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Lawyering Has Jumped the Shark

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“The economy blows, most law students can’t write for shit, and they don’t teach you anything in law school. Half of the country’s law students never should have been admitted in the first place. Ever hear of a pro se doctor? A pro se aerospace engineer? Anybody can be a fucking lawyer. Pass three tests and you’re in. Give me one fucking reason to pay somebody fresh out of law school a decent salary. You can’t.”

-Your Future Boss

If you’re a law student at one of the T-14 and the year is 2007, you can probably skip this article. Seriously. Go back to scrolling through the celebrity mug shots on The Smoking Gun, or find an excuse to talk to the really hot paralegal at your summer gig that constantly refers to her boyfriend as “the asshole.”

For the rest of you, you better pay serious attention. Why? The law game has officially jumped the shark. Even worse, we’ve brought this on ourselves

If you missed it last week, an anonymous attorney and recent graduate of Boston College provided that other legal blog (the one that considers itself to be “above” the rest) with a job listing posted on BC Law’s own Career Service Management System on May 29, 2012. This listing for an associate position at Boston’s Gilbert & O’Bryan, LLP required the candidate to have “[g]ood writing and research skills” to work an inventory of domestic relations, bankruptcy and estate matters. A red light/green light practice, it is not. The ideal candidate, who presumably must have some sort of head on her shoulders, will be paid an expected base salary of- wait for it- ten thousand dollars.

Gilbert & O’Bryan has confirmed that it isn’t a typo. There’s no “zero” missing. Ten. Thousand. Fucking. Dollars.

And guess what? The firm reported that they received 32 applicants for the position, which essentially gives you something to do for 40-60 hours a week in exchange for health insurance. Except that “something to do” involves working real cases for real clients that depend upon your expertise. I wonder how much faith a client would have in an attorney making $10,000 a year. The best a client could say is, “Well, I’m sure the work on my case will be exceptional. Otherwise, my attorney may literally starve.”

To be fair, Gilbert & O’Bryan isn’t the only firm looking to totally hose people. One prominent domestic relations firm in Philadelphia recently offered a one year position paying $30,000 that carried no guarantee of future employment. Document review jobs, which at one time paid over $30/hr in some jurisdictions, have been depressed to an hourly rate as low as $16 with no benefits. Unionized cashiers at the local supermarket are making the same money, if not more. It also goes without saying that firms paying $16/hr for contract attorneys will bill them out at no less than $175/hr in litigation where the Lodestar method applies.

The new managing partner of the firm where I’m working on a contract basis just received a short list of unemployed law grads from a prominent law professor in the Philadelphia area. All of the students were willing to work for $35,000 thereby destroying their credit rating by slow paying their loans. Fortunately, it looks like the contract guy is going to stick around instead of the firm hiring one (or two) new grads to replace me. The reason? I’ve already brought in business into the firm and so entrenched myself into the large, complex case I’m working that it guarantees me at least part-time employment into the future.

Law is a new game now. Unless you can bring in business, or have demonstrated some skill or competency that goes beyond drafting a motion to compel in an auto case, legitimate employment prospects are getting bleaker by the day. It’s tempting to blame the economy for all this, but that’s too simplistic. We all know that law school doesn’t teach you anything. Non-lawyers and yet-to-be law students don’t understand what this means. The rest of us do. You could give a Harvard Law grad a simple motor vehicle case and give him 7 days to correctly file a complaint. Between never having drafted a complaint, state rules of civil procedure, local rules of civil procedure, forms, fees and other minutiae that have never been discussed in law school, I’d lay big money on the FAIL side.

I mean no offense to our Harvard Law grad. New law grads and law students are generally clueless. Even those trying to take initiative lack total common sense, such as the Cardozo law student without a summer job who is watching the Gupta trial rather than sit on her unemployed ass all day. Watching a trial is not problematic, and is a pretty smart thing to do if you haven’t landed a summer gig. Writing letters to the judge concerning His Honor’s evidentiary rulings during trial could be a problem, though. You would think that a law student might realize that such a thing might be distracting to the court or improper, but apparently the law student thinks that real life trials are akin to sitting in Evidence class and offering your opinion on some case from 30 years ago. I doubt she scored big points with counsel for either side.

Bottom line, many employers feel that they are taking a big risk with new hires. The learning curve from law student to capable advocate is a steep one, and neither firms nor clients want to bear the cost for the necessary on-the-job training. Canadian law graduates “article” for 12 to 16 months at a lower salary before being formally admitted to the bar (if they’re so lucky to find a position, as there’s a bit of a shortage these days). Doctors, of course, serve and starve as residents following medical school. I knew a partner at a boutique law firm who wanted to hire all new graduates for 6 months at a depressed salary and no benefits before extending a formal offer. The economy at the time wouldn’t permit such an arrangement. Now, the “Gilbert & O’Bryan Model” will probably spread far beyond Boston.

Lawyers and the legal profession have brought this upon themselves. The law schools decided to admit anyone with a pulse and have the government acting as a financial enabler, all the while skewing expectations as to the likelihood of success following graduation. Law school teaches nothing about real-life practice. It certainly can’t teach common sense. Then, for decades, clueless hires commanding six-figure salaries proved time and time again that it’s easy to come up short when all of the answers can’t be found in a single casebook sitting on the coffee table. The only skill that separates lawyers from anyone else is the ability, presumably, to write well. And if you can’t do that…you can always apply to Gilbert & O’Bryan. And they won’t take you.

[Read more from The Psych Ward]

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