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.