[I have another guest post today, this time some words of wisdom from Mr. Butson Seitz, Esq. Mr. Seitz is a licensed attorney on the other side of the employment spectrum, working for a prominent legal recruiting agency. Think Manpower, but for lawyers, and probably with less heroin-addicted applicants. Without further ado, I’ll let Mr. Seitz take it from here!]
Hi L&L readers!
Any friend of Boozy is an enemy of society a friend of mine. I’m an avid L&L reader and was recently enthralled with the Honorable Bill M. Hours’ guest post on stupid prophecies proffered by professors. I got hung-up on the resurgence of the legal job market bit and shot Boozy a note offering up my expertise on the matter. Now here we are. The job market for new attorneys hasn’t been good since the last time a Kardashian could see the crack of her own ass without a mirror. Finding attorneys and legal support professionals jobs is what I do to feed my ungrateful family, so I know why it still sucks to try and find a legal job. Pay attention future lawyers, I’m talking to you.
Before we get down to brass tacks, or the meat and potatoes, or some other dumb cliché they probably say in Philly, I need to give you a reason to believe me. We don’t know one another, so I’m going to add some anonymity to my self-description in an effort to convince you that I know what’s going on without getting myself shit-canned at the same time. Besides, we can’t all be Boozy Barrister and Bill M. Hours and use our real names. That would be absurd because snitches get stitches and some (shitty) legal recruiters might object to my take on the legal job market. So, this is me in a nutshell: Creeping on 40 with a law degree (Magna Cum Laude) from a maligned, crappy law school, licensed to practice law in my home state of Nacho Business, never practiced for a paycheck, spent over a decade in staffing, and for the last four years I’ve been the boss of a legal staffing team. I’ve seen booms, recessions, mass layoffs; all of it. And it, like my ex-fiancé, isn’t pretty anymore.
New lawyers aren’t working for BigLaw or MidLaw, but maybe for SmallLaw
Unless you went to a US News and World Reports top 12 school, this will be your life. If you did go to one of those schools, enjoy your $200k base salary you smug son-of-a-bitch; you needn’t read on. For the rest of us, let me point out a crucial point that they don’t teach in law school; the practice of law is a business and you need to know how it works.
Imagine that three new lawyers begin practicing law on the same day. Johnny F. Harvard graduated top of his class from Yale, took a BigLaw associate position in New York, has a base salary of $180k, and bills his time at $400 /hr. Mike Baylor graduated from a mid-tier school, took an associate position with a decent-sized regional firm, has a base salary of $120k, and bills his time at $275 /hr. Steve Infilaw graduated from a crappy, maligned law school, took an associate position at a local firm, has a base salary of $75k, and bills his time at $125 /hr.
On their first day at their respective law firms, each one of them is useful for exactly two things: fetching coffee, and reviewing discovery documents looking for relevant, responsive documents which need to be produced to opposing counsel. Law schools don’t teach the practice of law, so the training happens on-the-job and much later. Let’s flip our perspective and imagine we’re each firms’ respective client at this point. We’re now paying $400, $275, or $125 per hour to have a lawyer read our dick joke emails. The legal staffing company in the area told us they could have a lawyer read our dick jokes for $40/hour and that legaltech company, Superawesome Discovery can sell us a tool to cull relevant documents by half saving us even more. But the firm said, “we’re Biglaw, harrumph. Our attorneys are better than contractors, harrumph. Even on their first day, harrumph. Look at these credentials and never mind
Johnny’s work product, harrumph.” Clients are no longer buying it and are refusing to pay for the training of new lawyers. National billing realization rates, i.e. what’s billed vs. what’s collected, clearly show massive write-downs. Faced with the prospect of not being able to bill their shiny new plaything at the rates necessary to both pay those playthings AND make a profit, a lot of firms have made the rational decision to abstain from hiring them in the first place. There goes that job. Thanks, market economics.
The outlier here is SmallLaw or Solo Practice and why you might have a chance of making a go of it there. The reason is simple; it’s relationship based. I don’t care which BigLaw partner took his client’s General Counsel to the Super Bowl and sprang for the happy-ending package at the Thai massage parlor. That relationship doesn’t supersede a million-dollar invoice for issue-tagging dick joke emails. In small and solo practice, it’s more about the attorney’s relationship with the client. Even still, I’d doubt if you accurately bill hours or bill at full hourly rates for document review. That ship has sailed.
But I’m going into corporate law…
Ah yes, the cushy in-house job where you work 40-hour weeks and don’t have to bill 1900 hours a year. Sure, you’ll make a little less than you would in private practice but you’re a Millennial and beards and quality-of-life are your jam. Besides, you’ve heard that corporate legal departments are growing so that they can do more work in-house and stick it to their law firms’ invoices. It’s true that corporate legal departments have increased in size since the last recession ended. Across all industries, they’ve added essentially half a lawyer per billion in revenue over the last 4 years. As gross as half a lawyer sounds, it’s still not as bad as the fact that they won’t hire you.
Of the 20+ in-house lawyers I’ve placed into corporate legal jobs this year, every one of them has had one thing in common. It’s not the ability to eat a pound of bacon at a sitting or a lifetime invitation to BasementCon. The shared attribute is at least two-years’ experience in BigLaw or MidLaw. It’s usually at the Senior Associate level that you have to make a life-choice… leave for an in-house role, or start trying to build a book of business to eventually make partner. But why can’t you get a corporate legal job with a freshly minted license to practice?
The answers to that question, like my ex-fiancé’s waistline, are ever-expanding. Remember who’s hiring for these roles, the General Counsel or Chief Legal Officer. Who are they? He’s a seasoned, probably white, attorney who started his career in BigLaw in the heyday of hiring. He’s paid his dues grinding out 2200 billable hours a year, is twice divorced, and is now the guy in charge of a business’s lawyers after going in-house on doctor’s orders following his second heart-attack. He expects anyone he hires to work under him to have a similar background. He’s not aware that new attorneys can’t get jobs at law firms right out of school because, 20 years ago, he and all of his friends did.
There’s also the notion that, if you can handle the dozens or hundreds of active client matters in private practice, that somehow prepares you to be effective counsel when you only have one client. It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s true, because those who hire for in-house roles think it is. It’s not easy to change strongly held beliefs; just ask any Flat-Earther.
There is one rare exception where a new lawyer winds up working in a corporate law department. These people already work for the company in some other capacity while attending law school. When they graduate and pass the bar exam, they start lobbying to the General Counsel to transition them to the legal department. Eventually they might make their way in, especially if they already know the company’s business and the major players within it. If you’re not likable, you have no chance of this working. I tried something similar with Scarlett Johansson and now I’m subject to a restraining order.
Get out now!
So, you can’t get a BigLaw job which means that you also cannot land an in-house gig. I’ll put it as succinctly as I can so that prospective law students and eager 1Ls get it: you can’t get a job. Not a good one, anyway. If you think you’re the exception, I’ll be happy to put you on a document review project when reality hits. And it hits hard, like Tyson on meth. I have a better idea. Quit law school and save yourself the $100k plus in student loan debt. Take $10k of that money and buy whiskey. Drink until you no longer dream of being a lawyer.
-Buston Seitz, Esq.