Law in Contemporary Society

A Letter To My Fellow 1L'S

Like it or not, the vast majority of us will end up working for a BIG LAW firm directly out of school. As much as we have heard about the horrors of the firm experience, we are still inexorably drawn toward it like a mosquito to those purple zapper thingies. I am not advocating a massive boycott of EIP or anything of the sort. I just want to make sure that we all go in with our priorities properly aligned.

Internal Conflict

There are intrinsic tendencies within us that are constantly at odds with one another. To some extent we all have a fear of the unknown. Newton’s law of inertia is easily applied to human psychology as well. People long for security and therefore remain in jobs and other relationships which are unsatisfying, simply because they fear the uncertainty of change. Conversely, we all possess an inner drive to explore the unknown, and perhaps even take a risk here and there for the sake of adventure. Human progress through the ages stems from this drive – the urge to shake off the old and try something new.

In our always uncertain world it is natural to crave security and stability. Financial planners, estate planners, insurance experts and Career Services will attempt to convince us that the way it is now is how it will remain in the future. However, all of us know that the only thing certain about the future is that it will not be the same as the present. The once powerful Bear Stearns reduced to (almost) nothingness; the housing market is in shambles. There is no shortage of such examples. We must be prepared for new circumstances in a constantly changing world.

Is The Firm The Answer?

The firm seemingly provides the stability we crave. The salaries are more than we have ever earned before. We will receive training and learn marketable skills. The job carries a distinct aura of prestige with it. Yet, for some reason, the latest NALP research indicates levels of attrition atypical of other fields: nearly 80% of BIG LAW associates leave BIG LAW within five years. Obviously, some of that can be attributed to changes in market demand and maximizing profits per partner; however 80% is a frighteningly large number. Why the stampede for the door?

Quite simply, it is too hard to get to the top. BIG LAW firms are not partnerships; they are parasitic entities. They pay you a fixed sum for all your time, and then resell that time by the hour at a multiple. BIG LAW firms intentionally weed out associates to keep the draw share large for the partners, to keep competition down, and to keep a steady flow of “worker bees.” Associates view their jobs as jobs, not as training to be a member of, and relied upon, a partnership of lawyers. No one expects them to be loyal. They’re expected to work hard for some (or lots) of money. No golf outings, lavish summer associate parties, or ‘mentorship consultants’ can mask that. So it’s not surprising that associates will take their training and move elsewhere, especially if they feel like they cannot reach partner. Why stay around when better jobs (either in-house, or as your own boss, or even out of the legal profession) exist? No one faults business employees when they move on to get management positions at other companies; why should we fault lawyers?

The Bottom Line

Obviously we will all have invested three years of our lives and a truckload of money to obtain our JD’s. We all want to wipe out the debt which we will have accrued in 2010. We want some significant financial return on that investment. Is it unethical for us to search out the best paying job right out of school? I would argue that it is perfectly logical and ethical. What about those of us who have, or will have, families? Are our children going to recognize us by the time they are out of diapers? If you see the firm as a springboard, then working at a firm does not necessarily have to be antithetical to values we hold dear.

My take on the matter is as follows: Go get a firm job, but keep one foot out the door. See the firm simply as a stepping stone toward eventual greatness. View the slave labor imposed upon you as your baptism by fire. Always be on the lookout for new possibilities. Maybe you’ll stumble across something that genuinely interests you. Perhaps you’ll come across some uncharted territory where you feel that you’ll be able to exhibit some of your talents. Go in to the firm with the intention of making money so that you repay your debt and get your professional and financial legs under you. Then, move along, regardless of how sweet the deal is at that point. Go make a difference. It might be spending time with your family and opening a small private practice. Maybe it's helping the less fortunate. That's simply up to you. Difference can be defined however you'd like it to be defined. What I can say for certain, is that 'difference' is the result of subtraction. We can all be more effective using our creativity and tenacity independent of the firm. Tenacity of will is worth a battery of artillery, and thankfully, we are endowed with a great deal of it.

Do not fear starting a ‘second’ career, even one that begins in midlife. Obviously, impetuous rash behavior can be disastrous. But in our ever-changing society and economy it is becoming clear that many - if not most of us - will complete our working career doing something far different than what we were doing when we first entered the workplace arena.

Best of luck with interviews.


Webs Webs

r5 - 22 Jan 2009 - 00:53:37 - IanSullivan
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