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140 Things You Can't Do With a Law Degree

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I don't see anythin' wrong with layin' brick, that's somebody's home I'm buildin'. Or fixin' somebody's car, somebody's gonna get to work the next day 'cause of me. There's honor in that.

- Good Will Hunting


“Why are you interested in working at Target?”

You know, that’s really a question you should expect to be asked at an interview, why you want to work there. Pretty basic stuff. But, this was Target. No one wants to work at Target.

“I need a job, and y’all are hiring.”

I’m not a good liar. I’m not particularly talented at telling the truth either.

What other reason is there? I added in some BS about how whenever I go to Target the staff always seems really friendly, so the company must be pretty nice to work for. But come on, you don’t apply to Target because it’s always been your dream to be the person that makes the swipy thing do the bloopy sound.

There’s a new Target opening up near where I live, and they had 140 rank and file positions to fill.

I got up early, pressed the wrinkles out of my favorite cornflower blue dress shirt, put on a suit and tie for the first time in months, and drove the 30 minutes out to some community center I’d never heard of. To call the parking lot full would be a gross understatement. It was game-day full. Not only was every parking spot taken, but every space big enough to fit a car had a car. Curbs, grass, the space in front of another car boxing it in. I had to leave the community center and park at a nearby strip of underused offices and then walk the quarter mile back through rain and mud.

Once inside, I was given a stack of forms to fill out and pointed in the direction of a gymnasium. That’s when I realized I was probably overdressed. I counted about 300 other people, and I didn’t see a single other suit in the room. Only two other ties.

Oh well, forms to fill out, and time’s a’wasting.

Education: BA, University of Alabama (English and Philosophy); JD, New York University School of Law

Most recent job: Associate Attorney

Job duties: Securities and Private Equity (that’s all that’ll fit in the inadequate, inch-long box)

Salary: $160,000

Yeah, definitely only suit in the room. But hey, they must need some low level managers, right? I had experience managing the business team for an undergraduate literary journal, and right now I’m managing a team of writers, writers who I’ve somehow convinced to do free work on top of their very demanding full time adult jobs. Legal work could be spun as customer service experience, even though I’d never actually talked to a client. Hopefully they wouldn’t ask for details. (They didn’t.)

A little more than an hour sitting on a bleacher, then about half an hour standing in a line, and another hour sitting down again, my name was finally called. I followed a girl in standard Target attire out of the gym and into another gym, filled with tables where interviews were being conducted. I was introduced to my two interviewers and took a seat.

Maybe I should have worn khakis instead. All the Target staff wear them. I assume they provide the red Target polos, but you probably have to get your own khakis. Maybe wearing them would tell the interviewer, “Yes, I own some khakis.” That’s probably a pretty important job qualification.


“Why are you interested in working at Target?”

Because this is what it’s come to. People study things like corporate finance, tax law, and administrative regulations. They aspire to work on hundred million dollar international project finance deals. They don’t aspire to put on khakis and a red polo every night (shifts start at 3:00am) and restock Legos and Paul Newman’s pizza. Not until they do, that is.

Eight more questions followed, all read from a script.

What would you say was your greatest weakness at your last job?

The economy. Lack of any feedback on job performance was a close second.

Describe a time you resolved a conflict with a coworker.

The firm didn’t want to give me any more money. I had different feelings about that. We let HR sort it out.

Describe a time you faced a challenge and overcame it.

I managed to not push the gas to the floor and ram every tree and telephone pole I saw on the way out here.

Back to the bleachers for a little while longer, then one of the interviewers came over to tell me.

“We don’t have anything available right now.”

They’d keep my application on file for 60 days before tossing it in the trash, at which time I was invited to reapply.

140 job openings, an entire big box store of duties to fulfill. I wasn’t fit to do any of them.

140 rejections in one short sentence.

140 things you can’t do with a law degree.


Law firms hire for entry level positions through on campus interviews. 3Ls have a hard enough go at it, and schools aren’t exactly inviting back alumni to compete. Outside of that, there aren’t entry level positions. Everything wants experience. A year of odd jobs around a law office doesn’t cut it, not when the advertisement says the job requires 5-7 years of experience, and it will ultimately be filled by someone with 12-15.

[As I’m writing this, I just got an e-mail telling me I had not been chosen for a contracts admin position with a local military tech company. Damn. I’d also recently been rejected from a similar bullshit low-level contract admin job with the Missile Defense Agency.]

I’ve been trying to figure out ways to spin my experience. That’s what all the career gurus tell you, learn to spin. Legal work is customer service. Your ability to use five different highlighter colors shows your knack for complex organization. Your two credit class on ERISA gives you experience at resolving human resources disputes. Fraud. You’re not telling an outright falsehood, but you are being intentionally misleading to induce another into making a decision in reliance on that misimpression. That’s the essence of fraud.

So, if that’s what it takes, I’ve wondered why not go all out. Some people do in fact lie on their resumes. They pad their employment dates, create fake job duties, and sometimes just create jobs and education out of thin air.

I’d probably go the other direction though. Lie and say I had to leave the practice of law not because of a layoff and the inability to get hired after. No, disbarment sounds better. Drug addiction, picked up on a UPOCS charge (fioricet, a barbiturate), deferred sentence tossed out after a year of rehab and community service. A single drug offense isn’t going to get you disbarred, especially when the case is wiped off your record, but how many people outside of the legal profession know that?

You can’t just leave the JD off your resume. That leaves a pretty big hole, one any interviewer is going to ask about. If you wait to disclose that you went to law school, if it looks like you’re trying to hide the fact, they’re going to think you’re a termination tourist. People take jobs looking to get fired, sue the company for wrongful termination, discrimination, whatever, and then cash out with a nice settlement bigger than their annual salary. Would you really hire someone who didn’t disclose that they used to be a lawyer? If they don’t think you’re planning to sue when you get fired, then you’re probably there undercover to collect evidence for a class action. That’s even worse.

Leaving the JD off wouldn’t work, and washed out legal also-ran isn’t exactly a compelling or sympathetic story. You’d rather hire the person who sincerely wants to work at Target than the over-educated guy who thinks about lethal combinations every time he walks through the pharmacy section. Rehabilitated drug addict? That’s probably someone who really will appreciate the job. Everyone likes a comeback, and who doesn’t have a friend or relative mixed up with drugs?

Not that I think being a drug addict is better than being unemployed, but it’s all about perception. You’re only as good as your last game. If you get crushed in the playoffs, that’s what people remember, doesn’t matter that you had the winning season needed to get that far in the first place. Win the pennant as a wildcard? Same deal, no one looks at how mediocre your record was, it’s only the last game that matters.

They’ll tell you about all the things you can do with a law degree. Practice corporate law, litigate big corporate cases, litigate big civil rights cases, litigate little civil rights cases, family law stuff, procurement, contract administration, human resources. I’m sure there are plenty of lawyers doing all those things.

They don’t tell you about what you can’t do with a law degree though. Pay off your loans. Move out of your parents’ house. Buy your brother a Christmas present. Fill your gas tank up past halfway. Renew your drivers license and pay your auto insurance in the same month. You don’t see that on any law school admissions page.

[Read more from BL1Y]

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