The Unemployed Lawyer

Blogging about the trials and tribulations of being an unemployed lawyer…at least until I’m employed.

Oh yes, it still matters. April 28, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Julia @ 2:02 pm

Okay, fine. I will totally admit to being a blogging slacker. But, despite all my slacking, you still seem to find my blog. And then a few of you leave comments, thereby renewing my blogging energy. This post is a direct result of such a situation.

I recently received a comment from someone in a similar situation to mine – my situation hasn’t changed since I started writing. The commenter asked how to explain to loved ones why he isn’t earning a six figure salary right now, fresh out of a top tier law school. He ended, rather sadly, by saying “Oh well, guess nothing really matters … anymore.”

Well hell. Where do I go with that one?

Let’s start with the money issue. Ah, the six figure starting salary. The firm sponsored CrackBerry. The mythical BigLaw office, with a convenient pull-out couch, so you never have to leave. I don’t know about you folks, but these are the images I was fed before going to law school. These are the images that lingered in my mind as I signed the notes for all the student loans. And no doubt, these images were in my parents’ minds when they co-signed on those notes. I thought, “so what if I come out $150k in debt, I’ll be earning at least $100k a year right out of school.”

Overtime, my expectations changed. A year ago I was telling my fiance that I just wanted our joint incomes to total $100k a year in 2009.

Of course, this goal has fallen into the soul-sucking blackhole that is this recession. I’m living the dream as an administrative assistant (an AdAss, as I’m fond of saying). I do some pro bono work, and when I write a work memo, I Bluebook my citations, just to flex my Esq. a little. It keeps me sane.

But,the hardest part, by far, is the questions. Friends, loved ones, strangers in a bar – they always ask what you do for a living, or how the job hunt is going.  And then you’re faced with telling them the craptacular truth:

“I went to law school, passed the bar, and now I’m doing something completely unrelated to my over priced degree. And I’m broke. Are you going to finish that drink?” 

And then a little piece of your soul dies. No, it up and leaves. Probably because you’re such a train wreck.  

Here’s the thing though: there’s nothing you can do about your unemployment. Yeah, yeah, you can apply for jobs, network your bum off, and stand on the corner with a sign that says “Will Shepardize for Food.” But somethings just aren’t your fault; you can’t control it all.  (Unless a certain ex-President and some ex-CEOs are reading this. Then it is sort of your fault. And yes, that window does open wide enough.)

There is something you can do about being a train wreck though. Do something you’re proud of. Civil Legal Aid organizations are hurting BIG TIME right now, and I am sure that somewhere out there you can match up with some group and take on a case or two.

Proudly use your skills. Put it on your resume, brag about it in your cover letter. And then go wait some tables in the meantime: don’t forget that you’re rather accustomed to food and shelter at this point.

Finally, remember that your loved ones love you too. Love and support should not be directly connected to your earning capacity.


15 Responses to “Oh yes, it still matters.”

  1. Ian Says:

    I always tell people that getting out of college is like a second puberty. You’re like wow what the fuck am I supposed to do? Who am i? Everything seemed so easy and non-complicated before! It’ll all work out and you’ll get your $100k in no time.

  2. Solar Says:

    Ah yes, I too was one of the 100K plus individuals that had the miserable fortune to work 80 hour weeks on the billable treadmill. It sucked, but that’s all I knew for two years after law school. Then October came, and I noticed that partners were asking to take over my assignments. The November came – along with the pink slips for myself and several other junior associates. After that I did all the things the recently laid off do: network, apply for jobs, follow-up, wait, wait, wait, ahhh – nothing. After 5 months of this nonsense, I started paying attention to where the money was at, after all, this is the new economic baseline. Things were changing. In between segments on CNN about the abysmal economy, there was much talk about renewable energy and “going green.” So I listened and now work (non-legal) for a solar energy company. I save the environment daily – and – I made half my big law salary in a month. So read Above the Law, End of Esq and Temporary Attorney carefully; it’s all true, get out while you can!

  3. A lawyer once told me: If a lawyer is barred and in good standing he can never be ‘unemployed’. Have you not considered opening your own practice?

    This is where law school fails regardless your tier.

    It is a very realistic, important and empowering option one has with their law degree.

    Think long and hard about your options. Not once did you indicate this other than ‘hooking up with some others and taking on a case.’

    See, I buy into the concept you can’t really be unemployed with this amazing degree and skill set. 🙂

  4. juliacn Says:

    You bring up and interesting point. However, one cannot ignore the capitol require for this (however small), the issues of not knowing what your salary will be (student loans still need to be paid), and hte trouble you can get yourself in when you’re brand new and shooting from the hip. Important counterpoints to the “amazing skill set” we all have.

  5. Let me ask you one question? “If you knew you would never be employed, again…what would you do?” How would you pay your student loans, overcome the self-imposed assumption you don’t know what you are doing and will get into trouble?

    Just asking.

  6. Joseph Dang Says:

    Susan is too modest but she is 100% correct. If you’re broke already what do you have to lose? I started after law school unable to find a job. Started a practice with my other situated friends, we both got offered good paying jobs later so we left to take the jobs. After becoming disenchanted for working for someone else I’m back where I started.

    I seriously thought about leaving the law period. Even had some nights wondering about all the money i could have saved if I didn’t go to law school since I was about to leave the law anyway.

    Then I decided to google “how to start a solo practice” I swear those are the exact search terms. I found Susan’s Build a Solo Practice blog. Then Carolyn Elefant’s Myshingle blog. Then Lexblog and Grant Griffiths of Blog For Profit. Then I read and read and read every night, I must have found 30-40 blogs just on solo practices.

    In any event, all these resources gave me the courage to think more of myself and this license I hold. And I launched my firm. And I’ve came across numerous fresh out of law school students jumping into it.

    juliacn, the capital required is almost nothing. You can get started with a computer, printer and a phone. I haven’t even advertised yet but I’ve gotten calls just through my blog writing which I started in January. You do not have to quit your day job, I successfully do this on my spare time for right now. When it gets busy, you can quit.

    Student loans can be deferred for hardship – I know, I had to. Do not shoot from the hip, get some mentors. Join Solosez the free listserve from abanet. Check out Susan’s which is ridiculously cheap for the content AND community/network it provides. Join Facebook, twitter etc. and get involved. You’re blogging already, start a new one with a practice. Register with Justia, Avvo, etc. and anything else free (I’ve had clients call from Justia). Reach out to the all of these people online and in your community, they will guide you along the way. Most can sympathize and will help.

    You do not have to start big. Start small and let it snowball. That’s my approach and I haven’t been this excited about practicing since 1L or 2L, you know, when reality was still far off.

  7. Ron Fox Says:

    I called the Washington State Bar Association and was told that there are 13,000 members from King County. Based on standard US demographics, that would likely mean that about 75%, or 9,750 are in private practice. Julie Salmon at the WSBA said that about 65% (or about 6500) are in firms of 10 or less. Again based on standard US demographics, 50% of the 6500 are sole practitioners, 35% are in firms 2-5 and 15% in firms of 6-10. THAT MEANS THAT THERE ARE ABOUT 4000 SMALL FIRMS IN KING COUNTY AND MANY OF THEM NEED YOU.

    I was then going to add that all you have to do is choose an area of practice, look at yourself either as Susan suggests as a sole practitioner or as an independent contractor, find out who practices in that area and promote and market yourself to them until someone gives you work for some hours, then someone else gives you work for some hours until you finally realize that you are a practicing attorney.

    But then I read this thoughtful excellent post (what else is new) by Jordan Furlong at Law21 with solid career planning advice and highly recommend you do the same. “Graduating from law school into a recession:

    I wish you success in your search.

  8. Nicole Says:

    Thank God I’m not alone. I graduated 2 years ago and due to moving from being a military spouse, I find myself overseas and working in the Staff Judge Advocate’s office….as an AdAss myself. Agreed – every time someone sees my degrees on the wall, and make a comment how “You’re a lawyer!” and I know they’re thinking “WTF are you doing here?” which makes me ask that question myself….a little piece of my soul dies…..

  9. Dvora Says:

    Hi. just graduated in May 2009. I worked full time the whole way through law school as a law clerk, secretary, mediator etc. while attending law school at night. I have seven years experience in working in the legal field and can not find a job. I have been trying for over five months. It is so frustrating. I am applying for education, legal, office, finally waitressing jobs at this point. I haven’t even taken my shitty degree out of its mailer yet. I can’t bring myself to look at it.


  10. Christian Santiago Says:

    The entrepreneurial ability that is necessary for a lawyer in sole practice to survive and thrive cannot be taught by any law school. All too often many assume that more credentials and schooling can gloss over a lack of entrepreneurship. The vast majority of classmates in law school think like employees. Although a good portion of the students have someone in their family in the legal profession, very few students come from families of business owners or true sole practitioners. I live in Seattle itself(not some suburb) and am the 3rd generation on my father’s side of the famliy to have gradauted from law school. I have always understood that being a lawyer is fraught with stress, responsibility and risk. Opportunity is not where you find it but how you can create it. Practicing this craft takes time and patience; personally, I will be working until I die just like the two generations before mine. I also realise that it is probably a good idea to have many other gigs unrelated to the legal profession in order to survive the first ten or fifteen years of practice along with good money management skills. Anyone reading this response needs to buy a copy of “How to start and build a law practice” by Jay Foonberg.

  11. Thanks for this – I’ve been struggling to get squared away with my loan modification process and trying to get a good understanding of everything I need to have in order. It’s been stressful but I’ve found some great resources like this and am grateful.

  12. A. Leung Says:

    Just stumbled upon this blog while browsing for my career options since I obtained my LL.B. back in August 2009 and wanted to say thanks for the info, and I guess it’s good to know I’m not the only unemployed law degree holder in this world haha. 🙂

  13. juliacn Says:

    No, you’re certainly not the only one. You’re in good company, for sure. Well, actually the company ranges from optimistic and hopeful to despondent to downright bitter, but we’re a good lot, nonetheless. 🙂

  14. Mike Whelan Says:

    I would also recommend “Never Eat Alone” as a worthwhile book. I am just a lowly 2L but I worked for 7 years before coming to law school, and I am frankly glad that the legal universe is finally aligning with reality. In a free market, you get paid for the value you create (or, initially, the value others believe you create). It is very normal to not have any job prospects out of school. We should be spending our time showing clients our worth, then charging them for it, assuming they will gladly pay our fees once they see that worth. I admit to being a little weird. I came to law school so that I could open my own firm, so I am not at all scared by it. Granted I thought it would be easier than it in fact will be, but I am confident it can be done. And that means I walk around school with a sense of purpose and faith that others notice. The debt burden is real and ridiculous, but they are also bearing an emotional burden of their own making. Susan is right, your credentials have value in the consumer world. You’ve been hanging out with such smart and accomplished people for so long that you don’t realize what you have. Cut out your zip code and you are one of the smartest people in that group. Read the right books to learn how to harness, enhance, and charge for that. Good luck (to both of us!).

  15. No matter if some one searches for his necessary thing, so he/she wants to be available that in detail,
    so that thing is maintained over here.

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