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To the Left Behind Law Graduates

August 20th, 2012 6 comments

People like to say timing is everything. I’m often tempted to call out this remark by suggesting that the cliché is merely a reactionary observation. I try to consider myself a forward-thinker, so it’s not an adage that offers me any guidance in life.

I could say, for example, that my decision to enroll in law school in Fall 2006 was awful timing. Graduating in Spring 2009, my class was one of the first to enter the legal market following the burst of the U.S. housing bubble.

Far too many of my colleagues graduated without legal jobs. Far too many others begrudgingly accepted low paying positions just to have a legal job. It wasn’t what they signed up for.

The classes of 2010, 2011, and 2012 haven’t had it any better. Actually, it has probably been even worse for them. Yet, for the past few years, law school tuition around the nation has steadily increased. (UPDATE 8/21/2012: According to this article, the average tuition for law school this fall will rise by more than double the rate of inflation.) It doesn’t add up.

We’re looking at another bubble. Others intimately closer to the situation than I am have written extensively about it. University of Colorado Law School professor Paul Campos launched Inside the Law School Scam. Wash U. in St. Louis Law School professor Brian Tamanaha published Failing Law Schools.

Change to the system is coming. Good change, for example, that prevents schools from disguising employment statistics in order to convince naïve college seniors into believing that law school is a still a golden ticket.

Hopefully, these changes will generate a far higher overall utility for those involved in law school education going forward. Unfortunately, the classes of 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and likely 2013, 2014, and 2015 are left behind.

Wait, so timing is everything, right?

Wrong.

Accept the reality of the situation. We can’t give our degrees back. And we’re not getting our money back. Law school is no longer a golden ticket, simple as that.

Back to the first sentence of this post. Timing is something, but not everything. Those who often put themselves in a position to capitalize on seemingly fortuitous opportunities know that there’s much more to their success than timing.

Those struggling to find quality legal jobs need to consider approaching the matter more unconventionally. There are hundreds of others equally as qualified and jobless or underemployed. Continuing to follow the conventional methods will produce the same lack of intriguing opportunities.

Problem is, I haven’t come across substantial commentary on how the left behind can work towards creating these opportunities. I wrote some initial thoughts a couple of months ago. It’s a start, but much remains to be said.

No one has all the answers. Collaboration is key. Whether it commences here, on a far more popular blog, on Twitter, or at Reddit, it doesn’t matter. I’d be happy to share ideas with people willing to listen and offer critical insights. Let’s get this going.

A Targeted Concentration

June 10th, 2012 3 comments

A short time ago Phil Hodgen responded to an e-mail from a third-year law student interested in international tax. Phil offers some great suggestions on ways to break into the field. One remark in particular caught my attention:

You have to dislodge something existing in that person’s life to create an opening for you.

Phil recommends finding a mentor. Someone willing to guide a young lawyer. Someone who has been around the block a few times. Someone who will keep a young attorney in check.

The challenge is catching a prospective mentor’s attention. Lawyers worth reaching out to may often receive similar requests and already have overbooked schedules. Why give you the time of day?

That’s where Phil’s comment above comes in. I offered one possible way to accomplish this.

Before I discuss the proposed steps in greater detail, we need to understand the current legal market to manage expectations.

It’s brutal.

Young attorneys know as well as anyone that the market is oversaturated with others like them. Today, attending a prestigious law school and performing well there probably isn’t enough to land that coveted first job:

Yikes.

You don’t advance a young career by looking back to lament about the decision to attend law school. Face the facts and look forward. Lacking in ideas? Here’s a suggestion:

Discover a promising nuanced area of the law and learn it. Then write about it.

Call it a targeted concentration. Think of it as way to separate yourself from the crowd. In a good way.

Any niche won’t do, of course. There are the too narrow, the too outdated, the too covered.

The ideal niche is underdeveloped and has significant room for growth. There should be little or at best mediocre legal commentary on a subject facing complex and unresolved legal issues. And those issues must or will matter to people.

Start with a general area of the law that interests you (e.g. intellectual property, insurance, real estate, tax) and then read respected periodicals, blogs, etc. What are some emerging issues? Who cares about them? Ask around.

This exercise could eventually lead to the dislodging and engaging. By demonstrating a genuine interest in a targeted area, you are far more likely to catch the attention of other practitioners with common interests.

This process takes time, patience, and persistence. Allow your efforts to develop organically. Don’t force the issue. People will begin to take notice and listen.

You have the ability to take significant control of your career’s direction. Only you stand in the way to seeing it through.

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