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.


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.


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.

Fellowships propagating the employment numbers lie

There has been a great deal written about the jobs numbers published by law schools, and although I will refer to the topic from time to time I won’t be rehashing what many others have said much more eloquently and knowledgeably than I ever could. One of the better series of articles I’ve read on the subject is by Jason Dolin referring to his survey of public law schools in the state of Ohio (I truly wish he’d do a nationwide survey). Article 1, Article 2. They are long articles, but probably the most honest look at law schools and the problems with them. Dolin does suffer from a slight credibility problem in that he teaches as an adjunct at Capital University Law School, a 4th tier JD-mill. But so long as you can look beyond this bit of professional hypocrisy, the articles are very good.

Anyway, the reason I bring up his articles is twofold. The first was his ultimate look at job statistics for law students. There is a rather accepted percentage that after 10 years, only 50% of attorneys are still working in law; which on the surface seems somewhat low for a profession you spend so much time and money to achieve. But as Dolin mentions, the numbers tell a much more horrifying truth. As it turns out, pretty much right out the door from law school only about 50% of graduates find jobs in law… ever. It isn’t an attrition rate of half over 10 years; it is an immediate result.

To fake the jobs numbers, my law school did something that many others do as well. They offer fellowships. As I approached graduation, my law school sent around a short flyer to all 3rd years offering what seemed to be free money to participate in a fellowship funded by the law school. For a short commitment of time (about a month), the law school would pay us approximately enough to cover our costs volunteering somewhere. The insidious side of this is that the law school can then claim that you had paid employment out of law school. That’s right… they hired you to go work for a month, and now they can put down on their job statistics that 99% of all their graduates were gainfully employed within the year after leaving law school. Its the way they got rid of those pesky jobless graduates from their bottom line. Those lucky few who were leaving with a job offer wouldn’t need the fellowship, and those who had nothing would jump at it for the money since they had nothing else going on.

Interview Stories #2

So I got a phone call requesting an in person interview. Woo! Anyway, since beginning my legal search I have been steadily increasing the geographical range in which I am willing to look for work. (At this point it is coast to coast and some overseas and I will acquire whatever bar you want me to acquire). This particular interview was 2 hours away from where I live, not a pleasant commute, but technically feasible and I could always move. Anyway, I drive two hours to the interview.

The first unfortunate surprise I get is that there are already 4 other attorneys sitting in the waiting room when I get there. We start chatting since it is obvious we are all there for the same thing. That’s when I learn from one of the others that this employer decided to call in about 50 people for interviews. There was a new attorney arriving every 15 minutes (and they were way behind schedule). The waiting room was filling with attorneys. We are all talking amongst ourselves and once the new guy who walked in every 15 min. figured out the odds, most everyone became more relaxed since the chances of getting this job were pretty damn slim. After I’m there about an hour, I strike up a conversation with an overly tanned, bleach blonde woman to my left who had recently entered the party waiting room. I asked what law school she was from and lo and behold it was the same as mine, I asked when she graduated and she said my graduation year. At which point I sorta stopped and looked closer, and said.. “that’s weird… I don’t recognize you.” She got a bit nervous at that and suddenly tried to change the subject. Before I could go where this was obviously heading, my name was called for the interview. I smiled inwardly and sorta wondered how she’d explain that one down the line when someone figured it out. Regardless, not my problem.

I walk into the interview, and the first thing they say is “Well this isn’t really for a job”. Huh? I thought I had gotten a call for a job interview. That’s what I applied for, pretty sure I hadn’t applied for a non-job, boy those other 50 people are gonna be pissed. So I’m sorta frozen half sitting down in the chair and I ask “Well, what is it for?” It is then explained to me that although they advertized for the position, what they really wanted was a list of temps they could call if someone in that position left on maternity leave or was ill for an extended time. I asked, is someone at the job pregnant? “No… not right now.”  I kid you not, the interviewer clicked their pen and then said “So, can we put your name down on the list?”

2 hours driving, 1 hour waiting, 2 hours driving home.

And that was my job interview for a job that didn’t exist.

Document Review – the legal profession’s dirtiest secret (aka – the Legal La Brea Tar Pit)

I went to a law school with decent standings and a good reputation. As with all law schools, we had free lunches and presentations by various attorneys touting career pathways and as always the odd shill trying to sell something. What I never heard once from law school was about document review. The only way you hear about it is from other people who have been mired in the worst position law has to offer.

For the uninitiated, I’ll give you a short(-ish) primer. First off, you never call document review ‘document review’ on your resume… it is Contract Attorney. It makes it sound almost legitimate. It is almost without fail an hourly position, whether it is in-house at a law firm or contracted out through the big clearinghouses of document review (eg. Special Counsel [the legal hiring wing of Adecco temp services]; or Hudson Legal). Law firms do technically hire a salaried contract attorney position (E-DAT attorney), but it is as the lowest level minion associate who will spend his days looking over the product of the hourly document reviewers, and often managing them. One of the lies the headhunters use trying to get document reviewers is to tell people that in some long ago forgotten time there was this one guy, we think, who worked in document review for a law firm and they liked his work and hired him as an associate. Do not believe them. Tattoo it like in Memento somewhere on your body or maybe the back of your eyelids so you never forget… they are lying to you. There is no promotion potential because any law firm that smells the heady stink of document review about you will pass over you faster than your resume through their shredder.

Anyway… although they would prefer that you have passed the bar, sometimes they are happy to hire you if you only have a JD. You see the work you will be doing is mind-numbingly repetitive, monotonous, and imbecilic… so no bar is needed. The oft given reason for wanting the document reviewers to have passed the bar is to ‘make sure privilege is maintained’. You will also hear the odd story here and there of someone who managed to lie about being an attorney and working as a doc reviewer because the clearinghouses don’t all check credentials (the crap stories told by doc reviewers about their jobs are usually all true). Why would someone lie? Well it beats working at McDonalds, but the mental effort required is the same. As a doc reviewer you can make anywhere between $25 – $75 an hour depending on what part of the country you live in, and whether you natively speak some very obscure language. Unless you natively speak Urdu, you will be making about $25 an hour.

Usually the documents you are looking at involve a single suit between 2 (or more) larger companies that have a lot of money. One side initiates discovery, which causes the other side to send around a paralegal minion to collect every scrap of paper produced by the company in the last X years and duplicate everyone’s hard drive and email. This then goes to a scanning company who puts it up into a huge database of potentially millions of pages of information. You as one of the faceless document reviewers get to go through those million pages one by one to determine if there is anything in them that is relevant to the hasty description of the case you hear on day 1 of the project. At the end of this, it gets turned over to the other side… who in turn hire document reviewers to go through the documents to see if there is anything relevant to the case as they see it, they then do the same for their discoverable papers and turn those over to the other side who then also has to look through those. Confused yet? Think of it sorta like your favorite episode of Law and Order when the evil corporation tried to drown Jack McCoy in discovery paperwork and it shows his whole office filled with file boxes. Now multiply that a hundred fold to the point that it could fill a mid-sized warehouse and you have an idea as to the scope of it.

So I’ve been sidestepping what you actually DO for document review… Generally you sit in front of a computer. A program of varying user unfriendliness with the worst GUI you will ever see will pull up a crudely scanned image of some piece of paper turned over in discovery. You will use all the knowledge you have garnered through countless hours of law school classes to look at that email saying “hey Bob.. how about lunch tomorrow?” and determine if it is a relevant document. Now this is somewhat simplified, more often you will end up looking at daily sales numbers of an individual widget repeated over and over for the last 10 years. It amounts to roughly the same thing for our purposes here, and you will also still see the ‘Lets Have Lunch’ emails regardless. If it is potentially relevant, you then have to decide HOW it MIGHT be relevant and whether it MIGHT be privileged. And you can only describe your opinion for this through a very limited number of check boxes with helpful descriptions like “Sales pre-purchase order”.

So, you’re thinking to yourself, “sounds boring but it doesn’t sound horrible”. Well, we haven’t hit why it is really so horrible just yet. You see, document review is not so much a real discovery technique as it is a delaying tactic to try to cost the other side as much money as possible. And all sides involved know this. If you remember back to your Civil Procedure, ‘difficult’ discovery costs are shared equally by both sides. So the more money you can throw at the problem, the more money the other side is also required to throw at it. For a huge company, flushing 10 million on a discovery that produces nothing means the other side  has to reimburse you 5 million; which could easily bankrupt small companies… unless of course the other side also flushes away 10 million on their side of discovery, in which case they don’t have to pay you back anything. It becomes a game of brinkmanship.

But that is the macro scale, why is it so bad on the micro scale? The corporation is paying the law firm, who is paying the Clearinghouse, who is paying the document reviewers for the E-Discovery. (Sidenote: consider the markup to the corporation for 1 hour of E-discovery in this situation). Well, we all must keep up appearances of respectability to the court that we are doing something legitimate, so something must be produced. The law firm will have 2 different instructions for a given E-discovery, the one they give the Document Reviewers explaining what is relevant, and the one they give to the E-DAT managing associate of the discovery for how they would like the aggregate results to end up. What this means is that the law firm already knows how they want the results to look before looking at the documents… and it is the responsibility of the E-DAT attorney to wrangle the document reviewers to produce something which resembles this fiction. So even if every document is irrelevant, if the firm wants to bury the other side in paperwork, the E-DAT attorney will tell the document reviewers they need to find the documents they are looking at more relevant… or you’re fired.

Oh, I forgot to mention that. Document Review takes a page from the Japanese style of management book… everything is couched in the terms “or you’re fired”. Show up on the weekend, work on Christmas, work a minimum 60+ hour week with no overtime pay, you are taking a lunch break when other coworkers eat at their desk, no talking, no phone calls, no music players… basically you should consider yourself to be flexible furniture that the company owns. You are also timed, and every metric about what you are doing is recorded and looked over every night. If your numbers are down, much like in Office Space, you will have 3 managers you never knew you had come over to talk to you about it. And then threaten to fire you if you don’t improve.

I know you think this is hyperbole. It is not.

Anyone who is happy with these positions is someone who should never have become an attorney in the first place. This is also the dumping ground of the 3rd and 4th tier law graduates, sad but true. Easily 9 out of 10 are from lower tier schools. Consider what your future holds before blindly accepting your admission. I am sure I will write more on E-Discovery later… but I am too depressed to continue at the moment.

Law School – A very expensive mistake….