“Individuals with insufficient experience need not apply.” – Attorney job posting in DC.
This post to going to meander all over the fucking place, but it is by far the one thing most wrong with the legal industry to date. The legal field was designed around the concept of an apprenticeship system. A junior attorney gets hired by a more senior attorney or a firm and they are taught all the more practical side of the legal career, not just the legal concepts needed to pass the bar that law schools teach (they don’t even really teach to the bar, but you get the idea). To a point, internships do teach some of this, but as we all know not all internships are equal and often you get out of them what you put in (within limits). So what happened to this system? Technically this system does still exist on a very limited basis, but in no recognizable form. Certain states actually allow for ‘apprentice attorneys’ who go through a 4 year apprenticeship and then are allowed to take the bar exam without going to law school. You always wondered why so many various criteria for attorneys say something about an ‘ABA accredited law school’ and this coupled with the handful of unaccredited schools explain it.
It didn’t die overnight, and I honestly don’t think it was an intentional result. Interestingly, others have a slightly different view of the management of attorneys at law firms once they have been hired. But, as near as I can tell, the problem started when law firms became corporations and started emulating larger corporate bodies. I’m not talking about tacking on the LLC or PC to the law firm name, no I am referring to a style of hiring associated with large companies.
For example, as it stands now the hiring partner looking for a promising associate will jot a quick memo listing idyllic qualifications, the Platonic Form of the employee they seek, which they do not necessarily expect perfectly composed in one person; rather they are looking for a good fit to become the employee they seek. In other words, most realistic employers do not look for someone they hire to hit the ground running from day 1. That employee doesn’t exist. What they want is someone who they can train to fit their needs rapidly so that the person they hire becomes the ideal candidate they were ultimately looking for. The problem is that this concept of finding a candidate that they can grow into a position is not a corporate theory. Instead the corporate concept of hiring is trying to lure away the person working in this position from your competitor. Or as corporations call them… laterals. So the lions share of effort in hiring suddenly is shifted to trying to find disgruntled laterals who you can hire away from your competition. Damaging their business and at the same time bolstering your own.
I know someone who is a senior partner at a very large multi-jurisdiction law firm. They told me their work is divided probably 85% to running the corporation that is the law firm, and only 15% actually working with the law. By necessity, when a law firm gets to be a certain size it adopts the trappings of a retail corporation. This involves hiring a significant number of underlings and most dreaded, some form of an HR department. The HR department obviously are not attorneys, and what happens next is the same problem you will run into with headhunting firms. A rigidity of thought. If you do not meet and exceed all of the qualifications for the position, you are do not get passed up the chain to the hiring partner. Unfortunately, since more effort is placed on hiring laterals, every job listing you see requires that you have 3-5 years experience at a large law firm to qualify for their ‘entry level positions’. I applied to a position which was looking for an entry level attorney. Specifically advertized as no experience required for new attorneys. The candidate who ended up getting the job had over 7 years experience. So why list it as entry level? Mainly because the company decided that regardless of the experience or quality of attorney they were going to hire, they were only going to pay them entry level wages.
On top of all that, I have had a ridiculous number of applications rejected because the person reading it does not understand what they are reading. I’m sure your applications are also being read and rejected by a secretary with a high school education before any hiring attorney ever sees them. How do I know this? Well at some point you start getting limited feedback. My favorite feedback is from USAJobs, where the best we have all come to expect from the federal government reads through your application and decides you don’t fit the criteria for some laughably inaccurate reason. My favorite so far has been one who claimed I did not prove I was an attorney. Think about that for just a moment. How do you prove you are an attorney on an application? Well, in this case I put my bar number(s) and jurisdictions prominently on the application. One might assume that is all the proof you would ever need especially since that is all the proof you can actually put on an application (and also consider that not all jurisdictions hand out fun cards with your atty number on them). Another rejected my application because of a gap in my employment which amazingly meshed with the time I was in law school. Mind you, on the resume it states when and where I was attending law school, so most people would infer that crucial bit of information that I had no employer while I was in law school…. but not this genius. And there is no recourse to their infallible thinking. You are just rejected.
The short version of this is that no one wants to train anyone for a position anymore. You are expected to be a perfect candidate requiring no training, and preferably no food or sleep either if it can be helped.
CBS / 60 Minutes recently posted a news article on just this point. On pg. 4 of the article….
Byron Pitts: What’s changed in the way that American companies hire workers compared to a few decades ago?
Peter Cappelli: I think there are big changes. And I think this is the heart of what is new. What’s new now is that employers are not expecting to hire and train people. If you turn the clock back a generation ago, there really was none of this discussion about skill gaps and skill problems.
Byron Pitts: Because companies provided the training.
Peter Cappelli: Companies did it themselves. Companies are now saying, for all kinds of reasons, “We’re not going to do it anymore.” And maybe they’re right, they can’t do it. But what they probably can’t do is say, “We’re not going to do it, and it’s your problem.