Even lawyers who snag fancy jobs right out of law school might be doomed. We spoke to one former lawyer who says he managed to break into the world of corporate law only to get shut out completely because of bad luck.
Our source went to law school in New York City and started scouring law firm websites for job openings after graduation. Even then, he says, there was an oversupply of lawyers, so job hunting wasn’t easy. He eventually spotted the name of a former college classmate on a firm website and emailed her out of the blue.
“I was lucky,” he says. Or so he thought. It was 2007, and he’d just gotten work at one of the Big Apple’s so called “ALM 100” law firms working on hedge fund formation.
The first wave of layoffs hit his firm about a year into his BigLaw stint, and our source kept his job. Such massive layoffs were pretty much unprecedented for law firms, which historically were able to weather bad economic times.
Around 2008, the blog Above the Law run by ex-lawyer David Lat began reporting on every major law firm’s mass layoff. Our source actually found out about the first layoff at his firm by reading Above the Law.
That’s how he found out about the second wave too. (Our source kept his job again.) Eventually, though, his firm let him go through a so-called “stealth layoff,” in which a firm lets people go one at a time so as not to call attention to its financial woes.
“It’s less dramatic,” our source says. “If you lay off 30 [people], David Lat will call you out.”
After our source’s stealth layoff, he was sent on his way with three months of severance pay and six figures of law school debt. He desperately wanted to find another lawyer job.
But, he says, “No one will hire you if they know you’re laid off because you’re tainted.” He attributes this attitude to law firms once being seen as “recession-proof.” If you get laid off, the logic goes, you must have been a bad lawyer.
“There’s a stigma attached to layoffs that you wouldn’t see in a field like finance. In finance, they understand there’s a cycle,” our source says.
Even though our source got a job at a prestigious firm right out of law school, he couldn’t get any job as a lawyer after he got laid off. He doesn’t work in the law anymore. He makes a lot less money now, and he has to work a second job that he hates.
Looking back, he says, he probably would have skipped law school. Our source went to law school in the first place because it was “intellectually challenging,” he says.
“But the problem is just because something is intellectually challenging it doesn’t mean you have to make a career [out of it],” our source told us. “Chess is interesting, but does that mean you should pay $100,000 to go to chess school? Obviously there isn’t a huge market for professional chess players … It’s an exaggeration, but I feel like the legal industry is just as bad as the professional chess industry.”
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