Back in October of 2011, I wrote a post in reaction to the sign reproduced left, held by an Occupy Wall Street protester who either was an unemployed law graduate or who plays one on TV. Many are the ethical matters and controversies that have spilled on these pages since, and copious is the water that has flowed under the bridge, but because not very many people, comparatively speaking, read ethics websites in general and this one in particular, it took the better part of a year for that post to reach the laptop of disgruntled law grad with access to a website for disgruntled law grads. Thus suddenly my name has been taken in vain in several fora where underemployed, student loan-burdened JDs hang out. Some, gratefully, have been kind enough to alert me with comments to Ethics Alarms, expressing their unhappiness with my insensitivity. This, the Comment of the Day, is such a post, by lawyer (presumably) Bobby Wilberger.
I must say at the outset that Bobby is lucky to have this posted, and I must say that because I don’t want another lawyer citing it as precedent. Bobby, who by definition if his post is to be taken seriously, had legal training, apparently didn’t absorb the part about following rules, being honest and truthful and reading documents relating to your work carefully. The posting requirements for Comments, clearly indicated at the top of this page, require a valid e-mail address. Bobby did not supply me with such an address, instead giving me a fake address with the clever suffix of “fake.com”. This would pretty much ding Bobby if I were hiring, and is consistent with my over-all thesis that if you are an un- or underemployed law grad the first thing you need to do to get to the bottom of your problems is to look in the mirror.
I’ll have more to say after Bobby’s post. Here it is, the Comment of the Day, on Young, Gullible, Lazy, Unimaginative and Unbelievable: I Wonder Why This Lawyer Has Trouble Finding A Job?:
“Jack, I have to say that (1) I get what you’re trying to say here and get where you’re coming from, but (2) your post is filled with many, many examples of completely inaccurate information.”
“Other posters have pointed out quite a bit of this, but before I share my experience, I do want to point out that the conversation over the value of a law degree doesn’t begin and end with the problems of a few entitled slacker-types. The problem – and I understand that you probably disagree with me on this point – is that the *average* JD who has graduated recently is doing very poorly. I would even go so far as to say that, by now, it has become close to an accepted fact that the average law student comes out a loser as a result of getting their JD. There is plenty more information on this out there, and one rarely sees an informed commenter actually defending law schools these days. As a primer I would encourage you to read this to give you a better idea of why the debt problem cannot be separated from the employment problem, and this to give you an idea of what the employment problem actually looks like.
“Anyway, I cannot begin to describe to you how bad the market is. In lieu of that, here’s my own anecdote, which I’ll preface by saying that I am one of the very lucky ones. I’m what you *might*, by some stretch of the term, call a law school “success” story. I’m a recent JD who, by all indications (good grades, journal, T14 school, all of that nonsense), should have a decent job out of law school. By “decent” I do not mean biglaw, though that would have been nice. I mean – literally – *any* job that can give me a reasonable salary and a chance to learn some things about how to actually practice law. By hustling – hard, by the way – for the past two years, I’ve been able to get something like three interviews for those types of jobs. The best chance I had of landing one came when there were *only* 19 other people who made it to the interview stage for a single position.
“As for the legal jobs that are attainable for someone like me? Well, let’s just say that it’s hard to make loan payments when you’re an unpaid intern for the third time, even if you’re also a waiter. While we’re on it, here’s two quick sidebars: (1) nobody but the most seriously deranged is going to attempt to go solo directly out of law school, except as an absolute last resort. Financing problems, marketing problems, malpractice risks, a lack of any practical legal or business knowledge, and the need to actually make student loan payments are going to prevent that from working out in all but the luckiest or most well-supported (for example, financing by the JD’s parents) of circumstances. (2) That 1.5% unemployment figure you threw out there? This article has a few reasons why that figure is not nearly as useful for evaluating the value of a JD as you would have initially believed. Try this instead.
“Anyway, a little more than a year ago, I ventured into looking for non-legal work. And I kept hustling. And quite recently, I was successful. Proof of the versatility of a law degree? Hardly. I’ll be doing exactly the same work as I was prior to law school, but with a different company. And, as with every other contact I’ve had with a non-legal employer, I had to convince them that my law degree wouldn’t make me a liability or flight risk in order to get the job. And I am damn lucky they hired me too. At no point was the law degree seen as an asset, and it really only served to undermine my credibility as a candidate for every chance at employment that I had outside of a legal context. Finance, consulting, marketing, real estate, administration, and everything in between, up and down, from retail stockboy to investment banking. The JD was a complete and total liability each and every time.
“Of course, I had the fortune of having at least some prior experience to fall back on. I can’t say that most JD’s have that same luxury. And most don’t have a fancy T14 degree to lend them credibility, or a strong professional network, or financially secure friends or family to help them out. However, most are very hardworking and bright. Most went to law school to make a positive impact on the world, have an interesting career, or earn a middle class income. Some went to law school to be able to afford to send their own children to college. Many are the first in their family to attend college themselves.
“What they have in common is that nearly all of them have a massive amount of student debt outstanding. And the vast, vast majority of them have almost no chance at getting a job that would allow them to pay it off. And these students – generally – are very, very screwed (as are U.S. taxpayers who also are on the hook for these loans).
“After all that rambling, I guess my point is this: You are completely wrong. Your conclusion is wrong, your facts are wrong, your assumptions are wrong, and your attitude towards others is wrong. Your post and its title suggest that only “Young, Gullible, Lazy, Unimaginative and Unbelievable” people with JDs have trouble getting jobs. I can assure you that this suggestion is not only wrong, but is nowhere close to reality. A cursory bit of research would indicate the same, and I would encourage you to begin with the links I’ve provided.
“I strongly encourage you to read up on these issues before rushing to judge a very large group of people who are struggling to make ends meet. These people are my friends. While I can appreciate that the Occupy folks don’t always place themselves in the best light and that there is something to be said for pulling-self-up-by-bootstraps type folks, the job market for JDs is absolutely horrendous. Most people are doing their best to get by, most aren’t making excuses, and most just want to get to the point in their lives where they were three years before graduating. Taking a hostile tone and acting like a know-it-all is not the correct approach.
“Please, next time read up on the issues before you feel free to comment.”
As I find myself writing here often, it really does annoy me when commenters base a diatribe on statements and positions they stuff into my metaphorical mouth, and that is what Bobby’s comment, and the angry threads on unemployed lawyer cyber-hangouts, do. The post that I wrote did not deny that there was a tough job market for lawyers, and did not minimize the burden of student loans for many law grads. In fact, it didn’t discuss the student loan issue substantively at all. My post was about a whiny idiot sitting in a square in New York City holding a sign that made dubious claims when he should have been looking for a job. That was, and is, my general conclusion about everyone who has participated in the arrogant and inarticulate Occupy movement. The post was not about all unemployed lawyers, but one particularly silly unemployed lawyer. Thus Bobby’s statement accusing me of “rushing to judge a very large group of people who are struggling to make ends meet” is just factually false.” The post’s title and its specifics were focused on the contents of one sign held by one lawyer.
Of course, if the shoe fits, one is welcome to wear it.
Bobby wants to engage me in a link battle; no thanks. The web is a confirmation bias freak’s crack–any two sides to any issue can throw links at each other all day. I know very well what I am writing about regarding this topic. I have been in Bobby’s position. I have a brilliant nephew with a new Columbia Law School degree who can’t find work as a lawyer. I worked in the administration of a major law school, and I have used my own law degree for both legal and non-legal jobs. And, having gone to law school in those ancient times when the majority of students were not awarded A’s or B’s for just showing up, my transcript was not going to get me an office working across from Tom Cruise.
I stand by every statement in the post, especially the statement that a law degree is the most versatile and useful degree one can have, if an individual really earns it. Colleges stopped teaching students to think around 1969; high schools had failed to do that even earlier. If you get through law school without being able to analyze a difficult problem logically and critically, and to express yourself articulately and expressively, then you didn’t belong there in the first place. A law degree is necessary to navigate modern life, in fact; unfortunately, it is too expensive, and if the job situation is bad now, wait until everyone is a lawyer. Yes, Bobby, if you apply to be a shoe salesman, a law degree may be an impediment (though a trained lawyer should be excellent at sales) because lawyers have a nasty reputation of stirring up trouble. But your casual dismissal of going into solo practice is the Achilles heel of your whole argument. My statement was that a young person with a law degree could not say that he had no job prospects, because unlike other fields, a lawyer always has the option of going into private practice. Is it hard? Sure it is. Is it risky? Of course. Do many, many lawyers do it until they join up with a larger organization? Yes. There are a lot of people, especially indigent people who don’t spend their time hanging out with signs in town squares, who desperately need legal help. You can pick up criminal defense cases at the courthouse in most cities, and be paid by the government. You didn’t study criminal law or trial practice, you say? Explain to me why that’s the law school’s fault.
Bobby says, “Nobody but the most seriously deranged is going to attempt to go solo directly out of law school, except as an absolute last resort. Financing problems, marketing problems, malpractice risks, a lack of any practical legal or business knowledge, and the need to actually make student loan payments are going to prevent that from working out in all but the luckiest or most well-supported (for example, financing by the JD’s parents) of circumstances.” Excuses. Sure, there are challenges to starting a solo practice. It can be done. My post said that the claim that a newly minted lawyer had no job prospects of legal work was patently false, and it is. He might not like the prospects he has, but they exist.
Where do professional networks come from? Bobby seems to think they are either inherited, like Mitt Romney’s family fortune, or unattainable. Instead of holding signs, and unemployed lawyer should be building a professional network. If that law school didn’t have professors, you really were taken for a ride. If there is a law professor alive who won’t give a recent graduate an entree to a successful former student, I haven’t heard of him or her. Indeed, if Bobby gets the names of 10 prominent attorneys in his community and contacts each of them asking for 20 minutes to pick their brain about legal job opportunities, he will have five or more appointments. I meet with young men and women out of college and grad school all the time, and I give them contacts and advice. Sometimes I have job leads, either at the time of the meeting or later. Most lawyers—and business executives, association executives and small business owners too—will accommodate young people trying to get their bearings in the job market. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. Because someone did it for them.
Look. I know it’s harder finding a job now than when I got out of law school. I think the student loan problem is a scandal. I understand that recent grads are stressed and disappointed, and justifiably worried. The post in question, however, asserted that the Occupier’s claims that law schools were at fault for the employment travails of grads and that a law degree was either a burden or a useless credential were whiny excuses for a lack of initiative, diligence and responsibility, and that was, and is, true.
Meanwhile, however, if Bobby is in the DC area, he can ask someone else to give him 20 minutes. The legal profession has too many liars already: with his next contact, I strongly suggest a real e-mail address.