The crisis as seen by a law student

A ground-level report on the effects of the current economic crisis, from a law student.

I’m a third year at a law school in Boston. Basically, everything we’ve dreamed of and been promised by our advisers/professors is no longer available. Job offers already accepted have pushed their starting dates back from September to January.  Students are receiving surprise rejections for bar study loans, and I know a few who literally cannot afford the bar exam application fee ($820) because of it, let alone the bar prep courses.  For the first time in any professor’s memory, students received offers for clerkships in the Massachusetts Superior Courts contingent upon funding to be established this spring. I hope to work in a government job with an agency or attorney general’s office, but am finding that there are literally no entry-level positions available, even for students from highly-ranked schools such as BC and BU.

I myself worked at the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General for the past nine months and interviewed for a really exciting fellowship. I received a call from the AGO’s HR Director:  I was third in line for the position, but they were cutting the number they were hosting from three to one.  In four other positions I’ve interviewed for, I’ve received word that the position itself was canceled, or would not be filled at all this year.  There’s also a state-wide hiring freeze in Massachusetts, and a lot of established attorneys suddenly on the market after record layoffs in Boston law firms.

I am extremely flexible in terms of geographic location (no kids, I don’t own property), and I’m being very aggressive in my search.  But it’s slow going – I fully expect to have nothing lined up when I finish the bar exam at the end of July.  The thought of having nothing, absolutely nothing, to do on August 1st petrifies me.

Without a job, I will not be able to afford malpractice insurance on my own and would not risk practicing law without it. I’ll have over $130K in debt from my law degree. Thankfully, I live in Massachusetts and can utilize MassHealth – anywhere else in the country, I would have to do without health insurance (I have no pre-existing conditions, but the quotes I’ve received are so high as to be ridiculous).  If I stay in the city, I do not know what I’d do for rent.  I’m 26 years old, and am frightened to death I will have to move back to Ohio and away from my gay community, and live with my parents.  With a law degree.  I feel like a chump sometimes.

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10 thoughts on “The crisis as seen by a law student

  1. We went through four months of unemployment after the bar exam in 1997, which I don’t even remember being such a terrible year economically. But I think that was the year when I finally learned from the heart that every bad thing that happened to us wasn’t God saying, “Ha! Told you so!” And I know he provided for us with courage, with new and supportive Christian relationships, and eventually, with a job here, which we never would have chosen voluntarily. Looking back, the sticking point may have been that career services offered certain kinds of jobs and a conventional path to employment, and my husband’s background made him suited for a different (and eventually better) route. It just took him a while to figure that out. He actually returns yearly to his alma mater now to talk to law students about how they can work in his field. (And gets very little support from career services.)

    Since October there are layoffs in law firms all over Manhattan, and though so far employed, I’m sure we are not immune. Nonetheless my husband still knows of jobs he could get if he needed one. A law degree is not any sort of guarantee, that’s for sure. And one sticking point seems to be that he wants to work for the government. But if this guy has a good ranking in his class (he doesn’t say) and the conscientiousness he claims to have, he should be able to get some kind of job as an attorney eventually, and hopefully one in his area of interest. He just might have to live with his parents or work as a waiter for a few months.

  2. If our economic problems will keep more lawyers out of jobs in this country we all win in the end. Lawyers contribute nothing to this country and make their living from attacking those who do.

  3. Laura,

    But if this guy has a good ranking in his class (he doesn’t say) and the conscientiousness he claims to have, he should be able to get some kind of job as an attorney eventually, and hopefully one in his area of interest. He just might have to live with his parents or work as a waiter for a few months.

    You’re probably right. And even if it isn’t law, someone who is able to make it through law school is smart enough and diligent enough to find productive work—as long as he is willing and able to do so. What struck me about this fellow’s account is that, at least for the moment, he is nearly paralyzed by both debt and attitude, problems that are now bearing down hard on most Americans.

    Somewhere along the way, he agreed to society’s implicit bargain: I will walk this path, and incur this debt, and in exchange I will receive a particular social position with its attendant prestige and lifestyle and financial benefits.

    Now it turns out society is unable to make good on the bargains it offered him, and he is paralyzed: “The thought of having nothing, absolutely nothing, to do on August 1st petrifies me.” Absolutely nothing to do? Yikes. This is a young man who has let society do his thinking for him for a long time. Will circumstances drive him (and many, many others in similar straits) to think for himself, or to demand society offer him some other off-the-shelf career path?

  4. People will fight long and hard not to get dirty fingernails. The coming years willl be difficult. What will all the lawyers and talking heads do when we need help putting up firewood? I wish we had a balanced social contract. Intelligent, hard working, humble, sincere people…we need them on the farm and at the office.

    Wow, I am glad I don’t have that student loan hanging over my head.

  5. I’m with “OK”, the less lawyers we get, the better. And I have 2 in the family. Lawyers are necessary, but they really are, in many ways, societies meddlers. They belong to what I call, “the Silk Underpants” crowd. People who make a great deal of money, but don’t actually “produce” anything. Lawyers, financial analysts, speculaters, etc. Many sports stars belong here. Make 20 million a year to play a kids game?There is a whole range of “occupations”, in society, that just skim the cream off. These people actually can’t do much for themselves, and depend on vast numbers of far lesser payed people to fix things, make things, grow food, feed them, etc. We probabably need a third of the lawyers we actually have. And the schools just keep turning out more every year. more engineers, farmers, craftsmen, metalworkers, bricklayers, welders, nurses, etc, would actually be useful to society.

  6. Mark, OK,

    I agree that a better society would have fewer lawyers, perhaps none at all. But our plethora of lawyers is really an iatrogenic disorder, the unhappy result of our misguided attempts to treat a deeper problem. And simply reducing the number of lawyers will do nothing to change our misguided approach, much less deal with the deeper problem. Advertisers have a saying: “Ninety percent of advertising is ineffective. The question, though, is which ten percent is effective.” The economic crisis may end up eliminating the few lawyers (or doctors, or teachers) that are helpful, while leaving the rest to do even more damage once the restraints are off.

    I think that with respect to law, medicine, education, and many other “civilized” pursuits, we began with half-baked approaches and continued to build on them thoughtlessly, reacting with quick fixes to undesirable symptoms rather than going back and carefully considering whether those symptoms are inherent in the approach. Worse, I think that all along the way we have been plagued by folks who think like idealist and act like pragmatists, folks who are eager to inflict their vision of the good life on the rest of us and willing to do it in a piecemeal fashion if necessary. The sorry result is an incoherent society, burdened by conflicting principles taken from multiple visions, principles which collide on a daily basis.

    I like to spend time identifying and understanding the deeper problems, and then look at the different ways that folks have approached them in the past—not in order to come up with yet another vision to inflict on society, but to improve my understanding of how the various pieces of God’s creation fit together. Such an understanding won’t enable me to restructure the world properly, but it can and does help me deal with the microcosm of my everyday life, where I do in fact wield significant authority and influence.

    I bring all this up to point out that, even if it is the case that a better society would have fewer lawyers, this says nothing about whether society (or, in particular, my everyday life) would be better or worse if one particular lawyer were gone. It might be, but then again he might be exactly the lawyer that could have protected me from the damage that a world of lawyers is able to inflict. Until we live in a world without lawyers, I would rather have that one particular lawyer stick around.

  7. “The economic crisis may end up eliminating the few lawyers (or doctors, or teachers) that are helpful, while leaving the rest to do even more damage once the restraints are off.”

    Well, that’s certainly what we’re seeing here lately, anecdotally speaking.

  8. The writer of the article is petrified by the thought of not having a job. Imagine what it must feel like to have a family to support, and be out of work! I’m not personally out of work, but I’m aware of families in my neighborhood that have lost their main source of income. On a positive note, maybe the writer won’t get the state/government job that he desires, but at least he won’t be adding to the government spending by getting employed!

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