17 July 2012

Talking with new law students in the new no-law-jobs economy

I spent a few hours the other day talking to some students who are about to embark on their first year of law school. This wasn't the first "welcome the students" event I've ever attended, but it was the first one where I was very upfront about my employment situation. The question comes up all the time from these enthusiastic, bright-eyed young people, who see the next 3 years as just the merest obstacle between them and a personally fulfilling career pursuing justice for the oppressed or making big bucks in a prominent firm: "So, Glomarization, what kind of law do you practice?"

This time my answer was, plainly, "I'm underemployed in my solo practice doing [practice area] for [type of client], and I'm actively looking for a law firm job or employment in a different sector altogether. I get an interview about every other month, but mostly I'm not working as a lawyer, though I have a few volunteer gigs doing [REDACTED] that keep me busy."

One student gamely continued the conversation, talking about their interest in non-patent intellectual property (where there are absolutely no jobs outside of the non-hiring large law firms). I pointed out the jaw-droppingly low hiring rate for 2011 grads: only about 50% have full-time, permanent jobs where a J.D. is required, and some 15% have no job at all. That leaves about 35% who are working part-time, in temporary jobs (not necessarily clerkships, either), or in jobs where they don't need a piece of paper that cost $150,000 plus 3 years of unemployment. I said that I'm self-employed, but after a decade as a small business owner, I don't like being an entrepreneur. I went to law school so that I'd have a job at the other end of it. And not in an entitlement kind of way, but in an "I did this to better my life and I jumped through all your hoops, and now I find that there are no lawyering jobs, and my degree makes me less employable as a non-lawyer once people see the J.D. on my resume, what the fuck gives?" kind of way.

The student's response to this was something along the lines of, well, finding a job, it's all a matter of personality, really.

I can't talk to these people. They're operating from some different worldview, a completely different paradigm than I'm operating from. It's like when talking with a friend of mine from my undergraduate days who is an actual, real-life young-Earth creationist. Different paradigm. We cannot have a conversation when one of us sincerely, absolutely believes that the planet and the universe are literally younger than 10,000 years old. Our basic understandings of reality are irreconcilable, and it's the same between me and this shiny new law student I was speaking with. See, there's a 90% chance that the student will end up in the bottom 90% of their class -- but they will not allow that concept into their reality. Or if they will, they're assured that they'll beat that 50% employment figure anyway and that it's just a matter of personality as to whether they land a real lawyering job out of law school.

There's absolutely nothing I can say to this student. But I do promise that I won't say, "I told you so" to them 3 years from now, even though their comment was, at bottom, not very nice at all.

1 comment:

Elizabeth J. Neal said...
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