First-Year Law Firm Parties

I’m told that this is not standard fare for all law schools; but for decently respectable ones, you will find that around Christmas time the large firms in the area send out a general invitation to all first year law students to attend a special holiday party effectively thrown in their honor. Out of my class, there were only about a dozen of us there, which struck me as odd more people didn’t show up. Being the connoisseur of free food that I was, I of course made time. If the invitation is extended to you, I highly recommend going. In part, go for the food… free food always tastes the best, plus the firms usually like to put out a big spread. Secondly, you want to go to see the culture, it is a weird mix of every stereotype you ever heard about lawyers. I went to 3 holiday parties… this was them.

Party 1 & 2 – The first two were on the same night, in the same building, separated by 10 floors. So long as you had a name tag from one of those two firms, no one cared if you hopped from party to party. Which was good, because as near as I could tell one of the firms had selectively invited only the top echelon of the class, and I had certainly not been invited to that one. So I arrive at the party, it was in one of the firm’s huge conference rooms with all the furniture removed. In one corner there was a violin and cello duo playing (swanky!), and at the other end was the food. I wandered over to the food to find that it consisted of lots of beer and wine, and very little else. There were some ritz crackers and white cheese too, but it seemed a bit like an afterthought. Add to this that every law student there had to drive down to the firm to go to this party because of its location and you’ll see why this was just not horribly thought through. So I armed myself with a glass of wine and decided to mingle. That’s what everyone kept telling us to do… network.

There were groups of law students and groups of attorneys, and they weren’t mixing. So mostly the conversation was what law school are you from, how is it there? Eventually, one of the partners made some whispered chastisement to the other attorneys and as one, they quickly broke up and went to go talk to the law students. This is where the Stepford wives portion of the night started. The first attorney came over and started talking and when asked something about the firm went into what at first seemed a sincere statement about how much he liked it there, how everyone got to go home at a reasonable time because family life was very important to the firm, how it was a relatively laid back work environment etc etc.  He eventually wandered off to another group of law students and was replaced by a husband and wife pair, who in short order turned the conversation to how much they liked the firm, how they got to leave at a decent hour because family life was very important to the firm… These two were replaced by a third attorney, who started the conversation with how much he liked the firm… well… you can see where this is going. It was noted in one of these conversations by an astute law student (not me thank god) that there certainly were a fair number of attorneys still walking the firm’s hallways  at 8 in the evening considering the firm let people leave at a decent hour for family and all. It was so obvious that a memo of talking points had been passed around it was a joke by the end of the night. When a new law student walked over to your group you introduced yourself and said how much you liked the firm, and how you bet that it provided decent working hours for family life, and was probably a laid back environment.

So the conversation was a bust. But what about the networking? While talking to a small knot of 3 attorneys and a few students, at one point I happened to turn to wave to someone I knew. When I turned back, everyone had disappeared leaving one rather old man. He introduced himself as the senior managing partner at the firm, hoped I was enjoying the party and stayed to talk for probably exactly 30 seconds. He then walked over to the next group of people. If you have ever watched shark week on the discovery channel you will understand how he moved through the crowd. People parted in front of him leaving a constantly empty envelope of personal space near him. Whenever he entered a mixed group of attorneys and law students, every one of the firm’s attorneys disappeared so fast I almost think I heard a BAMF in the vacuum they left. After about 15 minutes making his way from one side of the room to the other, he left and was not seen again.

Other than the brief appearance of the senior partner, there was also the massively drunk partner who decided the open bar was the perfect moment to demonstrate everything those myriad required substance abuse programs in law school tell you are true. The legal profession has a significantly higher than average drinking problem. It started with just him getting very loud while talking, then he started swearing and saying a few other interesting things. The problem was that he was apparently a full partner, and once the senior partner left, no one could reign him in. So the extent of damage control was several attorneys tried to always ensnare him in conversation and steer him away form the law students. From what little he blearily told me, the law firm was not the best place to work. It was this opportune moment a friend of mine said “hey I hear the food upstairs is better, lets go there.” And off we went. As we left the receptionist gave us free umbrellas as a parting gift.

We took the elevator to the second firm, and sadly the food was mostly gone. I picked up another glass and wine and one of the attorneys mingling walked over and started talking to us about how much he liked the firm, and how the hours there were really quite good…..

(continued)

HeadHunters

For the uninitiated, headhunters are ‘recruiting firms’ which get a finders fee for successfully placing an applicant with an employer. Sometimes they have a contracts with companies so that there are exclusive listings, most often these firms just trawl the job boards and repost job listings with contact information and names removed and then effectively attempt to extort money from the company by showing them your scrubbed resume with no contact info and offering to make an introduction for a fee. You may notice most actual applications you fill out say “no recruiters” on it somewhere which should give you an idea as to how these companies are viewed by employers.

My advice to you is don’t bother applying to any posting from a search firm. In fact, some tell new attorneys specifically to piss off (BCG is such a class act they point new attorneys to well known scam sites like LawCrossing, Thanks guys!) Another class act I see often is DiCenzo, several attorneys I know have wonderful stories of being sworn at over the phone by them. Most people I know make the mistake of filling out applications for recruiters in the beginning, but you figure out pretty quick that they will absolutely never ever pan out. Ever. Not really the best business plan for longevity of a company since young attorneys of today will remember their experience applying and in the future when the time comes to hire anyone they will tell any recruiter who shows up to go take a flying fuck.

So why aren’t recruiters worth applying to? Pretty simple. The employees in search firm are not legally trained and operate under extremely rigid thinking. So the company looking to hire someone provides pie-in-the-sky requirements of what the ‘perfect’ employee would look like. Rather than using some intelligence when looking over applications, it becomes necessary to have an applicant meet or exceed everything on the list the recruiter is provided. The obvious problem arises when your resume says “extensive experience in chain of title, oil and gas lease, closings.” The recruiter looks over at “real estate experience” on their list… nope… no match. Rejected.

How about an actual example. A real listing I ran across was looking for “recent law school graduates with 3 years experience.” or  this one “This is an entry level position responsible for advising the company concerning simple to moderately complex legal issues related to business activities…. Requires 3+ years experience or equivalent combination of education and competency.” What the hell? This is translated as “I want to hire someone experienced but pay them as if they aren’t.” What this turns into in the hands of a recruiter is a job which will never be filled, at least not by the so called entry level applicant.

Interview #4

The first interview for a real legal job I had was probably the the most depressing. Not for why you might think though… I went in for an interview for a corporate counsel position. The interview went great. I spoke to the head of HR, who absolutely loved me and we talked much longer than the interview was intended to go on all sorts of topics. They then took me over to the lead counsel to have an interview, and that one went great as well. I walked out of there thinking I had it.

I never heard a word back from them. Not a “thanks but no thanks”. Not ‘we picked someone else’. Nothing. I was told they were only interviewing 3 people… it really wouldn’t have taken longer than 2 minutes to call everyone who didn’t get the job. I looked them back up a year later and it seems like they never hired anyone… but recently they are looking for a paralegal for the same legal specialty as I applied, which doesn’t make much sense because I am willing to work pretty cheap if only they would have gotten back to me.

Since that interview I have become very accustomed to the void that follows applications, sent resumes, and interviews.

Passing the bar means no one wants you anymore

This was probably the biggest let down I experienced out of law school. You strive to pass the bar and study like mad. Everything you have been doing for over three years comes down to the moment when you find out you passed. And suddenly, no one wants you around anymore.

It was a strange concept to wrap my head around. One day I had no problem working at an internship / fellowship, and the next I wasn’t allowed to work there. I try to volunteer at legal aid, and I’m told that since I don’t carry my own malpractice insurance, they don’t want me. While before, your offers to work for free are met with grateful acceptance, once you become barred no one will let you darken their doorway.

Part of this is because of labor laws. Interns are allowed to be taken advantage of by employers with impunity so long as there is some ‘educational benefit’ to the intern. Whereas the day you become verifiably employable, they drop you and find the next unemployable intern to replace you.

I am literally unable to give away my expert services. In every CLE you have to sit through in your first year (and beyond) you hear how (depending on your state) you either are required to do pro-bono work, or you are encouraged to do pro-bono work. I have contacted numerous organizations around me and not a single one, including my local legal aid office, wants to use an unattached attorney.

None.

Going Solo – advice given by the destitute

Being an under / un employed attorney, you fall into a default conversation mode when talking to other attorneys. Law schools like to call this ‘networking’. Really it is desperation. Within moments of starting a conversation you start steering it so that you can ask if the other attorney is hiring, knows of someone who is hiring, or maybe has a hot tip on the best street-corners to panhandle on. After you talk to a few people who bought into the flawed concept of going solo, your own financial situation and huge law school debt often doesn’t look nearly so bleak in comparison.

I had a truly sad conversation with one solo at the non-job interview / waiting room attorney party. He was a very nice man, probably late 40s, possibly early 50s wearing a well worn suit. When I talked to him about his experience going solo he answered in a tone which had once been bitterness and had now turned to resignation. I’m paraphrasing liberally, but the first thing he told me was that everyone had lied to him. When he was in law school, they had fed them a story of the nobility of being an attorney and fostered an idea of how you should conduct business. They had brought in a steady stream of solos who offered advice on how to start a your own practice and what you should do to be successful. He left law school and hung out a shingle, following in large part the model he had been taught. And in short order he started working part time in retail to make some money… so that he could continue to work part time as an attorney. The most horrifying thing he told me was that once he started networking as an attorney with other solos and showing up at events, he found out that all those solos who had been telling the law students how to be successful, were broke. At the height of his practice he was able to work full time as an attorney but the money coming in was only slightly more than the money going out. He told me that you could remain afloat by doing solo work, but just barely. He was always on the brink. After working full time as an attorney for several years, he had nothing to show for it. Nothing saved.  The only way this man was able to work as an attorney, was because his wife was floating living expenses while he tried to accomplish a legal career.

If you talk to many young solos you’ll find out they can’t survive solely practicing law. You meet them in document review projects, flitting in and out as they go to court appearances for the few cases they pick up. You work one job that has a guaranteed hourly income, so that you can continue working as a lawyer on the side. Oh, and for those thinking ‘well hey, this might be a feasible model to do for awhile until things get going” … try getting a non-legal (or non doc review) job with a JD. Being an attorney will significantly count against you when applying for any job.

Working solo allows you to survive, but only just barely. Ask the solos who come in what their personal financial situation is, and see what they say.

The ABA

So, why do I tell the previous story… the first thing to take away from this is that the ABA does site visits to your school and they do actually want to hear your opinion. They take your opinion seriously and act on it. (ABA Site visit schedule) This is also an opportunity for students to make their voice heard to the ABA like no other. Imagine the message the ABA would receive if rather than 6 people, the room was standing room only and the students wanted the ABA to fix the broken system the ABA is perpetuating. Part of the problem is that students are insulated and don’t realize (or believe [Epic Fail Blog]) the system is broken until they are out of law school and witness the desolation firsthand.

As near as I could tell my law school tried to hide the ABA site visit. We had been told that they would be visiting the classes during the week, but the fact that the ABA asked to speak to students in an open venue never was disseminated… the law school did not actually attempt to enlist people to show up and therefore the 6 of us represented the entirety of the school. It was an accident I ran into it, and one of the other people there was a first-year who had only been in law school for a few weeks and had no ability to constructively add to the conversation. Conversely, when the Law School dean had a ‘town hall meeting’ there wasn’t a third year who didn’t show up (and many second years) to tear him a new one about job prospects and the law school’s floundering ranking.

Attorneys are a self-regulating profession. Law Schools are regulated by the ABA, which is still technically falling under the aegis of self-regulation. Unfortunately, the regulation is rather limited and the ABA keeps handing out accreditation to schools which should not exist in the first place. Rather than handing out new accreditation, the ABA should be rescinding them from the obviously failed law schools. If you want to see which schools are in trouble, look for the ones with multiple site visits scheduled in a single year (Yes… we are all looking at you Thomas Cooley “law school” – for those few living in a cave, Cooley is considered to be the absolute worst law school in the nation. Incoming classes of approx. 1000+ students, graduating classes of about 250-300+. They accept everyone. From what I’ve heard from the graduates its a bit like like Lord of the Flies with a law library. Also, the president, sick of being the the lowest ranked 4th tier school in the nation decided to publish his own ranking system putting his school at #2 behind Harvard.) In a recent fun lawsuit… Cooley lost to a student anonymously posting that they sucked online: “America’s “second best” law school sues online critic, and loses on appeal” (decision).

So what should the ABA be doing? The legal profession is slitting its own throat by flooding the market with cheap, poorly trained lawyers. The ABA seems to take the stance that market forces will quell the problem and the flood of lower quality attorneys will be pushed out by those with better qualifications. That isn’t really what is happening though. The glut on the market is driving down the relative value for all attorneys, in addition the competition is reaching ridiculous levels. Entry level jobs (at entry level salaries) are being filled by attorneys with a decade of experience. Most firms won’t even look at you unless you are a lateral from another firm anymore.

A short example of the competition these days… a friend of mine applied for a judicial clerk position at a small state appellate court after passing the bar. They actually received a call back from the judge who apologized and said that they probably would have hired them, except they had gotten swamped with applications and they had graduates from Yale willing to move out there (roughly the middle of nowhere) to take the position. The judge couldn’t get over it… Yale law grads willing to move to take a poorly paying clerkship at a small court.The judge actually said they’d have to be crazy to pass up a Yale clerk.

So market corrections aren’t really working. Not quite in the way the ABA seems to be expecting anyway. It seems instead the top is filtering to the bottom as well. The ABA needs to start pruning the number of law schools. Additionally it needs to set caps on the number of students allowed per incoming class and keep that cap in place through graduation. I am going to add this one in big letters because it is becoming a bigger problem. THE ABA NEEDS TO STOP THE INFLUX OF FOREIGN / LLM STUDENTS WHO ARE BEING OFFERED JD POSITIONS. This is becoming a bigger problem and no one seems to be noticing… specifically Chinese students who previously were receiving LLMs are being offered JD positions instead to allow for more tuition and a bigger law school payday. Most of the LLMs I worked with in law school from China had at best a rudimentary grasp of English such that you could not even speak with them, and now they are getting a JD, with absolutely no possibility of passing the bar in the US; and I have no idea of what prospects or value a US JD has for them back home.

you may ask yourself why would a law school do this? Well the answer is that since foreign students are not eligible for US Federal Financial Aid, they are required to pay full tuition in cash, up front. Apparently the prospect of not having to deal with Fed loans and servicers and no scholarships or poor US students is appealing to some law schools.)

It would also help if the ABA attempted to roll back the clock a bit and re-establish that law is an apprenticeship model. I don’t know how many times in law school I heard that law firms complained that law school did not teach practical skills. It never has, and some of that responsibility was supposed to be taken up by established attorneys in the field. (ahem.. self regulating) Instead we see corporate law firms who effectively refuse to train new attorneys and only want to steal laterals from other firms who do train them. Thus perpetuating the concept that you shouldn’t train new attorneys because they will leave and take their added value with them from your training. How about a bit more damned regulation… maybe training quotas forcing large firms to open more internship positions to actually train more attorneys based upon the total number of attorneys at your firm.

Technically any of these suggestions are possible and able to be implemented tomorrow. Why? BECAUSE WE ARE SELF REGULATING. The ABA can choose to regulate our field and make changes NOW if they wanted. But it is easier not to rock the boat I suppose and continue to watch as our field cannibalisticly eats its own.

My first experience with the ABA

One afternoon in law school after most classes were over, while I was walking through the building I saw a friend of mine sitting in one of the larger lecture halls with maybe 5 other people, seemingly just talking. He waved at me signaling I should come over. The large lecture halls were roughly circular and  there were two entrances at either side of the front of the room, which meant that as you passed the front door, you could see everyone sitting in the room, but couldn’t see the area at the front where the professor stood. Thinking it was some sort of student group or study session (the door was open which meant no class in session / not important).  I waved back and wandered right in announcing to my friend “hey whatcha up to and is there any food?” (you could invariably find where I was in law school based on which student group or presentation was offering free lunch that day).

I was literally 3 feet into the room before I looked over and saw that there were 7 people in nice suits sitting at the front of the room. I froze. I started to turn to leave and said “oops… sorry.” I knew something was off when one of them said “Don’t go; we can get you food.” The man then turned to where one of the lesser law school deans had been sitting (also hidden from view) and gave a sort of dismissal of a wave and the dean literally darted out of the room to go find some food. As a short aside, I had already had problems with some of the deans involving my paperwork for admission to law school. (long and very retarded story). So I was already a bit marked, and this did nothing to help matters.

Fuck. I had just wandered into something.

So, I sidled over and sat down in the huge lecture hall with all of 6 students sitting in it. The nice man who had just dismissed the dean to go find me food then told me that they were from the ABA on a site visit to the law school, and wanted to talk to some of the students there to ask us some questions and they wanted me to stay so we could talk. This was not something I was prepared for…

Over the next hour and a half we talked about all manner of things related to our classes, facilities, and administration. I unintentionally got one of the required classes canceled at our law school. It had apparently been in the crosshairs already since they were asking about it so it wasn’t completely my fault. They asked “what is your opinion about… X class?” and in classic form I forget there were only 6 of us in the room and I let out a stifled laugh. Which drew the gaze of everyone, and directed the question to me. In my defense, the other students there agreed with what I said about the class. I found out it had been canceled per ABA request 2 weeks later.

(continued… )

News Link Dump

I had mentioned I was going to go through my bookmarks and put up a big listing of worthwhile articles. Instead I am going to add a new main link on the front page so that all the articles can be seen in one place. I will still be adding separate posts for current news, but I will also be updating the ‘News Articles’ page when I post new links. Everything will be arranged with a brief blurb / citation by date.

Interview Stories #3

One of my more recent interviews was at a midsized firm that did toxic tort defense. The interview started out normally enough; I spoke with 2 partners, each one alternating asking a question or adding a minor bit of information. At some point, one partner asked about why I did not go directly from college to law school and what I did in the intervening time. Paraphrasing a bit, I told them why I didn’t go directly (originally looking at other grad programs) and that I worked crap jobs in the interim. The second partner asked something unrelated to that topic, the first partner decided this was some sort of sticking point. Where had I worked, in what city… his questions started doubling back as if he thought I would change my answers. It became strange how fixated he was on the couple trivial non-legal jobs nearly forever ago (and no.. wrong type of firm to have had any business with them at all). This went on for probably 10 minutes. The other partner shot me a strangely apologetic look at one point silently voicing that she too thought the other partner was being weird.

Walking out of that interview I had an overwhelming feeling that the partner had decided I had spent the time in question in prison and was trying to hide it by claiming to work in retail (which isn’t that far off from prison I suppose).

Stealing the Esq.

Adjuncts versus full Professors

Most law students I’ve met don’t actually know the difference between an Esq and a JD. A Juris Doctor is the degree you get when you graduate, the honorific Esquire signifies that you passed the bar in at least one jurisdiction. You don’t get to call yourself John Q. Smith Esq. until you pass the bar.

I had never heard the phrase ‘stealing the esquire’ until I was working at my internship. It is used pejoratively in reference to law professors who call themselves Esquire while never having really worked in the field (or passed the bar).

I had a patents professor who was ineligible to sit for the patent bar, had never worked with patents, and never even worked in a law firm which prosecuted any IP / PTO paperwork. My contracts professor had never left law school… they graduated many many years ago and started teaching at law school pretty much immediately, apparently having never taken the bar anywhere. These are the people the law school has advising you on what to do with your career. The advice I received from my professors on how I should approach and steer my legal career was without fail, 110% wrong. (I point a very accusing finger towards the IP dept at my law school with this comment).

On the flip side of this, the Admiralty adjunct was a MLA Proctor who had worked for years in the merchant marine before becoming an attorney. I had an adjunct for a class in Cardpayment / Electronic payments who was corporate counsel for one of the largest electronic payments processing banks in the US. The foreign real estate adjunct was the many year former head of International Real Estate at one of the largest firms in the world. In short… they knew their shit.

So here’s the take away message from all of this… Unlike graduate programs in Classics or Literature, Law is a professional program much like an MBA; it assumes a non-academic endgame. Law Professors are wonderful at being able to rehash the material from a casebook, write journal articles and the odd casebook – in other words they are academics. The reason the professors at my law school liked to say they were teaching us ‘to think like lawyers, not how to be a lawyer’ is because they didn’t know how to be lawyers. But adjuncts have actually worked in the field, and likely are still working in the field and keep abreast of the current developments in their niche. (And on top of all that, adjuncts get paid nearly nothing to teach you.) Which one do you think you should listen to for career advice?

You want to stump the admissions director of any law school with a question? Ask how many of their professors hold an active bar license in your state. The answer is more important than you think.

Law School – A very expensive mistake….