But here's a research question for the entrepreneurial law profs snooping around the page: what percentage of full-time jobs requiring bar passage, even when they exist, are toxic?
Definitions vary - this isn't a category used by the BLS, although it probably should be.
By toxic job, I don't mean one with low pay, per se, or where you work 50-60 hours a week or even where there's an asshole partner or two. What might be toxic in the advertising industry already might be ho-hum routine in law. By toxic, I mean roughly the following:
- Frequent turnover, like the average associate tenure of less than two years, with many departing after a few months;
- Culture of unethical or immoral conduct;
- Incredibly poor organization with respect to files, billing, and scheduling;
- Objectively abusive superiors (or clients, for that matter) who often have legitimate personality disorders or substance abuse problems;
- The salary is so low and/or the overtime is so high that the practical hourly wage is under a level that makes the investment of law school worthwhile, say $15-20/hr.
- Instability to the point where one's job could constantly vanish in the next month.
It's not quantifiable, but it's arguably more important than a salary number. If you start at a toxic job, you will almost certainly be looking to lateral within two to three years (if not months). And aside from certain tells, it's not like toxic jobs always advertise themselves as such; Lord knows the career services office isn't going to red flag them.
I suspect a large portion of lawyer unhappiness comes from the fact that a relatively high percentage of law jobs are toxic in ways that would make most non-lawyer business and government employees recoil with horror. Of course, there are also few industries where the overwhelming majority of workers have to run their own shop eventually one way or another, or where financial success can be so perversely disconnected from genuine skills of production.
A lot of older lawyers may brush off toxicness as some sort whiny millennial-inspired complaint about standard-issue work conditions, particularly when it comes to wet-behind-the-ears lawyers "cutting their teeth," which seems to be a perpetually en vogue justification for pissing on the Golden Rule. But it's a serious issue that should not be easily dismissed. Toxic labor conditions distort the labor market by creating a lot of entry-or low-level positions that simply re-open every two years with no prospect for advancement, which is generally an assumption for "good" jobs - at least for 0Ls.
Crucially, clients (and opposing counsel and judges) benefit from having healthy, ethical, experienced lawyers. Very few clients are truly served by retaining a toxic law firm, whether they realize it or not; after all, if a principal lawyer is willing to exploit the labor force, what's to stop him or her from cutting corners with clients?
When prospective students look at employment statistics, it's hard to imagine them assuming that their first job may only last a year or two before getting thrown back in the chasm.
It would be nice if there was some way to quantify and express that concept in a simple table. Unfortunately, I fear optimism bias isn't limited to assuming that everyone winds up on the right side of the curve, and those with the resources to perhaps work on correcting the information distortion seem to oddly have priorities that don't involve negatively categorizing potential organizational donors at the expense of truth, fairness, or transparency.