Dear Law School Graduate,
Congratulations! You just finished what seemed impossible three-and-a-half short years ago as you sat in your first Contracts class thinking you might die if your professor actually called on you. You finished. And now, as you prepare for what seems like an even more insurmountable challenge – passing the bar exam – you are hit in the face with headlines like, “Unemployment Crisis for Law School Grads Deepens” and ”Just How Bad Off Are Law School Graduates?“
Yeah. I know. That really sucks. You’ve worked your butt off and for what? There are no jobs. Big Law firms are laying off experienced attorneys. The D.A.’s office and the Public Defender are laying off folks too. The six-figure salaries that once accompanied a law degree are long gone, but the cost of getting that education has skyrocketed. Your student loan debt is crushing, and job prospects are pretty much nil. So what are you going to do about that?
Once you quit crying into your ramen noodles (or whatever you are living on while studying for the bar exam), give yourself a few minutes to think about it. What are YOU going to do?
Want to know what I think? I think you just need to figure out what your options are.
Go In-House. Do not limit your job search to just law firms. Part of the reason that Big Law jobs are so scarce is that the big companies that employ the Big Law firms have figured out that they can do a lot of that work themselves. Most in-house jobs require at least some litigation or transactional experience, but I’ve had friends who started their in-house careers as interns working for in-house legal departments. Research the major employers in your area, learn something about their industries and the kinds of work they do. Find out who their in-house general counsel is and try to get in front of them.
Insurance Defense. Yes, I know. Everyone cringes at the idea of defending big bad insurance companies, and you do not make as much money working for the insurance companies. But there is a huge payoff to be had here. You will get a ton of experience in contract review, drafting pleadings, taking depositions, doing e-discovery, you name it. And it’s a bona fide legal job.
Hang a shingle. The Big Law jobs are gone and the Big Law business model is a dinosaur. So what if you can’t get a job there? Once you pass the bar exam, you’re considered to be competent to practice law. So go practice law! There are more opportunities for solos and small firms to learn how to lawyer and run their business (hello! SPU!). There are great tools out there that make hanging a shingle affordable and easy. And practically all you need to market to prospective clients is a decent and ethically-responsible website, which you can learn to do yourself using WordPress or Joomla (and a little research on our professional rules) in about 15 minutes.
The bottom line is this: once you are an attorney, you have no excuses for being unemployed. If you still want that Big Law job, the best way to get hired is to not be that lawyer who did nothing with his degree for two years while looking for a job. It is better to be self-employed than unemployed.
So get to work.
Be local counsel. There is a tremendous opportunity to get courtroom experience by serving as local counsel for hearings for other law firms. Lawyers cannot be two places at once, and very often you will see law firms advertise for someone to cover a hearing for them. You need to get up to speed quickly on their client’s file, appear in court on their behalf, and return a report to the attorney who hired you regarding the results of the hearing. If you handle matters competently, have a professional appearance to the client and the court, and are diligent in turning around the results, you may get called back again and again.
Entrepreneurship. Your law school education is a great foundation for owning and running a business. My friend, Mike Ange, is a professional SCUBA instructor, expert witness, and dive shop owner. My law school classmate, Ed McKernan, owns a BMW parts and service company. Another classmate, Jenna Dunaway, owns a custom apparel company that serves the campus Greek community. All of them followed their passions outside of law school to build successful businesses.
Do something else. Burned out on the law after going to law school? You are not alone. If starting a business is not for you, you can find work for non-law businesses. I have law school friends who are deans and professors at local colleges. One friend works for LexisNexis writing case summaries. One who went to work for our law school alma mater in the administration. Still others sell insurance, run title companies, and work as financial planners.
So my friends, I am here to tell you that your degree is not worthless. You are not “stuck.” You have a great career ahead of you.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.
One comment on “A Note to the Newly-Minted Lawyer”
Great article. Some great alternatives to big law.
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