Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Second Chances, New Beginnings

One excuse to cover up the fact you went to law school

I recently met a woman through my alma mater (not my law school) established in an area (mostly unrelated to the law) that would be my dream career if I could ever find a way of getting my foot in the door. It is work I could do in the US or in Europe if I still plan to move there at the end of the year. She was impressed with my credentials after speaking to me over the phone and immediately offered me an opportunity to work for her from home for the next four months. She wants me to fly out to meet with her so that she could help "give me some direction" and meet with her contacts in the industry. I found it amusing that she was impressed by all of the opportunities I'd taken advantage of in college but had little to say about law school. It was a mere mention, a short pause as if she were thinking "law school?", before saying, "I see you went to law school...good for you". The work I'll be doing for her does not require a law degree but to be nice she added, "I'm sure you could use some of your knowledge in that area to do some research on X law". Research meaning googling about laws that almost any 10-year-old could do. I'll be compensated to work from home.

She was not the first non-lawyer connection to offer me an internship. I met another person through my alma mater (again, not my law school) who offered me a six-month internship in another state, but his boss was unwilling to pay me the minimum I requested in order to make the move. What really touched me was that the alumnus forwarded me the emails he sent to his boss telling him that I was worth X dollars. His boss wasn't willing to budge, probably because he knew he'd have a line of graduates outside his door willing to work for less than what he had already offered me. I still keep in touch with alumnus and appreciate the few people in this economy willing to give young people a chance, especially us law school graduates looking to break into another career.

The assistance and advice I've received from my other alumni network is in stark contrast from the reaction I get from law school alumni. I mentioned this at Esq. Never in response to his post "The Networking Trail of Tears" several weeks ago. I contacted an alumna of my law school who was looking to hire a part-time attorney for her small law office near Podunk. She called me within an hour of sending her my cover letter and resume telling me how she was soooo impressed, how I seemed overqualified for the job, and that she would love to meet with me to discuss details. I set up a meeting with her at a restaurant for the following week. She didn't even bother to show up. I waited at the restaurant for an hour and called her law office several times only to be told by her receptionist that she wasn't there. She never even emailed me to apologize. Only a month later did I receive a rejection letter by email which didn't include an explanation or an apology for standing me up.

The only telephone call I've received from my law school since graduation was a donation request for $200. Despite never receiving a single email about employment opportunities, job search tips, or a note of sympathy for those of us unemployed or who have lost our jobs, they still make sure to personally call asking for a minimum donation of $200. When I told the person over the phone that I was unemployed, the law school shill without skipping a beat asked me for $150. “I still owe $40k in student loans,” my voice beginning to crack. “You know, a lot of my classmates have been laid off and unemployed for over a year and no one from X Law School has assisted them in finding employment”. The law school shill became defensive. “We have a vast alumni network, maybe YOU should take advantage of it.” I wanted to gnaw at my palms, scream at the shill about my experiences with our “vast alumni network”, but I held back and calmly told her I could not afford to give anything to the school until I found a job. Law school shill dryly asked for $100 then anything I could give before giving up and telling me to have a good evening.

Counting on law schools or their alumni networks to have your back, help out with your job search, connect you with their connections, or even apologize for standing you up is expecting too much unless you have a special, familial, or intimate relationship with the person. Networking in the legal world can be especially brutal, humiliating, soul crushing, and depressing. It can make you doubt yourself and the entire human race. Not getting the job isn't as disappointing as the way people and employers treat those who are already down and out. When you never hear back from a job interview you thought went well. When someone stands you up for a networking lunch or you don't even get the courtesy of a rejection letter. Those are the moments when you really doubt whether there is good left in the world and if you'll have the good fortune of ever coming across it again.

What does it say about the state of our nation and the effectiveness of our educational system when a first generation college student with dual degrees from the best universities in America believes the only option left for her is to take out yet another private loan to get her PhD because she is unable to find a job – any job – even as a barista at the local Starbucks? What does it say when this blog gets thousands of hits each month with numerous young people telling us that they’ve given up, contemplated suicide, or have to lie on their resume because they have too much education to get a job? When one-third of all Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 are unemployed with no hope in sight of obtaining a job to move out of their parents’ house and begin a family of their own? With loan sharks breathing down the necks of college and graduate students. Laughing. Knowing that they are protected by their friends in Washington to ensure that student loan reform will never come to fruition. That there will be generations of students to come who will line their coffers with most of their life savings.

When I read the comments emailed to me or left on our posts, I think back to my own negative experiences with lawyers at work and now in my job search. I think of the law school shill and publications like The National Jurist that turn the very definition of greed and power on its head to avoid real analysis of the problems that exist in both law schools and the legal job market and to muffle any discussions of reform. And I feel fortunate to know people outside of my “vast” law school alumni network who will help me when the going gets tough, even if it’s a small gesture of forwarding an email about a potential job. Sometimes those small gestures of thoughtfulness is what keeps the human spirit going and makes us believe that there are people out there kind enough to give us second chances, even those of us with a Juris Doctorate.

PS – I received Yves Smith’s ECONNED book in the mail today so expect a review and giveaway in several weeks. Also, LOST and The Good Wife is on tonight. Is anyone else excited?


  1. "What does it say about the state of our nation and the effectiveness of our educational system when a first generation college student with dual degrees from the best universities in America believes the only option left for her is to take out yet another private loan to get her PhD because she is unable to find a job – any job – even as a barista at the local Starbucks? What does it say when this blog gets thousands of hits each month with numerous young people telling us that they’ve given up, contemplated suicide, or have to lie on their resume because they have too much education to get a job?"


    It means that our society has a very serious problem with producing too many college graduates, not just in the legal field, but in almost all fields. We are also producing far too many MBAs and even PhD. scientists.

    Many people with science degrees, including many with PhD's and postdocs, fled the career graveyard of science for law school to become patent lawyers, resulting in a large oversupply of patent lawyers. That fact is probably unfathomable to laypeople, most of whom have drunk the education Kool Aid and believe that higher education is a guarantor of vocational success.

    The end result of our nation's Education Arms Race is that our economy is suffering from a tremendous amount of economic waste and that as a result our society is poorer. Instead of spending human effort producing real wealth--goods and services--we are squandering it training people for non-existent job positions. Money spent on student loans is money that will not be spent on consumer goods and services. Of course, hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans are also suffering from the excruciating pain and humiliation of having spent time and money on higher education only to find themselves unemployed and unemployable in their fields. If they do not find jobs in their fields shortly after graduation, they will probably lose the economic value of their degrees. The feeling that you have really fucked up your life, permanently, and that you really are a loser can drive you to suicide.

    How could all of this happen? It's happening because of the government's abject failure to regulate the numbers of people in college or to even acknowledge the existence of this issue. This is just another example of the government's failure to regulate a market that suffers from a lack of feedback loops and information asymmetry. Lenders don't need to worry about whether college education is a good investment because student loans are non-dischargeable in bankruptcy, and colleges don't need to worry about whether the market needs more college graduates because they have an interest in having as many students as they can and they are fed by student loans, which means that their financial self interest runs contrary to the best interests of society.

    I'll probably put up an op-ed I've written previously about the Education Arms Race and the insane spectacle of people training and retraining for nonexistent job positions on my blog sometime. It is a subject I feel very strongly about.

  2. Glad to see other people jumping on the bandwagon of asking "where the fuck is our society now and where is it going?" (brought up several posts ago). If only we "elite, ""super-intelligent," "over-educated," yet "under-experienced" asshats had asked these questions before it was too late maybe we could have stood a chance. Then again, after seeing the first episode of HBO's The Pacific, I am reminded that young Americans have faced down worse challenges before this.

    Although, no offense to any of the mighty T14's, Ivy Leaguers, and recent grads out there, we don't hold a candle to our grandparents. I have cavorted, interacted, and been in class with so many of this latest generation of the best and brightest to know, this is including the Gen X'ers and the "Millenials," that if we were the ones who had to storm the beaches then the Axis powers probably would have won. I'm not speaking to politics or ideology but solely to the character of a people.

    Think I've gone off the reservation? A neighbor of mine was in his first year of law school at University of Maryland when America entered WWII. He went on leave from law school to fight for the next two years, came back and finished law school to lead a well respected and successful, although not lucrative, legal career.

    Out of the 700 or so people at my school, do you know how many people made a similar choice? 1. A single guy. One guy who was already in the Marines, and he never came back to finish school. I know the obvious counter-argument to this is "Oh but that was WWII and this Iraq war is (fill in blank with your own excuse) so I shouldn't be expected to go!" (I'm including myself in this cohort of cowards & let's not get into the larger discussion of institutionalization and veteran issues). I'm only using this as one illustrative example of the social and cultural changes that have occurred over the past several decades that might also explain how we find ourselves where we are today.

    The metaphoric possibilities and examples are endless, suffice to say there's a reason why they have been called the "Greatest Generation" and ours is known by at least one author as "Generation Dumb."

  3. Thanks for the smart comments! These could be posts themselves!

  4. You only owe $40k? Must be nice. I'd blow a football team to trade places with you.

  5. I'm a huge fan of LOST.

    And I think your post title is interesting: Second Chances, New Beginnings.

    I like writing short stories, and I once wrote one on a character based on myself (yes, I'm narcissistic). A young lawyer is marooned on an island. He's rescued and taken in by a small colony similar to the Dharma Initiative. The group is kind and allows the survivor to integrate into their tiny society, but the story revolves around the young lawyer trying on different job positions to find one where he is useful.

    As a thought exercise, how many people out there would be of any use after their plane or ship gets marooned on an island. Let's forget about basic jungle survival skills, and pretend that there's a random colony of people already on the island.

    Could you function as anything that the society would need? Lord knows they wouldn't need a lawyer. Would you be the Chef like Hugo? Would you be a security person like LaFleur? A mechanic like Juliet? Jack the "work man"? We can't all be surgeons.

  6. "If only we "elite, ""super-intelligent," "over-educated," yet "under-experienced" asshats had asked these questions before it was too late maybe we could have stood a chance.

    That professional school education may not have economic value never occurs to most naive 21 year-olds who are trying to decide what the hell they're going to do with their English and Poly Sci degrees other than sling lattes. On other forums such as the ABA Journal commentators will chime in with the retort, "They should have known better before going to law school, I have no sympathy for them."

    I think many people do not understand that students have been heavily indoctrinated with the dogma that education is the key to success. This message can be found almost everywhere in our society. Just crack open a newspaper or turn on the radio or the TV and it probably won't take long until someone says that more people need to go to college to "train for the jobs of tomorrow" or that "unemployed workers need to retrain to obtain new skills for 'in demand' fields." Our politicians, smug economists, and the media believe this dogma unquestioningly and they try to sell it to the public as though it were an opiate of the masses. "We have unemployment problems in this state, and we're going to do something! We're going to invest in better education!"

    This notion that higher education is a guarantor of a good life permeates our society and it bombards people from all directions. We have all been indoctrinated with it since elementary school.

    Is it thus any wonder that so many 21 year-olds almost unquestioningly believe that obtaining an advanced degree, especially a professional degree, will give them a leg-up in the job market? Misleading employment statistics put out by greedy self-interested institutions of higher debt (such as law schools) only help to confirm in people's minds what they have been indoctrinated to believe since nursery school.

  7. Frank -

    I couldn't agree with you more. A lot of different forces came together over the past several decades to create the current culture we have that idolizes college degrees over all else. Schooling rather than education, especially critical pedagogy, has become the goal.

    From the beginning of our lives it has been beaten into my generation, the post baby-boomers, that if we all get degrees, jobs and the good life will follow.

    I was looking through one of my parent's 1964 high school yearbooks and was amazed to see that they used to put a line at the bottom that read what the future plans were: only about half were "college preparatory." In addition, there are tons and tons of people who are "Plumbing and Sheet Metal," "Machine Shop," "Print Shop," "Maintenance Shop," "Carpentry" and so on. There is no hint of disdain about these choices and I wish that it had been available to me when I was growing up. My high school had a vocational tech program, but that was considered to be where the "bad kids" and "losers" go. If you want to work with your hands and build something then you don't go to the vo-tech classes where they teach you how to actually fix a car. No no no no, you go and take a lot of science classes and become proficient in "theories" and "numbers" and then go to college to get an engineering degree and then maybe a master's or a doctorate and THEN ONLY THEN go try to work with cars.

    This argument was much more eloquently and succinctly made in the recent book Shop Class As Soul Craft (which I think everyone should go get at your library or bookstore). For myself at least, I feel as if I continue to look for answers or avenues "in the system" that I am stuck as a "knowledge worker." Destined to be caged like a rat in an office somewhere reading mindless dribble IF I'M LUCKY!

  8. Angel-
    Glad to hear you had a positive experience with an alumnus from your alma mater! This lead sounds positive! Congrats!

    I myself have actually had a wide range of experiences when networking. Many law school alums ignored me, brushed me off or were flat out rude but I did meet a small handful of people who were just the opposite. As lame as it sounds, it was worth it to sludge throught the hell that networking was just to meet those people.

    As for the comment re: working with your hands- I have often felt like I have this urgent craving to do something real, something creative like building or making something rather than the paper pushing that is my existence.

  9. Not Angel. Hardknocks is my co-blogger. She wrote this. She's younger and more spectacular than me. But she adds a little bit of flavor. I've practiced, she hasn't... la di dah di. I would have never contacted an alum. I'm out of school too long for that to help me.

  10. Great post, hardknocks. I really loved and related to it.

  11. Thanks, Kelly S. and everyone who liked my post!

  12. The Good Wife is getting ridiculous. How come that law firm is in financial trouble when they win every case? I gave up on Lost years ago.

    The folks above who think "The Greatest Generation" was so great have not read much history. The Russians fought and won WWII; they destroyed the Luftwaffe and 75% of German divisions. The Germans pulled divisions from fighting the US in Italy to send them to the Eastern front.

    The Greatest Generation is also the greatest beneficiary of Social Security. Anybody know what they paid in annually in, say, 1955? MAXIMUM they paid in 3% of the first $3,000 - in other words, $90. It wasn't until the late 60's that Social Security taxes started going up and then escalated sharply under Reagan in 1983. So, your parents generation - the baby boomers - has paid in a lot but your grandparents got a bonanza.

    As to joining up for the current wars - they have all the soldiers they need because its basically a jobs program. Look up military pay calculator. A 19 year old with one year in the service - and E2 - is making $37,000/year. Four years in and they've got a few dependents and they're up around $50,000. With NO college. Thats why you keep seeing stories about "Moms" being shipped off to Iraq and how hard it is. They're in the service to get the pay and benefits.




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