Advocates for Starving Advocates

Five Hot Tips to Help New Lawyers Thrive in a Down Economy

Things have been rough for new attorneys this year. Lately, it may seem like the system was built to keep us in a perpetual state of unemployment. Hungry Hungry Lawyers has scoured the web for news stories to help perk up your spirits and has developed these tips to guide you on the path to success.

1. GIVE UP

It has become notoriously difficult to find a job in a down market flooded with new attorneys competing for every position. However, progressive game theorists at Nebraska University have devised a unique workaround to this problem: Don’t be a new lawyer. This is a fantastic strategy. You can’t struggle to find a job that you are not looking for. So, stop looking for it.  Pow, struggle over. The theory seems solid. If you are no longer a lawyer, then you cannot be an unemployed lawyer, which is basically the same thing as being an employed lawyer. So, stop being a lawyer. It’s as good as getting a job.

In fact, the two-moves-ahead-of-us Cornhuskers at NU are so enthusiastic about the prospects of non-lawyers that they advise people to start not being attorneys before they go to law school. Apparently law school is hard. And expensive. So, why pay to be an unemployed lawyer when you can be a non-lawyer for free?  If you’ve already been to law school, no problem. Just edit the experience off your resume. The good news is that if you remain unemployed long enough, the student loan collectors will come and take your license. And then you’ll be an officially non-certified non-attorney.

2. WAIT UNTIL LAW FIRMS LET YOU WORK FOR LESS

The legal job crisis is largely the fault of new attorneys. Why? Because we make too much money. This is why law firms cannot afford to hire us. In fact, I’m always explaining to my student loan officer that the reason I can’t make this month’s payment is that I’m grossly overpaid and consequently unemployed. Realizing the salary burden generated by unemployed lawyers, the Dean of Rutgers Law School-Newark, John J. Farmer, Jr., has proposed that we give law firms a break. Specifically, if we start calling new lawyers “residents” and “apprentices,” then law firms will give those people less money = problem solved. Once law firms agree to stop paying us so much, then we won’t be making too much money and the law firms can hire us.

3. BE LESS USELESS

According to a scientific poll of one 3L at a law school in Cincinnati, new attorneys can’t do anything. This self-described useless law student makes a point. If new lawyers learned to do a thing, or perhaps many things, then perhaps law firms could afford to pay them the exorbitant salaries that currently stand as a bar to employment. This is why we recommend that law schools start doing two things: 1. Prepare students for the real world. 2. Develop some kind of post-graduate residency program to cultivate those practical real-world skills after graduation. New lawyers — those who received their J.D.s last May — will particularly benefit from this kind of program once they’ve re-enrolled in school and completed it in 2016. Some new lawyers may not be excited about this “do-over,” but just because you studied law for three years doesn’t mean your school taught you anything. Serves you right for learning wrong.

4. DON’T PANIC!

Some smart guy blogging over at Harvard Law is a bit unnerved by all this jittery law-school reform talk, and he’s absolutely right. With 25 percent fewer people wanting to be new lawyers, the legal academy is in an uproar. In the afore-linked blog post, Scott Burris, who is a professor at Temple Law, makes a good point: Just because the world is going to hell, and none of us have jobs or the skills to perform the jobs we don’t have, that doesn’t mean that students should stop paying for three years of law school. Burris writes that there are lots of important things that law schools should start teaching students. They just shouldn’t stop teaching all the stuff that 3Ls in Cincinnati now tell us are useless (Editor’s Note: Mr. Burris has responded to this post in the comments below, and believes his position has been mischaracterized). Likewise, John Thies, President of the Illinois State Bar Association, points out that just because law school needs to change doesn’t mean that us new attorneys should graduate with anything less than $150,000 in student loans. Thies, who argues that law-school debt of this magnitude is “unsustainable,” also agrees that we shouldn’t do too much to disrupt the system that has sustained that debt for decades. Long story short, don’t panic or disrupt the status quo. Just wait until the tables have turned, you’re an experienced attorney and it’s your job to not hire overpaid, underskilled new attorneys. Or maybe become a law professor, there seems to plenty of money in that.

5. WANT TO BE EMPLOYED MORE

According to experienced Boston attorney Gabriel Cheong, the only thing standing between you and success is “Drive.” Cheong defines Drive as “the desire to succeed,” and calls it, “the only thing that makes us successful.” (Also, P!nk songs are involved somehow, but as new attorneys, we lack the experience to understand that part.) Based on Cheong’s Drive Doctrine, it’s clear that if you find yourself unemployed, this is not a result of a lousy economy or the simple arithmetic that shows more applicants than jobs, but rather your own failure to want to be employed more. If you’re unemployed, you lack drive. The solution: Just acquire some bootstraps and hoist yourself up by them. It’s also plausible that you have drive, but your drive is not to be employed. Perhaps you are unemployed because you had a greater desire to succeed at not getting hired. Which means you’ve unwittingly manifested your greatest desires. Congrats, friend.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Brown is a founding partner of Boston MicroLaw, LLP, a practice of small business attorneys and business formation lawyers located in Boston, MA. He used to think Drive was a Ryan Gosling Movie, but now he believes Drive is the Secret To My Success, which is a Michael J. Fox movie.

  • Scott Burris

    You sort of missed my point. I think we SHOULD stop teaching the stuff that students and employers find to be useless. But for many reasons we should not cut or dumb down professional training. And is say this from one of the law schools that Brian Tamanaha sinle out as still a good, fair value. The sharp rise in cost, he says, was largely a result of bloated faculty salaries and perks … Which we at Temple never acquired the taste for.
    But the bigger context, I think, is the grea American pursuit of the free lunch. You know, give me great roads and schools and health care but no taxes please. Same with professional training? Why do we see cost as the only lever. train my doctors, lawyers, dentists, engineers to be excellent, and I am prepared to pay what that costs. At Temple, we offer a good legal education at a reasonable price. It can be done. But society should also be looking at investing in education, subsidizing legal services for the poor, allowing para professionals to provide lower cost legal primary care, and so on. And the market can push back on the high fees law firms charge their business clients, who should be benefiting from the ample supply of lawyers.

  • I apologize if I misunderstood. Perhaps you’re seeing this from a different perspective at Temple, but I’ve read a lot of copy from legal educators who want to change legal education, but not to the point that it disrupts their bloated salaries or reduces the cost of a JD. They want the “free lunch.” Again, I apologize if my perception of your article erroneously lumped you in with that perspective. Frankly, the “Don’t Panic,” introduction gave me the impression that you’re somewhat reluctant to introduce certain changes that I believe are imperative.

    I’m not sure I agree with your application of the “free lunch” prerogative to students seeking professional training. Or were you applying that prerogative to the consumer? (There was some ambiguity in the phrasing). Either way, I’ll address both:

    First of all, I paid my way, and I’ll tell you this: I was fortunate to attend Northeastern Law, which is a forward-thinking institution, ahead of the curve on a lot of the experiential education that is necessary in today’s legal market (in fact, NUSL has for years suffered in law school rankings, BECAUSE it does things differently). When I look at other law programs, however, I see that students are gouged and exit law school unprepared for this legal market. Now, you say that Temple has done what it can to manage costs. Nonetheless, it still costs about $56,000/year for out-of-state Owls (Northeastern is about $10-15K/more, so well done, Temple). Pardon me if I’m wrong, but you seem to bristle at the idea of a two-year JD program. I believe this kind of program is where we could help students manage the cost of tuition. If we allow some form of licensing after the second year, but require new lawyers to work to finish a third (or even fourth year) in a supervised apprentice/residency program WHILE THEY EARN A SALARY, then we keep the cost down. At Northeastern, for example, I worked four co-op quarters during my two upper-level years. During two of those quarters, I received a nice paycheck. This offset a lot of costs. Imagine if I had been more useful to the employers, with some sort of apprentice license in hand. Mind you, I was still taking classes six months a year.

    Now, if you believe the “free lunch” prerogative applies to consumers, I feel you might be woefully misinformed about the dynamics of the legal market (though in reality, I suspect you are not). Legal services are vastly overpriced to the point that middle-class consumers CAN’T pay for them. They don’t want a free lunch, but they don’t want to pay for lobster thermidor. And that’s pretty much all that’s on the menu. The issue is cost management problems in the large-firm business model. Right now would be an ideal time for law firms to bring in new attorneys at a cut rate and offer services to middle-class clients. They could tap a vastly underserved market. But they can’t afford to. Their overhead is too high. So, when I look at the dynamics of the legal industry, I don’t see anyone trying to pursue a “free lunch,” I see a legal academy and a legal industry failing to deliver the value that their markets desire.

    Thank you for response, and again, I apologize if I mischaracterized your position. I am going to make an editor’s note of your response in the text above. (Also, please know that the only reason I’m not re-writing that section to re-characterize my take on your position is that I want readers to understand these comments in context and be able to follow the conversation we’re having here.)

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