(This was sent via email, and is posted anonymously at the author's request. These stories are always welcome, and are one of the most effective ways of making law school applicants realize that there are real faces and ruined lives behind our message.)
The following is a rite of passage for thousands and thousands of Lemmings. It is intended as a road map for the challenges facing young law school graduates.
As a fresh law school graduate, you may be fairly optimistic, sending out resumes and cover letters, going to networking events, contacting your former law school classmates who found jobs, etc. You’ve attended your law school graduation and your parents may have even sprung for a vacation as a present. You have moved back in with your parents but it's a temporary thing until you get full-time attorney job. Or maybe you have a girlfriend with a job and you two are starting to get serious. "Things will be much better once you can show you've passed the bar," gushes the nice lady from the Career Services Office in an e-mail. You are kind of annoyed that you don’t have a job lined up, but you know a lot of people graduated without jobs, so you’re doing ok for now. You spend a lot of time studying for the bar, then take it and pass. Whoo-hoo! You’re a real lawyer!
After a few months of doing the same thing (sending resumes, researching companies, seeking contacts at companies and law firms), a vague unease seeps in. You’re unemployed, and all the resumes you send out disappear into a black hole. Your high school and college buddies commiserate, but they are pretty busy with their own jobs. And besides, who wants to be around someone who has no money and mopes about trying to get a job? A law degree is versatile, you tell yourself. I need to think about expanding my job search. Maybe in a couple of months I’ll start to consider flyover country.
Your parents start inquiring gently about the format of your resume or maybe at the possibility of stooping to temporary work. After all, an able-bodied adult should be able to get some kind of work, shouldn’t they? Work instills a sense of dignity and self-worth. You spent $120,000 on this degree and were taught by the brightest minds in the nation, so there must be a place in society for you? Your Dad suggest you highlight your high school babysitting gigs as proof you would be a good fit for family law. You start really stretching the truth on your resume, and every resume is tailored specifically to the job description. You spend hours honing your LinkedIn profile and making connections.
Maybe you notice or maybe you don't, but you've started drinking more and getting up later and later. You're cutting back on social engagements because you are simply running out of money. If you live with your girlfriend you might notice a certain distance has opened up between you. It’s not enough that you notice it every day, just that she seems distant at times and wants to go to the gym more. (You can’t afford that gym membership!) The loans are coming due soon and the lack of interviews or even contact from potential employers has become an uneasy feeling at the back of your stomach. A few months ago you started responding to Craigslist legal job ads, but you haven’t even gotten an acknowledgment.
You are still attending local bar events, but you notice a wary look in peoples’ eyes as you approach them. Deep down you know they can immediately see right through you. You know they get nervous about your flattery and attention, and really just want to get out of any conversation as fast as possible. After all, they are clinging on to their $50K/year jobs and don’t need another potential competitor at the firm.
The special snowflake melts
At about the 6 month mark the fear starts to take hold. You know from the news that many companies and law firms won’t even take a second look at someone who has been out of work for 6 months. Your confidence is coming under serious attack. You say to yourself: “I took the Criminal Law clinic in law school and got an A in Civil Procedure, so I know how to write a complaint. I can add value if they would just give me a shot. Why aren’t they giving me interviews?” You schedule a few more mock interviews with the people at the Career Services office, but find them useless.
If you were a non-traditional student, you start thinking about getting back into your previous line of work. You quickly discover that no one will take a second look at you because of the 3-4 year unexplained gap on your resume. You feel like you have been shut out of your previous career and have zero opportunity going forward. It’s like being stranded in a long dark hall with a lot of locked doors. By now your girlfriend has dumped you or your relationship is on the rocks. Either way, you are now solidly in your parents’ basement.
And now the loans are coming due. You sporadically check the “exclusive” job board on Simplicity, but there’s never anything new and all the jobs require years of experience you don’t have. Entry-level attorney jobs just don’t seem to exist. You might have wandered into the career services office again, but that turned out to be a mistake. After all, they only exist as a dating service for the top 5%, and they have fresh students to worry about. Your e-mail account at your law school has expired and you start getting e-mails from the alumni board asking for money. After all, you went to the 61st top ranked Toilet, so you must be making $160K, right?
Wrong. You have been reduced to taking on odd jobs for your parents. You can’t even take unemployment. The other young people you see in your neighborhood all seem to be getting on with their lives. You look up the bios of your classmates and are disappointed that a number of them seem to be at law firms. You sink deeper into depression. After all, these people didn’t do much better than you and had abhorrent personalities. Or maybe it’s you? Maybe you interview badly? Maybe you’re not attractive enough, or young enough, or articulate enough? You have definitely lost confidence and it shows. The stench of failure clings to you and you often feel like you’re being choked. That uneasy feeling in your stomach from a few months back has become a constant pain. If you can afford a doctor, you are put on antidepressants and maybe the occasional benzo.
From 6 months out, things just keep getting worse. Your grooming habits keep slipping. You have cancelled your mobile phone service. You now think it’s OK to wear sweatpants to the local coffee shop and idly sit there all day. Months ago you “expanded your job hunt” to include anywhere in the country pretty much doing anything, but you get the same results; zero callbacks, zero interviews, not even an acknowledgement that they received your resume. You start becoming bitter and increasingly estranged from your friends and family. You can’t even enjoy having the time to do whatever you want. You see no way out.
I wish I could say it gets better but it doesn’t. This is the reality for hundreds of thousands.