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Friday, May 07, 2010

The Legal Job Market: What Will We Tell the Students?

Throughout this year, I've been thinking about whether I need to change the advice I give my law students based on the bleak job prospects for lawyers

I guess I'm not the only one.  Now there's a report in the ABA Journal stating:  "The chairman of an ABA commission studying the impact of the economic downturn on the legal profession has some advice for would-be law students: You may want to reconsider."

That advice, however, isn't quite nuanced enough to be helpful.  I recommend instead the following, sent to me by my friend David Vandiver Wilson, a practicing lawyer at Hays, McConn, Rice & Pickering in Houston:

No one should ever have gone to law school for the pipe dream of Big Law riches. The happiest lawyers I know are in every type of firm and practice. . . . The true path to unhappiness is to chase the mythical brass ring of Big Law success without a love of the profession itself. Being a lawyer has to be something that you are, not something that you do, in order to truly be happy in the profession. If you love what you do in the profession, law school will have been the correct choice no matter the size of your W 2.

Posted by Lyrissa Lidsky on May 7, 2010 at 09:52 AM | Permalink


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Your friend's advice is wonderful. Too often, people postpone happiness (or maybe it should be called contentment) because they are chasing the latest goal, which will THEN provide said happiness/contentment, which never actually does.

My sentiment about all this is summarized by Robert Hastings' little story, The Station, cheesy as it may be.

Maybe one of the few (only?) silver linings about this whole economic mess is that it will force some people to reevaluate their priorities and not fall for the "money=happiness" mindset that is so pervasive, especially in law school.

Posted by: Paul | May 8, 2010 3:28:06 PM

1. Don't go to law school if you have no idea what you want to do, and assume that somewhere during the three years you'll figure it out.

2. Don't go to law school, or pursue a job, because the salary is dazzling. Do the hard (soulsearching) work to figure out what you want to do for 10-16 hours/day (or more), and then figure out if your credentials put those jobs within reach.

3. In particular, understand where your chosen law school is able to place people. The options *your* law school will give you need to align with what you want to do with your career.

4. Downturns are not forever. If you *really* want to be a lawyer, a temporary shortage of work should not defeat your desire to attend law school. But again, make sure that the degree from your chosen school will make you competitive for the type of legal job you really want -- and then work to earn the best grades/relevant credentials that you can during your three years of school.

5. If you think you want to try Biglaw in particular, really self-interrogate as to why. I went to a law school where Biglaw placement is automatic, if desired. However, a vast majority of my classmates, now mid-levels, are unhappy there. As for me, I came, I saw, I left - I do not see anything in that world that would feel like a "brass ring" to me. I think that Biglaw is a good choice for a minority of attorneys who truly feel compelled by securities work, or intellectual property, or mergers and acquisitions. But my experience as a V25 associate was that most associates in that world were indifferent to or marginally interested in the work -- they were golden handcuffed, and rather miserably hanging in there for the paychecks. I'm always surprised that Biglaw is viewed as a brass ring by people who find it inaccessible. They may be the lucky ones.

Posted by: anon | May 7, 2010 1:50:31 PM

Some further advice, from an about-to-graduate-3L: if you're trying to decide whether to go to graduate school or law school, go to graduate school. Because if you've entertained the desire for graduate school, law school will appear to be a sick joke, and after a year and a half of it, you will wake up every day of your life and wish you had gone to damned graduate school. But it's too late, because you've already mired yourself too deeply in debt.

Posted by: Anonsters | May 7, 2010 12:27:59 PM

This is consistent with advice I used to give students *before* the downturn. Legal practice of just about any sort tends to involve long hours. If you don't love it, even if it pays well, it will eventually start to seem like torture. (Even if you do love it there will be torturous times.)

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | May 7, 2010 12:27:04 PM

That's great advice - thanks for sharing it! Actually, you could edit it slightly and it would be great career advice in general. My spouse's grandfather (may his memory be a blessing) ran a brake and wheel shop for 40+ years, and he was fond of saying that "[i]f you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life."

-- Tammy (who got out of a career she hated to become a paralegal, and is now giving serious thought to law school)

Posted by: Tammy Cravit | May 7, 2010 10:47:25 AM

so instead of dont go its dont go if you want to do biglaw b/c it may not haappan

but it always may not have happaned.

what has changed is not only the greater chance of not getting biglaw-but the greater chance of getting zip and living at home with the parents at age 27 with 150k in loans (and the private ones from undergrad or from grad if you didnt use plus loans) aren;t so defer able and just as nondischargeable

so maybe the aba director is right?

Posted by: blank | May 7, 2010 10:17:36 AM

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