Sunday, February 22, 2015

True Long Term Legal Employment; Something About Old Dogs and New Tricks

For many people who apply to law school, the focus is far too often on the near-term: what kind of work will I get when I graduate? who's actually showing up at OCI this year?  what is this school's nine-month employment rate?  These are important questions, but they are admittedly an incomplete picture.  One year is simply not "long term."

When various law deans have responded to their abysmal employment rates that a law degree is a long-term and lifetime investment, they're partially right.  We do need to focus on outcomes 10-, 20-, 30-, and even 40- years out, as these are the days when expenditures transition from loans to retirement and families and investment and all those you can't do paying down debt.

By all indications, though, long-term outcomes aren't nearly as rosy as the suave salesmen claim.  After all, you just know that dishwasher that's supposed to last fifteen years is going to crap out after eight.  Why would the law deans sell any differently?  Why, in the law schools' persistent refusal to collect this essential data, would you ever give them the benefit of the doubt in the total absence of useful empirical data?

Consider this recent anonymous op-ed in the Missouri Bar Journal.  The tl;dr version would be this:  20-year litigator, laid off in 2011, 450 job applications, no work, blatant ageism, now in doc review.  Wash, rinse, pull away two more chairs, start the music again, repeat.

Really, new law school applicants, you should read this shit and figure out if you want to join a profession where people over 40 feel this way.  You can just feel the snarky anger and sneering derision at ignorant hiring parties who just don't grasp reality, or do and just. don't. care.
Perhaps this apparent and sometimes blatant “ageism” is driven by human resource personnel questioning “why” an experienced litigator would be applying for an entry level position or an unsubstantiated “fear” that such an experienced litigator would “jump ship” at the first opportunity. As for the “why,” an entry level salary with employment benefits is clearly better than unemployment or the legal “purgatory” of temporary or contact document review work at low pay without benefits. Moreover, any such “fear” flies in the face of the realities of the current legal job market. Simply put, there is no such opportunity to “jump ship.”
This individual went to law school at a time when costs were significantly lower and employment prospects profoundly higher.  Do the math.

Remember, kids, your loans will be a 25-30-year pay off barring an economic miracle.  If we accept that legal employment at the 25-year mark is significantly lower than at the one-year mark (which should be obvious at this point), and we realize that the one-year employment rates do not justify the investment of the law degree, how in the world can you justify the expenditure at all?

Do you realize you're basically betting three years of your life and six figures on landing in the minority of law partners / lifer government attorneys / in-house counsel-level attorneys?

If you're truly a special snowflake, you quite literally have better odds betting on football games, or throwing the chips on red or auditioning for Jeopardy.

But back to our anonymous inspiration.  If you're reading this and applying to law school for the fall of 2015, I beg you to do the following: poke around your first choice law school and see if you can get a list of graduates or law review members or what have you from 1995.  Get on Google or a bar directory and see where they are in 2015, see what they're doing, see how many have been vaporized.  Ask yourself if you want to be there and still paying a large percent of your discretionary income to student loans.

Because whatever the law deans tell you about a long-term investment, remember that your general employability goes down after eight to ten years or age 40 or so, whichever comes first.  At that point, you're an old dog set in your ways, and you're expected to either have your own book or your own narrow niche of expertise.  And with Lord knows how many old dogs running around, and a lazy dog catcher, good luck finding any scraps for yourself

What really struck me about this attorney's article is his proposed "solution": a bar association task force.  Are you serious?  Are you that set in your ways that you think the only (or "a good") "solution" to these systemic and widespread problems is another white collar paper-shuffling, jet-setting, uncle-fucking task force?

I found myself nodding with literally everything in the article except the pernicious suggestion to form a task force.  Is there any more worthless object than a bunch of Brahmins trying to address the problems of the untouchables?

I hate to say this, but the suggestion of going to a task force unintentionally justifies the widespread decision not to employ people over a certain age.  There is quite possibly no suggestion that would accomplish less while giving the authorities a sense of accomplishment than such a practice.

If you want real reform, there is a finite set of solutions that all echo the same basic theme:
  1. Stop pumping out lawyers.
  2. Create legal jobs for older lawyers.
  3. Push other older lawyers to retirement and other careers.
There you go.  There's your damned Task Force.  They would take weeks and expensive trips and write 40 pages (including passages about not being "blameworthy") and give you something remarkably similar with a bunch of window dressing and horse poop.  I'm giving it to you straight, and for free.

But what do I know?  I'm not trying to sell lifetime career fantasies with absolutely no proof, and, indeed, proof to the contrary that this industry is ageist towards non-equity holders over 40.  There's a certain attraction to living for the moment and having life myopia, but odds are pretty good that someday you're going to be 45.

Don't you want to now what life's like for the median 45-year old JD holder?  Don't you think it's a bad idea to assume it's all nice houses and sexy spouses?  Isn't it concerning when otherwise-accomplished attorneys are tossed overboard with only the flimsiest of lifeboats?

If you're filthy rich or find the Fountain of Youth, worry not.  Otherwise, you might want to figure this part out before putting your chips on a seat deposit.

42 comments:

  1. I think a task force should research the unauthorized practice of law. If you think about what government employees do at the IRS, EPA and so on, they draft interpret and enforce law and regulations but the legal departments are small in these places. Why? Same for state agencies that do similar things. And what about corporations - HR is all about employment law but almost none of the HR people I work with are lawyers. Think of realtors who draft contracts for sales of property. I think of this as a legal function.

    In short there is an argument that there is a need for lawyers but as long as the state bars won't call unauthorized practice violators to task there is no reason to have any more than a handful of law scools.

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    1. But isn't this exactly what all these certificate programs for non-lawyers that the law schools are desperately introducing encourage?

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  2. 40-year careers that never begin; 20-year careers derailed; 3-year careers that sputter to a halt. That's the law, folks. That's the law.

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  3. You are spot on that a task force would be useless. The ABA task forces have accomplished nothing. The problem with the current legal education/legal profession system, is that it is set up for the benefit of full-time law faculty. There has been very little innovation or leadership in legal education for at least the last one hundred years. The main changes to legal education are the proliferation of law schools, the number of graduates, and the amount of tuition law schools charge.

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    1. That's because law has historically been an insider's game. Which makes the lip-service to "access" and "diversity" all the more pernicious.

      Yes, "someone" should work toward the bar becoming more diverse. With "other people's (i.e. student) money," and "local-bar (i.e. actual practicioners) support", of course. Law Schools got bills to pay, yo.

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    2. Trouble is, @8:51, it's now one big Mexican Standoff. The lawprofs and scam deans know they'd all be screwed in the land of the grownups so they're hunkering down, hoping someone else's toilets will fold before theirs. No one is going to fall on his own sword at this point. High tuition can be addressed through so-called scholarships (a/k/a discounts). Hamline must have scared the pants and skirts off of them. The great rollback has begun!

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    3. @ 12:22 PM

      Those schools dueling with each other with rubber-band 6-shooters forget that Congress has a 50 caliber machine gun poised to spray the field.

      There's a strong political current to replace Grad PLUS with a loan for graduate students that has a hard, cumulative cap of...$150,000.

      How many law schools have some or many students graduating with well over 150k in debt? ALL OF THEM.

      Consider Washington & Lee - their "strategic plan" is to RAISE TUITION 2% EACH AND EVERY YEAR from its current level of $44,400.

      But, the full cost of attendance at Washington & Lee over 3 years is $194,220 TODAY.

      I wish Washington & Lee the best of luck with their continuous 2% annual increases they hope to milk from a dwindling student base if there's a hard cap on Grad PLUS at a cumulative 150K.

      It's almost over...

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    4. Less than a year ago, Washington & Lee finally took down some of its Confederate flags. Maybe it can save a few more dollars by cutting the budget for white hoods.

      Old Guy

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  4. I was a fool. A goddamn fool. I didn't know that a person of my age (roughly that of the author of that letter) wouldn't be considered for a job in law anywhere at all. I should have dug deeper for this information. How I don't know, since I had no contacts in the legal "profession"; but I should have found a way.

    Old Guy

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    1. If you graduate law school and you are over the age of 35, good luck finding a job unless; (a) you have experience/connections to look attractive to a firm or (b) you can go to work at Mom or Dad's firm. Otherwise, no one is even going to look at you. Your resume will get chucked in the shredder as soon as they see how old you are. Sure, it's illegal to discriminate on the basis of age in hiring, but what are you realistically going to do about it?

      And as far as (a) goes, this is my experience:
      (1) a EE patent agent working in a variety of increasingly senior roles at a major telecom goes back to law school, parlays his experience and gets a job at Biglaw handling the work he formerly did at the telecom.
      (2) An accountant with her own clients goes back to law school, opens up her own shop and is doing quite well.
      (3) Older student able to graduate at the top of his class, order of coif, law review, Federal circuit clerkship, all that crap, goes to work for Biglaw, makes partner.

      In general though, most of the older students I knew struggled mightily after law school. They certainly worked harder than the trust fund 22 year-olds. Some of us gave up trying to become lawyers, some of us managed to crawl back to our old jobs, some of us eventually found work with solos or tiny shops, and some just disappeared entirely.

      I think of that retired cop with the gimpy leg that would roll around the halls of my Toilet looking irritated at the 23 year old sorority girls. I'd bet a lot of greenbacks he's sitting in some dive bar right now, thinking about how the hell they got the better of him.
      I just wish this information was out there when I decided to go to law school.

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    2. I fit the description of (3) except that I never got a job at a big law firm or indeed any law firm.

      Old Guy

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    3. That sucks Old Guy. I had contacts in the legal industry and they said nothing about age discrimination. I had to live it to learn it.

      I am still pissed off about wasting $80,000 of tuition and three years of lost engineering wages. It's put me many hundreds of thousands behind my former engineering colleagues. Many of them are now managers and directors, pulling in mid-six figure incomes. They are going to be able to retire years ahead of me, and will have more comfortable lifestyles. This decision will haunt me to my grave.

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    4. I too used to work in engineering. I lost my job in a big lay-off, however, and never could find work again. Now I can't get work in law either.

      Old Guy

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    5. You guys with engineering backgrounds have a real advantage with personal injury lawsuits involving accident reconstruction or product defect liability.

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    6. I have a lot of advantages in the area of practice. So what? That doesn't mean that I can make anything of them.

      Old Guy

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    7. Law at any age is shit for most of us. There are a few who prosper at it but some will tell you that they were lucky and others will let you think that they are great legal dynamos. I've seen attorneys that have had the red carpet rolled out for them because daddy was a judge, prominent businessman or a politician. If it weren't for pops they would be in the same meat grinder as all of us.

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    8. I keep hearing this "judge" stuff like they are something important. Most of the Judges I know live pretty stressful and isolated lives. They are rarely legal scholars . . rarely highly successful lawyers unless at the end of their careers. Most of them were and are "average" lawyers who simply have a cushy, state supported Job and pension. Having a Judges child in your lawfirm can hurt because that law firm might be disqualified from having any proceedings before that Judge. Senior politicians have power. Wealthy businessmen have power. Judges? Not so much.

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  5. This is an interesting post.

    I have followed the "scamblog" movement once I became aware of it, due to the nightmare my legal "career" has made of my life.

    The important point in the 20 year litigator post that struck me was that at 20 years out, he felt that it appeared that his career was over in that his degree had no portable value at the 20 year mark.

    The point is that the window of making something of your degree is roughly between the ages of 24 and 44.

    I am convinced that the prestige of the school you attend is CRITICAL. So are the family contacts you have. Doing well in a school top 10 to 20 or so, that is, top 5 students or so, is also OK. All else is very, very THIN.

    I have made a living practicing law. I have had 28 weeks vacation in 38 years. I have worked 55.5 years of 2,000 hour years in those 38 years. I have paid all my bills. Folks I have made acquaintance with recently work for a Fortune 200 company. 15 years younger than me, twice the cash income, full benefits (I have none.) I have made a living working furiously. They have done much better for themselves with only a Bachelor's degree.

    Oh, and I am more in debt now than ever in my life as I had to co-sign on my children's school loans or they could not get them. I am resigned to living in near poverty once I quit working-there is no "retirement" possible. (Social security will be my largest income source-and for you 0L's, that is NOT good-it is reality.)

    Getting a law degree was a fool's errand.

    My 3 sons will not be lawyers. I told them I would not approve of it, would not pay for it, and if they became a lawyer, it was their own damn fault.

    Nobody should go to law school unless they are the top 1 or 2 or 3 student in their high school, have nearly straight A's in undergrad and are admitted to Yale, Harvard, or Stanford. And perhaps 3 or 4 others.

    If you are not a stellar student, Phi Beta Kappa, etc., you should NOT consider law school.

    As for the ABA.

    As far as I know, it has not offered comment, explanation, justification, or apology for the fetid disaster now engulfing the legal educational system which it regulates. And shame on the ABA.

    Students have been crucified by tuition, and will suffer for 2 or 3 decades, each of them. Now the professors are being consumed. And they are complicit. And they KNEW, all along. (And if they didn't know, they should NOT have been teaching law students-duh!!!!)

    A sordid tale of arrogance, greed, pomposity...

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  6. "Remember, kids, your loans will be a 25-30-year pay off barring an economic miracle."

    Clarence Thomas says in his memoir that he was still paying off his student loans when he started as a Justice on the Supreme Court. He also refers to making student loans non-dischargeable in bankruptcy as the closing of a loophole.

    I am an avid fan of Justice Thomas, but in this case he's absolutely nuts to imply that this is a legally and financially reasonable situation for the majority of law graduates. Obviously not everybody can be a SC Justice, or even a federal judge.

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    1. " Obviously not everybody can be a SC Justice, or even a federal judge."

      Or a SC Justice whose spouse has a 'consulting' business. I'm sure that helps to pay the bills in the Thomas household.

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    2. Thomas' ideology is part and parcel with his B.S. destruction of discharging student loans. The fixation that everyone's problems are their own fault in a market system is repugnant.

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    3. Discharging student loans in bankruptcy without capping the loans or reining in the law schools' gross oversupply of graduates will only feed the law school pigs, who will further flood the market and further destroy what's left of the profession.

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  7. "Perhaps this apparent and sometimes blatant “ageism” is driven by human resource personnel questioning “why” an experienced litigator would be applying for an entry level position or an unsubstantiated “fear” that such an experienced litigator would “jump ship” at the first opportunity."

    Unfortunately, the HR drones and buzzword computers ask the same questions to "JD Advantage" candidates as well. Early career, late career, no matter - even though the experience and book-larnin' makes JDs quick-studies who deliver thorough work-product. HR needs a new act, as they clearly apply the same negative critera to all-comers.

    It's almost as if (gasp!) other industires don't really WANT lawyers, and (double-gasp!) LawDeans haven't been telling the truth all along...!

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    1. Am in corp exec management (switched from law). Duped is correct. When there are open positions, HR will look for buzz words and descriptors that are known in the industry. It's not entirely a function of "ageism". It's more that many lawyers have no idea how to write a resume for a particular open job posting. Aside from the JD, if the resume screams "litigator" (words like "second chair", etc), most HR boards/personnel have no idea what that means. They would have more idea if there were terms like "revenue/expense" and "EBITDA" on the resume (or anything else, like "line manager"). If you're in an industry, after 12 years, most likely, you know the "magic words" of that industry. You get the idea, i.e. litigator does not equal "compliance".

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    2. I think there's even less function with HR than that:

      My doctor friend applied to a position and the HR didn't know what rotations were. She thought that he had jobs for 1 month a piece...

      HR is a scourge that ruins lives and only protects the company. It only exists because unions were destroyed. Between 1940-1980, there was no HR. HR is a function of the pre-union 1920s-1930s.

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    3. HR did exist during those years. It was just called "Personnel." When I was 12 my father said to me: "If you ever find that you are incapable of making any useful contribution to any business organization you can always get a job in personnel."

      And if you want to see what unions can do for you spend your 2015 summer vacation in Detroit.

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    4. "Personnel? That's for assholes."
      ---Harry Callahan

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  8. We all come to the realization that the only way to make it in law in the long term is to be self-employed. That is the beauty and the ugliness of law. Some of us can make it on our own. Some can't.

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    1. The way things are going nobody is going to be able to make it on their own. I'm watching more and more solos and small firms downsize their offices and lay off their staff. The fees in these parts are what they were 20 years ago. There is one car dealer in my town (Chevrolet). If GM granted another Chevy franchise in town how well do you think each of them would do?

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    2. This is the problem. If the price for a Ch.7 BK is at a 1999 level - due to hyper market saturation (competition) how do you live? Inflation alone will kill you, even assuming a modest 2% rate (which is complete bullshit and has never happened in history anyway..) It's always more. More like 4-5%.

      Fold to the Gold, right?

      These places MUST fail. It's as simple as that.

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  9. Time for a revolution? https://evolution-institute.org/blog/bimodal-lawyers-how-extreme-competition-breeds-extreme-inequality/?source=sef

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  10. As bad as they are, the initial employment statistics 9 months after graduation are the best employment statistics ever for a law school class. The practice of law is more like a tournament than a profession. Going to Harvard or Stanford or Yale does not at all guarantee long term success. There is absolutely no employment stability for lawyers. I know former biglaw partners who are not unemployed. I know t10 law school graduates who are unemployed 20 years after law school. The lawyering business is a scam, not a profession.
    ...spoken by a 21 year veteran who is still employed....formerly at biglaw

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  11. The problem with the 40+ year old Missouri lawyer is that he has yet to tap into the robust "JD-Advantage" market. Instead of focusing on finding a law related job, the old-timer should apply for a cashier's position at such Fortune 500 companies such as Walmart.

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  12. A fucking men. I never intended to practice law, and feel awful for people who wanted to but can't because the profession is messed up.

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  13. Hi. I'm Xray Cat. I can see through wood. But you dont need xray vision to know the Toilet's employment statistics were a farce.

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    1. I love the way our cat purrs when I rub her ears.

      Delete
  14. When in doubt, don't go deeply into debt for a graduate degree of any kind. And if you're incapable of doubt, you absolutely deserve to destroy your life.

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  15. I am five years out. Actual practice of about 2.5 years and now in a non jd required job. Also a non traditional. my younger classmates all seemed to have done fine. We are from a top "100" school. So it was hard for me but most won. So some of the hardships discussed while I know exist I have not seen with my class. Or people may be in the salad days

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    1. How old we're you when you graduated and what did you practice? Biglaw? Govt?

      Top 100 school means to me your school was ranked around 100.


      Graduating in the trough of the worst recession in 80 years and everyone did fine? Really?
      Does not calculate...does not calculate.

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  16. This Demleitner scamster has just announced that she is going to resign as dean of Confederate stronghold Washington & Lee.

    Of course, she's going to cap her stellar achievement with a sabbatical year…

    Old Guy

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  17. Some problems with law: up or out policies are lawful. It is also lawful to have a workforce of to thirds associates and to limit the experience level of associates to 10 years or less. You have 25,000 first year lawyer jobs and only 760,000 jobs in all, so half of lawyers will not be able to continue to be lawyers over a 40 year career.

    Seems to me, there is a problem with this structure. It is called age discrimination. However, Congress and the EEOC have made this system perfectly lawful.

    That is exactly why the Missouri lawyer, and many others like him, have washed out and are unemployable in mid-career.

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  18. does anyone know of any other occupation with the hard experience caps that are so prevalent in law? a forty year old guy with tons of substantive experience could approach a firm or a recruiter and say "I know they are looking for a "junior" associate with 3-5 years of experience but I am willing to work for that salary." doesn't matter - his resume still goes straight to the circular file.

    it's really ass-backwards when you think about it - what employer in his right mind turns down an experienced person ready willing and able to work for cheap? - only in law

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