Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The fall of a biglaw Ivy League grad

As a TTTT law student I had never heard of the T14's until I graduated. As my LSAT score only allowed me to get in the "tier 3 and 4" realm I never bothered looking at the top dogs. Post graduation I learned about TTT and the glorious T14. For those that don't know, T14 stands for the top 14 law schools. For some unknown reason, the same 14 schools have ranked in the top 14. The law schools are: Harvard, Stanford, Yale, U of Chicago, Cornell, U of Michigan, UVA, Berkeley, Georgetown, U of Penn, Northwestern, Duke, NYU and Columbia. The grad discussed in this post went to one of these schools, in the top 10 range to be specific.

For purposes of anonymity, I will refer to this individual as "biglaw" grad. Biglaw went to a top 10 school, wrote onto one of the school's publications and got decent grades. He didn't make law review but when he graduated in the early 2000's it didn't matter as much as it does now. He immediately got a job at Quinn Emanuel which is a vault 30 firm. From there he toiled away for 3 years until he threw in the towel. The V30 firm hours were too much for him to handle, just as many other V100 associates throw in the towel. From there he applied and got a job in a mid sized firm (apprx 25 lawyer office), practicing in a niche area of law. His stay at the midlaw firm was short lived as the hours still sucked but with less pay. From there he moved to a similar midlaw firm practicing in the same area as the first midlaw firm. After less than a year he left the second midlaw firm and decided to open his own practice with fellow T14 grads like himself. First he formed a partnership with three other former biglaw attorneys. This arrangement lasted for a year, he then left that partnership and partnered up with another tier 14 grad. Unlike the prior partnership, this tier 14 grad was a newbie and the partnership lasted less than 6 months.

Finally, biglaw decided to go solo practitioner. His attempt in the solo world lasted less than a year. Most recently, I was informed that he was applying for his.....drumroll............MBA. Surely he will get accepted to one of the top MBA programs due to his Ivy League credentials and the fact that the schools have no problem collecting 100k for the two years of "education" they will be providing him. That is his story, from biglaw associate at a vault 30 firm to MBA applicant in less than a decade.

The point of the story is to show just how difficult the legal market is. As a matter of fact it is a unforgiving market more than anything else. Once you drop out of the biglaw ranks there is no coming back. After that, when you enter the midlaw ranks, you end up in midlaw. After you leave midlaw it is nearly impossible to re-enter the realm of midlaw. Once you go solo you will remain solo unless you partner up with other solos and start your own firm. But a serious question that needs to be asked is: why did biglaw not re-apply to biglaw or midlaw firms? Why is he going back to school? My best guess is that he CANNOT get jobs in midlaw OR biglaw anymore. Once you leave, you're finished. And this is why the legal job market sucks. It is an inelastic, saturated and unforgiving profession. Some enjoy their careers as attorneys while the vast majority are stuck in their fields but with no where else to go. In addition, while some solos are successful, many of them languish as clients are hard to find. In fact I know numerous biglaw associates that formed their own little "boutiques" upon dropping out from the biglaw ranks. Success is hard to find. Compounded with the massive debt hanging over the shoulders of these new solos, it is much more difficult to make it as a solo then it was just a decade ago when tuition was at least 50% cheaper than it is today.

I specifically remember when he went solo because that was around the same time I started looking for work. I recall thinking to myself "how the fuck did this guy go Quinn Emanuel to solo." In addition, he would ask me for leads from time to time as I had a few business deals I tried to refer him that didn't fall through. As the months went on I would get the occasional text message asking if I had heard anything. At this point I realized he was struggling with the solo gig. Lo and behold my suspicions held true.

The class of 2011 starts within a few months. Early summer is just around the corner. Think hard and well about your decision to start law school. Hopefully this story can serve as yet another warning as to why law school is a dangerous bet. If a T14 alumni with a vault 30 resume is forced to go back to school, imagine how worthless a TTT JD is in this environment. BEWARE THE LAW SCHOOL SCAM!


  1. The practise of law is unusual to the extent that, at least with respect to practising in large law firms, the more senior one becomes the less employable one becomes due to one's rising expense to the firm. Bizarre situation....

  2. [Scene from the movie "Alien Resurrection"]

    Grunt to Ripley: "Hey Ripley! I thought you were dead?!"

    Ripley: "Yeah...I get that a lot...."

  3. I'm not sure what point you were trying to make with this post.

    It seems like he CHOSE to leave biglaw and then CHOSE to leave midlaw. From the way this post tells it, he was not interested in working the long hours required at either level.

    I'm not sure I'd call this a dig at the legal profession. Most scamblogs concern themselves with law grads who aren't able to find ANY lucrative employment. In other words, this guy is not very sympathetic.

  4. Anon @ 6:20 pm

    As I stated in the post:

    "Hopefully this story can serve as yet another warning as to why law school is a dangerous bet. If a T14 alumni with a vault 30 resume is forced to go back to school, imagine how worthless a TTT JD is in this environment"

    In addition, many biglaw associates CHOOSE to leave biglaw as the hours are terrible and the work related stress being unbearable. Even in my personal injury cases I sweat bullets as fires can start out of nowhere. This post also helps dispels the notion that a JD is such a versatile degree that can help people get jobs in different fields.

  5. I assume that someone is arranging some kind of massive, online clusterfuck for when the debt clock hits $1 trillion. I didn't realize I had so little time to get clusterfuck-ready.

  6. There are two key points that are made in this article (and one of the comments @ 5:12) that I think bear repeating. One misconception that many law graduates make is that they think if they don't get a BigLaw job, they can work at a smaller firm for a few years and "upgrade" to BigLaw. Except in rare circumstances, e.g., a unique practice such as patent law, etc., "upgrading" is very difficult to do, if not impossible. Big firms generally recruit out of law schools, so if you didn't make the cut as a 2L, then chances are you are not getting a job at BigLaw.

    The career path of a lawyer is a downward trajectory. If you start off at BigLaw, you can leave and then go to MidLaw then to SmallLaw (aka ShitLaw) and finally as a solo practitioner. There is generally no "upward" mobility. Yes, you can lateral over to a BigLaw firm if you are coming from BigLaw, but it becomes increasingly difficult to do from MidLaw and below. A suitable phrase that adequately encompasses this phenomenon is "the rock (you) rolls downhill, not uphill."

    Also, if you are working in BigLaw, you have another issue to contend with as highlighted @ 5:12. As you get more years of experience, you are less desirable to Big law firms UNLESS you have a book of business. If you are a 6-7th year associate, you may not have a lot of opportunities lateraling to other BigLaw firm since firms would rather just hire someone fresh out of law school instead of paying 6-7th year associate salaries.

    I don't make the rules of the legal profession, but these are some of my observations. The fact is there are too many lawyers in this country. If you don't have a unique background that you can combine with your law degree, e.g., scientific or otherwise, then it is very difficult to distinguish yourself from other job applicants. Obviously, this depends on where you went to law school as well as grades, etc. Bottom line, if you are a Poly Sci major et al., what do you really have to offer a law firm that will distinguish yourself from the pack of debt-ridden, unemployed, laid off, attorneys. My guess is you will enter the realm of temporary, no-benefits, no respect contract attorneys, but even those jobs are harder to get with all the outsourcing to India.

  7. firm practice is not the only option out there.

    There are dozens of well paying positions outside of the traditional lawying box. Its amazing how no one ever mentions all the alternatives to trying cases in court or working for big/mid firms.

    Many people who go to ivy league schools don't know how to deal with failure. If shit starts to fall of their "life path" they panic and become sullen. T14 grads need to wake the fuck up and stop thinking they are entitled to 160k salaries. Your not - because neither are T25. You get a shot at the big door by going to ivy league. If you can't cut it once you get the shot...its not the industry, ITS YOU! Poor baby didn't want to work long hours. I'm willing to bet that he didn't expect the shit treatment and crappy repeative work.

    Most ivy people I have met are hardworkers who bust their asses to stay on top. Some of them are just shocked when they find out that they don't get 4 hour work weeks and on-call escorts.

  8. Anon @ 1:09:

    This is an anecdote about a guy who didn't like his career, is changing it and what's wrong with that? Unless there's some critical detail about him spoiled, sullen and otherwise worthless, why pass judgments on someone you don't know whose actions don't really affect you?

  9. Many people that I've met who've encountered such career road blocks don't seem to know how to respond. They seem to think that if they go back to school and get another degree, like an MBA, that they'll acquire some skill that employers will find valuable. The problem is that employers don't want to pay employees anything. (And who can blame them?) They want to pay employees nothing and can find such employees overseas.

    I'm now reading Nicholas Shaxson's "Treasure Islands", about the global offshore financial system. You don't have to get into the book that far to realize that the ultimate destination of the present international offshore banking system is the financial destruction of nations, the end of sovereignty as we know it. It's all over. The multinational corporations and transnational banks will bankrupt governments and strip them of their sovereignty, setting up a semi-feudal, corporate neo-colonialism. If offshoring strips countries of their tax-base, then governments can't function and starve. An additional degree, such as an MBA, in this situation won't help you.

  10. Further to my post above, implicit in Shaxson's book is that the only way for nations to get ahead in the global offshore financial system is to enhance laws that aggravate the problem, i.e., ever lower corporate taxes, more banking secrecy, more favorable treatment for international banks and multinational corporations to "capture" governments, and, hence, more corruption. It's a downward spiral in which the people will become serfs.

  11. This article shows why anyone who wants to be a mother should not go to law school. The two don't mix and that's all there is to it.

    I work at a public defender's office, 40 hours a week, and hardly ever see my son. And what do I get paid for this? Probably about minimum wage.

    Here's the deal. Like most law jobs, mine is located downtown. Obviously, families cannot live downtown unless they can afford private school, which is out of range for public defenders. Not to mention the crime. The inner city is just a bad place to raise a family.

    Of course, there is always the suburbs, but that is very time-consuming. You have to fight rush-hour traffic to get in and out of the city. The result is that you are working like an 11 hour day.

    The pay is so low because you will find that about a third of your check goes to pay for day care. Then a huge chunk goes to pay for student loans. And then there is parking, which often costs $10 a day. Do you understand that lemmings? That comes to $200 a month just to park! And then there's gas, professional attire, bar dues, etc.

    And here is the real kick in the teeth. As this article shows, if you decide to take off a couple of years to raise your own child, you will NEVER recover. The profession is so unforgiving that you will probably never practice law again. Moreover, you will be a dime a dozen with NO LEVERAGE to bargain for part-time or other flexible schedules.

    Please ladies, do the math. I know your feminist college professors don't explain these things to you, but remember, YOUR heart will break when you drop off your six month old for ten hours at a day care center. where will they be then?

  12. LWIC:

    If you want to read "happy" stuff go to CNBC.com where you will read analyst after analyst proclaim that we are in the greatest economic recovery of all time and how the stock market is going to break 1500 on the SPX and how inflation is "transitory" and will be contained. However, if you want to read stories of people suffering as a result of the sinking US legal job market then you will find yourself right at home here at subprimeJD. This forum provides a home for the disaffected educated in this country.

    Nonetheless I present a bifurcated message on this blog: warning prospective law students not to go to law school and giving support for those who have already taken the plunge. Right now the legal job market is easing up just a tad and I suggest that the unemployed JD's apply like mad while the money printing madness is lifting the sinking ship which is the US economy for the time being.

  13. @ 7:00AM - on point. Equal opp = bigger cages, longer chains.

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  15. Unless you will graduate with a Havard, Yale or Stanford law degree. Do. Not. Go. This article is really about a guy who did not like the law or at least the areas that he practiced in. If he liked what he did, the hours would not have dissuaded him. The law can be a very miserable profession and sadly too many would-be students are conned by the Hollywood'ized version and never get to how utterly unsexy and low paying (per hour and relative to risk) it really is, until it is too late. That all said, some people love the law and are almost giddy for it. Those people are rare, and well, annoying.


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