out of luck. After this summer, those who don’t do the prudent thing and drop out will have to double-down and pay for the bar before they have a shot at applying for jobs after graduation.

The memories of the unemployed class of 2010 are still fresh, and all signs point to things being at least as bad for the class of 2011. Given this dark, ominous, looming storm cloud of doom that hangs over 3Ls, it’s perfectly natural for them to despair. Yet if one were to trek over to a typical career “services” office at your local law school, they would be forgiven for thinking that everything is bright and sunny in the hiring market. With more than half of their classes full of unemployed and increasingly angry students, administrators are scrambling to whip up a fresh batch of lies and tall tales from their best shit-tainted recipes. At the risk of losing out on 30-50k per student if they see the light and drop out, the schools are pulling out all the stops in order to delude as many 3Ls into thinking they can still find work in the legal world. Let's take a look at some of the most tried and and (un)true stories that career services charlatans use to bait desperate 3Ls.

Clerkships! They’ll say.
Even in the best of times, most federal judges want top 10-20% and law review, and they recruit from top schools. Don’t believe me? Do an OSCAR search with a filter that will show judges who “prefer” YOUR credentials, and see what comes up. There will be a few who “prefer” top 20%, but where does that leave the other 80% of the class? Never mind the fact that federal clerkships have always been the last resort for T14 grads who missed out on biglaw, and the application process is going to be flooded by thousands of extra first tier students who were deferred, no-offered, or just came up short at OCI. If you're one of the many T1 students with law review credentials and a presumably plum position in your class rank, you might as well go for it. I certainly know a lot of 3Ls who are on law review that didn't get any job for this summer, so they'll probably be in the clerk pipeline. Along with thousands and thousands of others. Not in the top 20% of your class, on law review, at a T1 school? Yeah, me neither. Like most legal job searches, those who apply for clerkships are taking a bucketful of darts and chucking it at the wall. For a lucky, select (and T-14-credentialed) few, one of those darts just might stick. Unfortunately, just not for the majority of hopeless 3Ls.

State court clerkships! Great, if you can get them. Most of the most populous states are under severe budget constraints and a hiring freeze. Elsewhere, they are deciding to rearrange folks and make do with less, permanently. “Target your job search to unconventional locales and places you might not have thought of. The experience may prove rewarding.” Gee, thanks, I’m sure no one else has thought of that. In smaller/less populous states, clerkships are often at-will and law clerks are often “lifers” who have made a career out of their work, and stay on year after year at the behest of a judge. If you luck out and find a state that is still hiring enough clerks right out of school, don’t worry about the competition from thousands of other desperate law grads, many of them from T-14 schools that are tantalizing these backwater judges with their credentials for the first time. Depending on how low you sink, if you pull a gig like traffic court clerk, you will enjoy lateraling to Wal-Mart after your time is up. Assuming everything goes your way, congratulations. After completing your one or two year stint as a clerk, you’ll be back on the street. Hope you saved your $40,000 salary for that time.

Join the JAG! Serve your country! This is also misguided advice for the great majority of people, and is becoming a favorite of career services shills in this bad economy. They even have a cheesy TV show and maybe a Kurt Russell movie to refer people who have never heard of JAG to. The general consensus of JAGs that I've spoken to is that this program was surprisingly selective even before the recession (like single digits). Since the recession decimated the legal industry, applications to JAG have soared and pushed the selection rate as low as 1% for some branches and boards, with most people having to sit for two or three rounds of selection boards before getting seriously considered. (For aspiring JAGs, that will push your job search out 12-18 months.) A JAG in one branch of the service told me applications were up 600% for last year.

This seems a particularly silly option to be throwing out to law students, who as a whole are known to be bookish, pasty, and often not in prime physical condition. I’m extremely supportive of anyone who can hack the military and do their very-necessary job, but having spent years around law students, I can say that the majority of them probably aren’t cut out for it. Especially at a “top” law school, most students came with lofty dreams of legal employment and “the good life,” not waking up every morning at 4:30 for a PT run. There are some good stories floating around the internet of hapless, recession-motivated law students botching JAG interviews. Long story short, if you don’t look and act the part for military service, you’re at a distinct disadvantage. Perhaps I’m wrong, and thousands more hopeless law students will heed career services and turn up for JAG boards. If so, I’m sure it will be even more of a clusterfuck and end up crushing their dreams even more.

3L OCI! This is a golden unicorn that shits rainbows if there ever was one. No one is going to hire you from 3L OCI, because it quite frankly is an urban legend. Does your school even HAVE 3L OCI? Better check on that, and make sure it’s not just a resume collect or a few token firms coming through to interview only candidates eligible for the patent bar (i.e. not you). NALP has noted that, before the crash, big firms picked up a paltry, single-digit percentage number of 3Ls anyway. Now, your chances of getting a decent firm job through 3L OCI are, for all intents and purposes, nonexistent.

What does that leave us with? Flooding shitlaw firms with resumes in those panic-filled few months before graduation? Heaven forbid you’re among the 70% of your classmates who will graduate without a job. Then, your employment prospects REALLY dry up, and if you want to continue playing the game, you’ve got to come up with a few thousand bucks for bar review. “But I can’t get an attorney job and keep applying after I’ve graduated if I’m not barred!” Isn’t that an amazing coincidence? Just as soon as you graduated after paying at least $30,000 a year for school, you need to keep paying thousands of dollars just to stay in the game, which you have an extremely low probability of winning anyway, at this point.

Soon, it's May 2011 and here we are graduating another class from a first tier toilet, 2/3 of whom have NO JOB in ANY field. That sure was exhausting. I’m glad the deans gave themselves a raise this year (not too dramatic, though, it’s a recession). Maybe one of those unemployed recent grads…the ones who aren’t working in the career services office or the library, part-time for $10/hour, can wax the dean’s boat this summer? That definitely counts as EMPLOYED for the school’s reporting to US News.

Esq Never’s advice to 3Ls rings true: drop out. For a majority, the job search will be long, hard, and tens of thousands will eventually have to find employment outside of the law that never required a J.D. Save a year’s worth of tuition, your bar expenses, and avoid the J.D. stain on your resume. If you can’t bear to sacrifice the already-sunken costs of time and money you’ve put into your degree, impress upon some rich uncle the need to put up your tuition. Your family might panic if they think your J.D. dreams are in danger of vanishing, and that sense of desperation just might work in your favor. Other than that, I dunno? Sell a kidney, start gambling hard? There’s got to be some way to come up with the cash if you’re that desperate to stay in law school. If you ask me, seeing your student loan balance a good $30k lower and not wasting another year of your life, only to emerge in an indefinite unemployment purgatory, is reward enough.


  1. I was patent bar eligible, and took a position at a firm as the result of 3L OCI (despite an offer from the firm I'd summered with). I honestly can't think of anyone I spoke to regularly who wasn't also patent eligible who got a position, even kids one law review. I know my firm and the firm I summered with are no longer going to 3L OCI programs. If they don't pick up 2Ls they like or people at Loyola, they're only taking laterals.

  2. I like looking at Rutgers-Camden Law School alumni legal positions. What a fucking joke.

  3. "3L OCI! This is a golden unicorn that shits rainbows if there ever was one. "

    I remember getting an interview early my 3L year and the interviewer being really excited about me and my resume. After we talked for a long while, we got down to "OK, here is our program for 2L students...". At which point, the inevitable, stomach-churning point has to be raised, i.e. "Oh, that sounds fantastic! How does this work for students who are graduating?"

    Things got real quiet, real quick. End scene.

    I'm happy for the patent guys above. I must have gone to a real TTT, becuase I couldn't make any headway with that(yes, I'm way eligible, but without connections it doesn't matter much, apparently).

  4. The luckiest and wisest ones reading this warning are the 2Ls who strike out at OCI (a given) and cut their losses before racking up two more years of school debt.

    To said nervous 2Ls reading this: making that decision to drop out now means that you are smarter, hands down, than 90% of your classmates. Guaranteed.

  5. Absolutely, 7:21. I should have seen the writing on the wall and dropped out after 2L OCI yielded nothing. I would have saved every penny of 2L tuition, too.

    Ever since, I've felt like an idiot for not doing so.

  6. Watching third year law students scrambling for ANY kind of work is sickening. I remember being in that boat. It is one of the worst feelings in the world.

    The constant self-doubt, anger, anxiety, depression, frustration, soul-searching, ad infinitum. It wears on your emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. You end up taking your anger out on your friends and loved ones, when you really ought to drop kick the dean of your toilet SQUARE in the nads - and follow that up with a right cross to his or her beak. Any of these pre-law douche bags who tells you differently is a charlatan and a cockroach - as they have not been through this rigorous, draining process.

    Many of the students in the class before mine ended up returning to their previous career/line of work. What the hell was the point of pissing away three years of their life - plus HUGE SUMS of borrowed money?!?!

    Do the industry apologist cockroaches think these people are happy/grateful for the "intellectual pursuit?"

  7. Why do you call the type of law that 90% of lawyers practice "shitlaw"?

    The top 10% of lawyers who constitute BigLaw can looked down on the rest.

    You, unfortunately, can not.

  8. Most law students didn't sign up to sling frivolous divorce motions or argue on behalf of their clients in a $300 damaged fish tank case. This may be 90% of the kind of law that "most" lawyers practice, but it's definitely shitty and not what most starry-eyed 0Ls dream of when they send in their tuition deposits. Law schools know this and make a big deal out of pushing biglaw securities law and federal practice dreams on their students, while minimizing the spilled-hot-coffee-in-lap complaint or insurance defense mills that employ so many lawyers.

  9. The fitness requirements for JAG are pretty low. You don't go through bootcamp and having early morning drills like enlisted men. You start by going through officer candidate school, which is more learning military rules and protocol than physical training.

    There are however other drawbacks to JAG.

    (1) 4 year commitment. You can't just hang out in JAG for a year or two waiting for the economy to recover. You're in it for four years, and that's a long time. But, that commitment isn't job security; you're still at at will employee and can be canned if they don't need you.

    (2) Not the experience you're looking for. Junior JAG officers spend most of their time writing wills and prosecuting DUIs and drug possession. From what I've heard, you do get a world class education in these areas, so JAG would be perfect for someone who either wants to be a prosecutor or plans to work in a small town general practice firm. But, you probably won't be able to transfer into a big or midsize firm's corporate department.

    (3) You have absolutely no choice in where you live. A buddy of mine is stationed in Oklahoma and it's so awful there that he looks forward to being sent on trips to Montgomery, AL.

    And, like you said, JAG is extremely difficult to get in to. It's not too tough if you did ROTC and all that and are already an officer. But, getting in from the civilian world is like trying to transfer from shit law to big law.

    Career counselors simply don't understand how competitive these alternative career paths are. They might as well suggest running for political office (oh...that's right, some of them actually do).

  10. Nando, I agree I feel like throwing up most nights. I don't sleep and I don't eat (good thing I really can't afford to ) I am a recent JD graduate who is thankful that the job I had before law school thought enough of me to give me work for the next couple of months in order to pay bills. I am over 30 so I shouldn't be calling my parents for help paying my car insurance or asking them to live with them. I should have been putting money into retirement. I should have a home and most of all I shouldn't go to sleep every night with huge knot in my stomach wondering whether I am going to end up asking for food stamps.

    I had a job before it didn't pay a whole lot, but I was solvent and I was on my own. I don't know how to make people understand how shitty shit can get, but I can always hope that at least somebody might decide not to take this path. And yes I scream at anybody who I love most days. I have nobody else to take my frustration out. I think my frustration level rose to an all new level when career services told me I should get a job out of state. Which I guess means I should randomly take a bar exam for some random state maybe move there and hope someone hires me. Thanks Maybe I should take the 5K (taking bar and moving costs), which I don't have and put it in the lottery. I have always hated people buying lottery tickets at gas stations now I know why they were doing it.

  11. I attended a 4th tier law school in 2003. After first semester grades were posted I found myself firmly in the middle of the pack. I wasn't in the top 10% but certainly was near the bottom.

    After 1L orientation the Dean quit and I spent most of that first semester questioning my decision to pay $30k a year for a degree from a school ranked so low.

    I decided to drop out and told myself that I would go back to law school when a less expensive local law school opened in the future(There were rumors that a nearby public law school would open within a year or two but that never happened. Well not within a few years anyway. That school is scheduled to open in 2012) .

    After dropping out of law school I got engaged and soon after married. I started working as a Recruiter in the financial services industry. I knew it was the right decision to leave that law school but I knew it had disappointed my family members. Most people (myself included at one time) have NO IDEA that law school doesn't guarantee a decent paying job and that many students end up jobless and $100,000+ in debt after graduation.

    I talked to my wife and told her that I was considering returning to law school in the summer of 2009. She was okay with it and suggested I reach out to friends I had made during that first sem (I made several friends and now chat with them on facebook). Most of those friends graduated in 2006 and 2007. Out of the 12 people I know who graduated from Texas Wesleyan, TWO are working as lawyers. One of the two got a job as an assistant da in some small west Texas town and the other works at a firm she hates for $40,000 a year. The rest are working in non-law jobs that they could have gotten without a JD. A few were unemployed or working low paying retail type jobs.

    I used to be jealous of my friends that stayed and graduated. Now I think many of them wished they left when I did.

    Thanks to seeing the poor state of my friends legal careers and many blogs like this one, I have decided against returning to law school.

  12. 2:43 - I know you know this already, but don't go back to Texas Wesleyan. I used to live in Dallas and graduated from an upper 1st tier northern school. I was on doc review with lots of Wesleyan grads - even a woman who was 2nd in her class and they were on DOC REVIEW. And that was a couple of years ago, when you could still GET doc review. No law school is worth going to now - not Wesleyan, not even 1st tier. I wish I'd been smart like you and dropped out after 1st year, too.

  13. I got bites for some state court clerkships, but they were only as far as an inquiry. an administrator would email me simply asking if I was still interested in a position. My reply would always be "yes" and her reply would always be "we'll keep you posted when something opens up."

  14. "Never mind the fact that federal clerkships have always been the last resort for T14 grads who missed out on biglaw, and the application process is going to be flooded by thousands of extra first tier students who were deferred, no-offered, or just came up short at OCI."

    Where do you get this from? I did a clerkship in the DC area back when they hired Federal clerks at the beginning of 2L year. I'd say the Federal clerkship ranks are full of people with a BigLaw offer in their pocket.

  15. That may be true, but ITE many people who fell victim to biglaw's summer program cuts are trying to get clerkships as 3Ls, and then hoping to leverage that position into a biglaw associateship once the clerkship is over. I'd say this is a pretty common plan for most people who didn't get a biglaw offer, but still have the grades to be in the running for any kind of federal clerkship.

    That being said, the vast majority of law students never have a chance at federal clerkships, so it doesn't make any difference to them.