Young lawyers in New York are not supposed to have to wait tables or string together temp jobs until they get their big break—that kind of seat-of-your-pants lifestyle used to be reserved for aspiring actors.
Not these days. The traditional career path—which assured law students that if they studied diligently and racked up good grades, a decent legal position would await them at the end of law school—has been all but washed away by the financial crisis, which has caused the New York legal industry to contract by 10% over the past year.Waiting tables. Stripping. Working as a barrista at the local Starbucks. Finally, the truth. Being a lawyer isn't all it's cracked up to be. Namely, it's not even being a lawyer.
“We're being called the lost generation,” says Shorav Kaushik, a 2009 Brooklyn Law School grad. Despite interning with the New York Attorney General's office, finishing in the top half of his class and winning a fellowship at the New York City Environmental Control Board, Mr. Kaushik has been unable to land a full-time law job.Boo hoo, Shorav. How many of BIDER readers went to better schools and finished in the top quarter of their class, and still don't have a job? What about those that GOT a job, and because of stylish deferments, still don't have a job.
Indeed, 22,000 law jobs disappeared during the year ending in May. The 88% employment rate for the class of 2009 was the lowest in nearly two decades, according to the National Association of Legal Professionals.I hate the NALP for citing this figure. 88%? That's a statistic that certainly includes all of those in the private industry, such as those working at Banana Republic and Johnny Rocket's and those working as Independent Contractors for shitlaw firms. It's no wonder that bloggers and our sympathizers are called "whiners" with bogus stats such as this. I wish it was 88%.
Ramit Singh doesn't need to be told. The 28-year-old finished in the top 25% of his class from New England Law and came to New York nearly two years ago to pursue entertainment law. He tried volunteering at entertainment law firms, with no luck. He has strung together freelance positions at a music-licensing company, a part-time stint at a social media company and a volunteer gig at the New York State Supreme Court. He also does freelance document review. “It's a lot of really small irons in a big raging fire,” he says.
While he doesn't regret becoming a lawyer, “I didn't think I'd be hustling like this,” he says. “I had three jobs last month.”That's what it comes down to, hustling. Hustling is certainly what I've been doing to get by. You hustle your ass off. Some months, you make it. Some months, you don't. Your savings decrease. Your credit card balances increase. You're exhausted and you don't have health insurance, so you just hope that something stable comes through. I'm a hustler. Chances are, so are you--or:
Some new lawyers have responded by doing the unthinkable—working for nothing.
After graduating from New York Law School last year, Alyssa Farruggia ended up volunteering nearly full-time for the Staten Island courts. “You have your sights on the job at a big firm, but when that doesn't happen, you've got to do something else,” explains the 25-year-old Staten Islander, who lives at home. “The most important thing was keeping my résumé going.”
Most of the city's law schools last year started working with the New York State Unified Court System, channeling grads into its Volunteer Attorney Programs, so local courts are now flooded with young lawyers looking for experience and something to do.Working in New York, I've actually run into bunches of these kids. If I represent a creditor, they represent the debtor. They lifelessly argue their *extremely* valid points in the halls of civil court. Their eyes are dead, their clothes are dirty and torn, they look broken. I feel for these young lawyers, but it's not bunches better for this older lawyer.
People think that the legal industry goes in cycles. By all accounts, we've been hit by several "bad" markets: the eighties, the dot.com bubble burst, post 9/11 economy and now this. The lemmings who just started law school last week, are convinced that hiring will miraculously pick up in 2013. However, this isn't a slump--it's a sputter of a dying engine. The legal industry is shot. Only when people believe that, and refuse to mortgage their futures on the chance that things will get better in three years, will we have any chance of salvaging our crippled industry.
You're not being smart going to law school. It blows to start off at the bottom rung of any company because you "only" have a college diploma. But you're better off than you will be if you do the responsible thing and go on to get an advanced degree.