[Boozy’s Note: Today’s post is a guest post from Bill M. Hours (obviously not a real name, though wouldn’t it be awesome if it was?). Bill is an insurance defense drone and loves every minute of it, having lost his soul way back in the early weeks of law school.
Today, he’s talking about how the legal job market sucks, I mean really, really sucks, and how he learned this jumping from sinking ship to sinking ship in the industry right out of law school. However, much unlike myself, Bill is an eternal optimist about people eventually landing in a field that makes sense.
I do not endorse his optimism. But far be it from me to disparage Billy Boy’s feel good kumbaya moment, right? So I’ll shut up now and let Bill talk.]
I want to tell you something you already know, the current job market sucks, and it sucks even harder for lawyers.
This is particularly true if you want to live and work in an area where there are multiple law schools churning out eager-to-please associates every year. Not only are you competing with your other job-seeking classmates, and the holdovers from previous years, but also with those that are newly minted, freshly-groomed, and ready to work for peanuts. They are eager to work, even if they haven’t learned how to manage criminal clients quite as much as the more experienced lawyers. But this won’t stop them trying to push out any lawyer they see!
I was prompted to ponder these truths recently when a friend of mine who has been teaching for the past few years contacted me to ask for my opinion of his plan to go to law school. After a several minute long fit of laughter on my part, he assured me that he was, in fact, serious. Now, I’m not someone who takes joy in crushing people’s dreams… or at least I don’t take joy in crushing the dreams of my friends. Nonetheless, I relayed to my friend the reality sandwich that I referenced above.
I ended by saying that I’d be happy to help him in any way I could, but that I thought it was important for him to enter into this decision with both eyes open. He would be leaving a job that, while dreary and draining to him, at least wasn’t putting him in any more debt, in order to pursue a career that is by no means a guarantee of success and at worst could be just as mind numbing and crippling at the career he wanted to leave.
Side Note: I can’t think of a more scathing indictment of the U.S. educational system than the fact of how many of my friends and family members, who would have made excellent educators, have burnt out of teaching in 3 years or less. I’m not looking to place blame on any particular politician or party, but we need to fix this, and fast.
After I got off the phone with my friend, I thought about the twisted trail that brought me to where I am today. I am fortunate to have a job where I feel like I am a valued member of a team, where I am learning various elements of legal practice, and where I can waste valuable time chatting with Boozy on Lawyer Slack and reading articles about Furries and angry Texans. This is a new development in my life though, because I’ve been a lawyer for a year now, and I’m in my third job.
When you’re in law school, it will seem like everyone but you has a job before graduation, then it’ll seem like everyone else has a job before the bar, and finally it’ll seem like everyone else has a job before bar pass results. No matter where you are, it’ll seem like everyone else you graduated with has the job of their dreams but you. The thing is, you may have personal knowledge that one or more of your friends are also looking for a job, or are working in a job they hate just to pay the bills, but that won’t matter to you, because your imposter syndrome will be poking at you:
Me: “O.K. world! I’m a newly barred attorney and I’m here to grab you by the balls!”
Also Me: “Who are you kidding? You struck out at OCIs, if you were any good, you’d have a job by now. It’s not anyone else’s fault, so it must be something wrong with you!”
My first job was doing something called “Document Review” on a temporary basis for a large firm in my area. If the name of the job isn’t enough of a hint, it basically entails sitting at a computer and clicking through as many pages of meaningless drivel as possible in 8 hours to find the 10-15 pages of relevant documents in your batch. I knew going into it that the job was going to be temporary, but I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that I had somehow failed as a lawyer, that by taking this gig, I was admitting defeat in my career. Now, looking back on it, I wish that I had appreciated that job more, because despite being somewhat menial, I liked the people I worked with and the steady 9-5 nature of the job.
After three short months of doc review, I jumped on the first job that came up with an offer. It wasn’t my dream job, I was taking a bit of a pay cut, and it wasn’t in the city where I wanted to work, but it was real lawyer work. I felt trapped, like I had to take this lifeline out of doc review or else I’d be stuck there forever. So I left the city I love to go to a neighboring county to learn litigation, or at least that’s what I thought. I was told, early on, that my new firm’s philosophy towards training new lawyers was to “teach you how to swim by throwing you into the pool.” This sounded exciting to me; I thought I was finally going to get some real experience, until I realized that they expected to throw me into the pool, and for me to turn out to be Michael Phelps.
Needless to say, there were wrong-headed assumptions on both sides, and I very quickly resumed my job search, keeping other options open and attending interviews whenever and wherever possible. 179 days into my second job, on a Friday afternoon, I was told that they no longer needed me, and was unceremoniously fired. I had never been fired before in my life. I was shocked, I was pissed, and I wanted to go tell the world how I had been wronged. But I reigned in that anger and attended the interview I had already scheduled for that next Monday, and thereby landed the job I have now.
That month between my second and third jobs was stressful as hell. I was depressed, thought that maybe I was a failure as a lawyer, and considered going back to the document review job and giving up on trying to find a litigation job at all. I measured my days by how many applications I sent out, and re-read each e-mail to an HR person 100 times before sending it for fear of an aggressive sounding adjective or a misplaced comma. My point is that was a rough month. Not to mention, I was financially ineligible for unemployment compensation since I hadn’t worked enough during the previous year between bar prep and post-bar job searching.
Finally, mercifully, through a combination of luck, and a little good word from a former employer, I was able to find a job. The work isn’t exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life, but there’s an opportunity for variety, and in the short few months that I’ve been here, I’ve been given multiple compliments on my work product that make me feel like I’m a contributing member of a team, rather than a baby turtle trying desperately to regain some semblance of control while I get whipped around by the current. I realize now that, if I hadn’t been fired from my previous job, I may not have really taken the offer I got for this last job very seriously for fear of jumping into more of the same of what I was experiencing before.
So, for my friend, and for the many people considering law school or wondering what the post-bar world looks like, there’s some bad news and there’s some good news. It’s rough, it’s tumble, and it’s competitive as hell out there (one of the entry level jobs I didn’t get during all this mess went to someone three years out of law school). While it’s not all sunshine and roses, it’s not the post-apocalyptic Earth in the Matrix movies either.
There are good jobs out there, and you can get them, it just may take some patience, some sweat, and maybe even a few tears before you land the job you never knew you wanted.
-Bill M. Hours