From time to time I receive mail from fans of the blog sharing their experiences or commenting on the current state of the legal market.
I will publish those of particular insight and briefly respond to them in this section of the blog.
E-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org, if you would like to be featured in this section.
Mailbag Entry #1
Sat, Aug 29, 2009 at 5:25 PM
Great work so far. I look forward to reading more.
I was laid-off in early March, and am struggling to get much attention at all, even from firms I didn’t know existed 7 months ago. I’ve only had 3 interviews so far, and they’ve all been with the same mid-sized, regional firm, and their primary concern seems to be whether or not I’ll immediately run back to BigLaw once things pick back up. (What I really want to tell them is that they’re far more optimistic than I am that things will ever “pick back up” in BigLaw, at least while I’m still junior enough to be hired as an associate.) As you know, there are thousands of us out there: well-credentialed, hard working associates with great experience (not to mention the deferred/no-offered associates) who had the rug pulled out from beneath us and now find ourselves sending resumes to third-rate, God-knows-who firms and recruiters on Craigslist for positions that probably pay 1/4-1/3 of what we were making. Oh, and we get no response from 90%+ of our custom-tailored cover letters.
Anyway, keep up the good work on the blog, and good luck to you on your job search.
I think you’ve come to discover that we are in bizarre times for the legal profession. The top firms who typically recruit the exceptional talent, have laid off much of that talent.
Lawyers making $160,000 a year (note I’m not justifying that salary, but just making a point) are now being turned down from positions seeking candidates willing to provide 3 months of free labor and than 25k for the year thereafter.
Mid-sized and small firms are fully aware that recent events have saturated the employer-side legal market and they are swooping in at exploitive rates in return for some “real experience.”
Treating the “experience” factor as some sort of prized possession that only some are lucky enough, similar to a toy at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box. If it wasn’t for state and federal minimum wage laws these firms, no doubt, would be charging you to come into the office each day to be graced with their presence and for the opportunity that some of their sagely experience might rub off on you or be transplanted by osmosis.
Don’t get me wrong I’m not trying to disparage gaining experience or working your way up from the bottom. But when stellar, hard working licensed attorneys with degrees from Penn, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard and Yale are being treated like intellectual tenderfoots and being paid like produce pickers, it makes one wonder where the heck is the middle ground?
The debate now for lawyers in our position, is simply how best to use our time until the market turns. Do we sell-out our personal and educational worth for minimum wage, or volunteer legal experience? Or do we hold our position until a suitable job comes along and run the risk of having to explain an exceedingly larger gap on our resume. Unfortunately I have no answer to that question- however, I’m confident things will turn around and when they do you will be in good shape with your credentials!
Mailbag Entry #2
Fri, Oct 29, 2009 at 3:38 PM
I was a mid-level associate at a branch office of a large law firm. My practice group had just been through a very slow year, with average billable hours per attorney that were very, very low. I was very concerned and did a lot of the same things you did to try and stay afloat – I sought out work from attorneys in other practice groups, worked on business development and pro bono projects, and any sort of firm administrative things I could find. I also asked around about potential layoffs, but no one seemed particularly concerned because work was anticipated to pick up. Because it’s very difficult to make partner in a branch office (mine hadn’t seen a partner being made from that office in some time), I had been working on an exit plan already, but thought that I was in good standing at the firm and had at least another year to leave, particularly since it seemed like work was going to come in.
You can imagine my horror, then, when they read me my annual review, which sharply criticized me for areas where I had been praised before. In prior years, I had been called a highly motivated associate who had worked hard to develop myself and my practice. This year, I was suddenly an “unmotivated” associate who wasn’t doing anything to develop a niche practice – odd, considering that I had done more business development work that year than ever before because of the decreased billables. To make matters worse, there were very positive comments about my legal skills and I met all expecations there. I was essentially terminated for suddenly being “unmotivated to build [x] niche area” – and the partner that officially terminated me was actually a partner outside of my practice group who had previously told me that I was considered an expert in that niche!
The firm did all of its terminations under the radar and stated that it wasn’t doing layoffs, but they seemed to be letting a very high number of associates go. A partner was heard to have admitted that the inner group of key partners had made the decision about who was to go, and then the firm “did what it needed to do” to make the reviews look legitimate. I don’t think I’ll ever know the true story, but it does seem that in many cases, the rank-and-file partners did not have a say in terminations, resulting in many of them being completely surprised to find out that certain associates had been told to leave.
I can tell you that being let go after a performance review like that has been a devastating experience and the stigma surrounding it makes it so much worse. What really irks me is that I know so many people who were also pushed out the door of a big firm (whether gently or harshly), so it’s not exactly an unusual occurrence. But because it happens in better economic times, those people are able to find new jobs quickly and it never shows up on their resumes. Furthermore, I know a lot of people who were pushed out of their first large firm and found success at their second large firm, thereby demonstrating that being pushed out of a firm is not necessarily a reflection on one’s legal skills. When you cut from a firm and can’t find a replacement job in time, however, it’s a whole other story – and I’m really starting to doubt whether mine will ever be able to have a happy ending.
Dear Anonymous Girl,
I empathize with you dearly. I know firsthand the stigma that attaches to the situation you describe. Others are quick to discount it. Saying move on, or try to make light of these troubles by comparing to blue collar workers who presumably have it worse. But the career ruining nature of these types of decisions is mind-numbing and very very real.
In every interview I’ve been on since me being separated from the firm, there has been a lengthy discussion of the circumstances surrounding the firm’s “reduction in force,” its embarrassing, uncomfortable and humiliating. I’ve tried to be proactive lining up references at the firm and explaining the firing wasn’t merit based, but this type of talk inevitably changes the mood of the interview, regardless of how successful my deflection attempt goes over.
All I can say is keep your chin up, you’ve had valuable experience this is merely a hiccup in your life– sooner or later you will have a happy ending, it is just a matter of when.
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