Author: Andy Mack

Alternatives to Legal Careers Guide (Univ. of Ariz.)

 

The truth is, many of these jobs need a J.D. about as much as Springfield needed a monorail.

I have to admit, I always found the whole “You can do anything with a law degree!” argument coming out of law school Admissions and Career Services offices among the most dubious tricks in their bag.

To deny that the constant pleadings that “You can do anything with a law degree” are part sales pitch, part vain attempt to incentivize students to stay the course and help keep that tuition money flowing is ludicrous. It’s definitely part of the scheme. Hell, my law school had a whole week dedicated to speakers on “alternative careers.” I believe they called it something like “Thinking Outside the Box,” and had folks from various industries who had J.D.s but weren’t actually practicing law come in and speak.

Of course, for lesser ranked schools, the “You can do anything with a law degree” tack is a touch inaccurate. It should more likely be said that “You’re not going to be able to practice law anyway, so start thinking of something else now.”

So, yes, whenever an administrator (or student lemming) starts in with the flexibility of the J.D. thing, I can’t help but feel a little sad for their plight. The administrator simply doesn’t know what to do anymore (legal jobs were tough enough to get pre-financial crisis, and most CSO’s today have either gotten creative or simply thrown their hands up), and the student has been had: hook, line, and sinker.

But, that’s not to say that alternative careers aren’t out there. They should simply be treated along the same lines as they are titled: they are an “alternative” to practicing law. If you’re going to law school for an alternative career, I think you’re making the wrong decision. If you’re going to law school hoping to practice law and discover that either (1) practicing law isn’t your thing and you’re too far in to get out; or (2) given your ranking in the law school strata you’re likely going to be unable to practice law immediately, then an alternative career can be a saving grace.

living-in-a-box-11

Perhaps more appropriate would have been: “Living Inside A Box: You’re Probably Screwed.”

The truth is that I can’t rail against alternative careers too much, as my law school outcome has been in the “alternative” bracket, at least for now. I certainly didn’t spend another 3 years and ton of money with an alternative career in mind, though. And neither should you.

That said, what alternative careers are out there for legal eagles? The University of Arizona has compiled a brief 22-page guide on possible alternative careers, possible salaries, and pointers and seeking out jobs that are not necessarily part of the legal sphere.

Another way to prepare for alternative career job hunting is to tap into (or create, if you’re behind the ball) your network. An in-house position interview is different from a law firm interview, which will be different from an interview with an accounting firm or investment bank. Having experienced individuals you can contact to help advise or prepare you for job searches in fields outside of legal can be invaluable.

The University of Arizona Guide can be found here.

ABA commentary can be found here.

ATL commentary can be found here.

Calling All Aspiring JETs with J.D.s!

Mecha-hisashiburi’s to you all. The past several months have been intensely busy, with graduation, the bar exam, and following a bit of good fortune, the conclusion to a successful job search. Yes, a job. Happy days are here again. What happened, you ask? Well, I became a contented victim of the “companies are now hiring J.D.s” trend in this absolutely topsy-turvy economy thing we have going on.

In short: I’m going to be involved in the land acquisition end of the natural gas industry. Just picture a mix of the “Rich Texan” from The Simpsons, and the Monopoly man.

Or, picture this guy with a monacle.

Okay, enough navel-gazing self-congratulatory blog-spew. There’s a more important point to my posting: the future of this blog.

Here’s the rub: I am a JET alum, and I do have a J.D., but from here on out I am well aware that my free time to blog for the benefits of JETs and the Japan-obsessed will be sparse. Further, I’ve always felt that this blog lacked the breadth it could otherwise have. The JET program and the legal market is a nice niche, but it’s still an intensely broad area that, even when I had time to blog regularly, I couldn’t tackle all by myself.

Lastly, having talked with lawyers (both old and young) during the course of my law school tenure, I am keenly aware that lawyers’ perceptions of the legal market and the opportunities out there are at times vastly different from the perspective a law student has. I strongly feel that JETs with J.D.s would languish without a JET alum/law student involved.

This is a long and winding way of saying that I am looking for someone (or more than one someone) to take the reigns for this site. While another person interested in private-sector legal work is fine, I’d be really interested in seeing someone interested in public sector/public interest legal opportunities step forward. I feel the public service end of the law is an area where I have been less helpful.

A public sector preference is only preferred, though. All that I would require of a new blogger are two things: (1) that you be a JET alum; and (2) that you be in (or about to attend) law school.

Though there’s no money in it (never was for me 😉 ), there are some benefits to helping out. The biggest of which is contributing to this blog may be the best catalyst to do the one thing law students (and human beings in general) hate to do: network. I know more attorneys and other vital contacts than I would know otherwise because I wanted to have material to blog about and, while I would never name my contacts outright, there gems of wisdom are scattered throughout this blog for the benefit of all. I also believe I would not have received the opportunity I am currently undertaking if it had not been for JET alums and attorneys providing me with personal advice, scouring my resume, and guiding my interviewing style.

If you are interested, drop me a line in the comments, or just contact me directly.

I plan to still contribute occasionally, at least enough to keep JETs with J.D.s up and running. Many of the old posts to this blog are a valuable resource and worth keeping around, and I will do what I can to make that possible.

Finally, I plan to write something up about my law school and job search experience generally sometime in the near future, so look for that post coming soon.

68.4% Employment for Class of ’10.

It seems like just yesterday I advised any law student to take a Sharpie and black out the part of U.S News & World Report where it talks about new graduates achieving 98%-100% employment.

Oh. Wait. It was.

NALP (an association that compiles all variety of legal employment statistics) just came out with its selected findings for the class of 2010 (those graduating last May). The numbers are as ugly as one might expect.

Only 68.4% of 2010 law school graduates had jobs that required them to take and pass a bar exam. Another 10% or so had jobs that were “J.D. preferred”. The odds are still better than betting $100k on red at the roulette wheel, but this is the lowest it’s ever been. Light still doesn’t seem to be at the end of the tunnel, either.

The NALP findings in full are available here.

[UPDATED: Things are looking better for 2016]

DISCO’s Boston CF 2011 is up

Each year, DISCO holds a massive Career Forum in Boston for English/Japanese bilinguals (in addition to other job fairs in LA, London, and Tokyo).

A run-down on what DISCO can mean for JET alums turned JD students has already been covered by JETs with J.D.s, and is available here.

The Boston career forum is truly massive, and a good opportunity for anyone considering going in-house, or getting in-house experience. Even if you’re a rising 2L trying to figure out what you can do your 2L summer (and are worried you won’t be able to secure the coveted McLaw Summer Associate position), Boston may present opportunities for you this November, and DISCO has recently opened the page for this fall’s CF for applications. The number of participating companies should grow over time, so keep an eye out for companies looking for a J.D. candidate.

Building a resume on CFN can take some time, so starting early would be advisable.

The page with this fall’s Boston Career Forum can be found here.

 

A Lexus or a Lemon, or: How to Pick Your Law School

It’s a question I tend to get on occasion: “I’m planning to go to law school, I’m thinking of going to X, Y, and Z law schools . . .” OR “I’ve applied to law school and gotten into X, Y, Z law schools, what should I do?”

For the civilian turning law student, the decision is obviously one that is personally important, and certainly important for professional development reasons, too. Picking a loser of a law school can result in all of the nightmare scenarios that appear in the news almost daily (e.g., poor job prospects, high debt, and plenty of regret and buyer’s remorse to go around).

Of course, picking a “winner” of a law school these days can still conceivably leave you in the same spot, but it will make your odds a whole lot better.

You’d think that with the rigors of getting through undergrad, studying for and taking the LSAT, and making sure you perfect your law school applications, picking the law school of your dreams should be the easy part. It isn’t. The advice provided below isn’t the only way to go about picking your law school, but hopefully it will show you where your priorities should be. This advice also assumes you’re going to law school for legitimate reasons (i.e., to practice law).

First, a couple preliminary points. The law school that is sending you shiny brochures and acceptance letters is not on your side. They are trying to sell you something. Therefore, treat the information you get directly from the law school with the same scrutiny you would treat statements from a used car salesman.

Yeah, this education ain’t the best in its class, but it’ll getcha from A to B. “A” may be a promising future and “B” may be un(der)employment and insurmountable debt … but yeah, she’ll getcha from A to B.

In fact, it is my hope that after you get the acceptance letter, you put the rest of the materials they sent to the side, and look at their sales pitch last.

Second, the U.S. News & World Report Rankings aren’t going to help you. Law schools have gamed them in the past, playing fuzzy math (perhaps to the threshold of fraud) and will continue to do so in the future. As such, the starting salaries and average employed nine months after graduation numbers are illusory at best, an outright lie at worst. Here’s how you handle U.S. News & World: after you buy it, take a black Sharpie and black out the salary and employment figures. Better yet, get a friend to do it for you so you don’t unintentionally consider the value of those numbers as you black them out. If you’re going to U.S. News & World at all, you shouldn’t let the elements of the rankings that are utter horse-hooey enter into your decisionmaking.

NOTE: While it may be true that U.S. News & World report is encouraging more candid disclosures from participating law schools, law schools are still self-reporting institutions. Expect the numbers on employment and starting salaries to remain disingenuous for some time to come. Sen. Barbara Boxer is also beginning to put the heat on the ABA to compel a change to disclosure requirements, but until the ABA takes a more active regulatory stance on law schools, or until the USG subsumes the ABA’s role as a regulator, you’re not going to see any clearer transparency in law school disclosures or the publications that distribute them.

With that out of the way, here’s my preferred way to go about picking your law school. Assume for the purpose of this exercise you’ve already received a few acceptance letters (or wait-list letters for that matter). Where should you go from there?

(1) Prepare a list of questions you seriously want to know about the law schools to which you are admitted. These questions should be regarding issues you consider to be of high-priority, e.g.: (a) How well will the law school’s strengths correspond with your strengths or interests?; (b) How many people at this law school practice the kind of law you are interested in practicing?; (c) How does the social and academic atmosphere at the law school measure up to your expectations?; and so on. The more detailed understanding you have for your expectations (both academically and professionally) from law school, the more pointed questions you can prepare.

(2) Track down actual students actually attending the law schools you are considering, and reach out to them. Unlike the law school that is trying to get you to throw $100k plus at them for the privilege of attending, current law school students have no vested interest in whether you attend or not. They’re also going to be able to give you a more candid perspective of what law school is all about and, more importantly, what the specific law school you are considering attending is all about. They have to live with their decision to attend that law school every single day, for better or for worse. Of course, some students are going to have extreme views about their law school on both sides of the spectrum. Some will be virtual mouthpieces for school administration (if they start rambling on about the “versatility” of the J.D. degree, they may very well be in this group). Some will be bitter at their law school experience to the point that their claims will be highly suspect (their response may will likely be laced with profanity). Many should respond somewhere in the middle.

With the vastness of social networking (think Facebook groups, Linkedin, law school student forums) and the fact that many law schools post photos of students involved in student groups, you should be able to find a handful of law students from each school you’ve been admitted to, and (respectfully) request them to answer your questions.

NOTE: Law students are busy as hell, so if you don’t hear from them for awhile, don’t hold it against them.

(3) Track down lawyers in the family, lawyers who are your friends, lawyers who are doing the kind of thing you want to do.

Everyone knows a lawyer. You can’t swing a dead cat in this country without hitting a lawyer (and subsequently getting sued for aggravated assault with a kitteh).

Assault wit kitteh is strikt liability.

These friend and family lawyers may not be in the midst of law school, but they still operate in the legal marketplace, and they are still informed by their law school experiences. Any friends who are recent grads can spell out their job hunt experience, and hopefully help you set proper expectations as you head to law school. If any of these friends are alums of a school you are considering, seek out school-specific information. If they are school alums AND are practicing the kind of law that interests you, pry them for school-specific and career-specific guidance. For friends who aren’t recent grads: they’re advice may be less helpful, but they will have the perspective of what older, hiring lawyers might be looking for in a candidate. They should also be aware of the state of the legal market, and can tell you how many cold calls and resume letters they’re getting each month from unemployed law grads and attorneys. They can clue you in on the type of candidate getting hired, and the kind of money those candidates might be getting for their background and experience.

Most importantly, if you are finding that lawyers don’t do the kind of thing you want to do, please ask yourself why you are committing yourself to law school, and reevaluate your approach to your career. Please.

4. Visit the “scam” blogs. Seriously.

The financial collapse in 2008 had lots of unintended consequences for the market in legal education. Perhaps the least intended for law schools was that many of their brightest students, students who had worked themselves to exhaustion while in law school, were now facing unemployment. And some of them were  a little angry about it. The angriest have launched themselves into the blogosphere, playing a “Paul Revere”-type figure to prospective students, and often falling on deaf ears.

If they have something bad to say about a school you’re considering, they’ll say it.

And you owe it to yourself to investigate the worst things that can be said about the institution you are considering to call your alma mater. Start be looking for your school in a blog the likes of Third Tier Reality, a few other “scam” blogs, and if anything you read significantly concerns you, run it by the law students and friend lawyers you reached out to above. If anyone is in a position to put perspective on an angry blogger, it’s them.

The scam bloggers are the appropriate counterbalance for your prospective law school’s admissions brochures. Just like the law schools, you know what the scam blogger’s slant is going to be before you get started. The only difference is that the scam blogger isn’t asking for $100k and three years of your time.

5. Google the shit out of your law school.

Law schools make the news all the time: find out the reasons your prospective law school is making the news. Skip this step at your own peril. Skipping this step would leave you in the dark that Thomas Jefferson School of Law is getting hit with a class action suit for fraud, that “beloved” professors at Emory think the student body should be happy enough to “move to Nebraska” and join a firm where they “won’t make the big bucks”, and that George Mason’s School of Law has announced to the world that receiving an A on their transcript is completely F#$%ing meaningless.

Keep in mind, this is only news within the last couple weeks.

6. Now (and only now) should you give that glossy brochure from the law school that admitted you a good look.

Look at what the law school is promising you with a heightened degree of scrutiny, and compare it to everything you’ve heard from steps 1-5. How close does the school’s sales pitch match what you heard from their students? From family/friend lawyers? From their sworn enemies? How does the law school look in light of any recent news on it? Be skeptical. Be demanding. Remember: look at them like you’d look at a used car salesmen: if something sounds strange or doesn’t add up, you’re best not to ignore it. You will likely have an admissions contact once you get your acceptance letter– seek a reasonable explanation from them. Don’t disclose the sources who prompted your concern, especially if those sources are current students: just approach the admissions office out of position of legitimate curiosity.

Gauge any answers you get. Are they direct? Dodgy? Did they even answer your question? If the line sounds fishy and you established friendly relationship with a current student of the school, run it by them. The administrator may tout the school’s programs/clinics/fellowships, and so on– find out how easy they are to get, and how helpful they really are. They may try to show off the numerous law journals and moot court teams– take the same approach. They may brag about their curriculum in a specific area of the law– take the same approach. If that school’s  particular strength area of the law doesn’t interest you, ask about the area of the law that does. Who are the professors that teach that area of the law? What did they do prior to becoming a law professor? What do your current student contacts have to say about them? You get the idea.

I hope.

7. Are they giving you money?

If the answer is no, and their appearance is lackluster, send them to the bottom of your priorities list. If the answer is yes, and they’re providing the kind of education that matches your personal objectives, move them up. If they’re somewhere in the middle, you’ll have to use your own personal discretion.

8. Are they a regional law school, or do they have national reach?

You may or may not care about this. If you plan living in Toledo, Ohio the rest of your life, maybe you’ll be happy with the University of Toledo. But if you want to move out and get a job under the California sun, your “Made in Toledo” J.D. isn’t going to get you any special favors. Plus, even in Toledo, you’re going to be competing against lawyers from law schools that are nationally recognized.

Unless the money and quality of education are REALLY good, and you REALLY want to stay in your area, prefer the nationally recognized law schools to the regional ones.

9. Look at where you list stands, think about it really hard, sleep on it. If you wake up without any new questions or reservations, you will know the law school that is right for you.

And make sure you do all of this within the deadlines needed for you to issue a final acceptance. Naturally, you can start steps 1-4 before you’re even accepted.

Of course, this isn’t the only way go about picking a law school, it’s just one way. But, the steps here should put the right kind of information in your hands, and keep you from being led astray or entering the school-house gates with the wrong expectations.

Regardless of how you go about picking a law school, I encourage you to do so in a way that keeps your eyes open, your expectations realistic, and your concern for your own future and career development very real.

What’s up with the legal market?

For JET alums trying to make out what exactly is up with legal education and the legal market: the Economist just had a great article that lays it all out. For frequent readers, this should be nothing you haven’t heard before: the financial crisis killed a lot of jobs, and the delay in a legal market recovery is hampered by outsourcing and clients clinging a little closer to their pocketbooks and not wanting to pay young associates.

20110507_bbp002The article, in full, is here.

[UPDATED: Things are looking better for 2016]

 

Law School Just Got More Expensive

Not the greatest news for prospective students or Rising 3Ls: President Obama’s new budget includes revisions that will cause interest to accrue on graduate school loans while you are still in school.

Post in full at Huffington Post, available here.

Additional commentary from Above the Law, available here.

Getting to 外弁, or “So you want to be a lawyer in Japan.”

This post is aimed at clearing up what it really means to “practice law in Japan,” if you’re not Japanese. Being a foreigner turned Japanese lawyer, without a doubt, conjures up the image of being a truly accomplished bad-ass. There’s a reason for that: being a Japanese lawyer even as a Japanese citizen is insanely difficult. For a foreigner, even more so. Saying “I want to be a Japanese lawyer,” is something akin to that ugly kid in your 3rd grade classroom saying, “I want to be President of the United States”: in theory, it’s possible. But only in theory. In today’s world, ugly people just don’t get to be President.

A man with Chester A. Arthur’s looks would be a prime candidate for those who think their rent is too damn high.

While in theory, a foreigner can reach the level of proficiency and academic aptitude to become a Japanese lawyer practicing Japanese law, the education and licensing requirements represent a practically insurmountable barrier to entry. Currently, there are 30,479 Japanese lawyers (弁護士) registered with a Japanese Bar Association. For purposes of contrast, there are 30,000 lawyers in the U.S. state of Missouri alone. There is a special term for foreigners who actually reach the equivalent status of Japanese lawyer, called Junkaiin (準会員). While you might think this sort of special designation sounds promising, the ability to reach this status was abolished in 1955, so unless you have a flux capacitor and a healthy stash of plutonium, your odds at qualifying as Junkaiin are not great. Currently there is still one Junkaiin in practice.

That 30,000 Bengoshi population figure represents Japanese who have received a Japanese law degree and have successfully passed the Japanese Bar Exam. And we haven’t even talked about the Bar Exam yet. The good news is that the passage rate for the Japanese Bar Exam has increased dramatically since 2006. The bad news is that the odds are still stacked significantly against the test-taker. Even if you’re from a prime Japanese law school, you have no better than 2:1 odds of passing. While this is still better than the 1-4% that passed the test pre-2006, it’s a long way to go, and a long time spent, to only *maybe* become a real J-lawyer.

NOTE: Those who fail the Bar can still become a judicial scrivener, which is similar to Bengoshi, involves the same amount of office work, but significantly reduced courtroom work, and certainly less prestige.

Going for 外弁

What the vast number of foreign lawyers in Japan do, rather than attempt the impossible hurdles of becoming a Japanese lawyer is to procure (1) a Gaiben license (外国法事務弁護士) ; or (2) affiliate with a licensed multinational firm (弁護士法人).

The Gaiben License

Becoming an official Gaiben is a rather long road to hoe, but it’s the closest you’ll get to being an independent attorney in Japan – if that’s your goal.

The main difficulty in getting your Gaiben license is the requirement of prior practice – the Japanese government prefers you work several (I believe four) years in your home jurisdiction before you can be eligible. A few quotes from attorneys and recruiters I’ve talked to flesh this out further.

From a recruiter I spoke with last year:

Another point to keep in mind is the strict enforcement of making sure foreign lawyers in Japan have the gaikokuho jimu bengoshi license (gaiben). In order to qualify for this license a lawyer must have spent a couple of years working in their home jurisdiction. Law firms over here are reluctant to hire junior lawyers who are not eligible for their gaiben qualification. If you would like to work as a lawyer in Japan I would suggest you spend a few years working first in your home jurisdiction and then explore your options after that. I believe this approach will present you with the most options.

From an attorney who practiced in-house in Tokyo before attempting to make the jump to Gaiben:

You may be familiar with the 外国法事務弁護士 license (the “gaiben”). At least today, if you have not practiced a certain number of years in your home jurisdiction, then you cannot qualify to be a gaiben. Essentially, that means that you cannot form a partnership with a Japan licensed lawyer, and you cannot hold yourself out in Japan as a legal professional.

When I graduated from law school, I was happy to be getting a job, and didn’t really think that I would want to ever be a gaiben. I went directly in house.  I don’t regret my decision, but I often caution people like you to think very carefully about the decision.  Worst case scenario, … you might realize that the bureacracy of the company isn’t for you, that you have hit a glass ceiling and are doing too much translation for your own tastes, that you want to broaden your skills, that you want to go back to the US and see your aged parents, it *might* be difficult to do this if your experience is solely in-house … in Japan. One reason why I have stayed in the US as long as I have this time around is to get enough time here to be certain to qualify as a gaiben when I go back.

If you’re looking solely to practice in-house, you may not need the Gaiben license, but practicing in-house can ultimately hinder your progress towards Gaiben if you choose to go that way:

On the other hand, if you want a career in Japanese legal departments, say, or in business generally, you probably won’t need to become a gaiben. (I haven’t checked, but logically you shouldn’t, since most corporate law dept. folks aren’t bengoshi.) Also, I know things are tough for law grads now, so any job opportunity that you get that excites you is a welcome thing.

And BTW, MoJ prefers law firm practice — they wanted me to exclude my in-house practice from my application. Though maybe that was due less to MoJ’s own preference than to their fears about what the Nichibenren might say.

And, of course, even if you qualify for Gaiben, there is still bureaucratic lead time and the significant expenses of maintaining a US state bar license and Gaiben license to consider — another obstacle to any young lawyer graduating with law school debt.

Affiliate with BigLaw

This is the other option: but it is conditional on you (1) doing well enough in law school to be an attractive candidate; (2) demonstrating a commitment to Japan. The first is a matter only you can affect, and given law school grading curves and a tight market, there is a significant “luck” factor at work here. The second you can affect by simply being there, either at your own expense, or at a Law School Study Abroad program in Japan.

Indeed, one of the successful candidates who took this route I know combined his JD with a masters degree in Japanese (with focus on Japanese law). The additional masters degree was a solidly smart move: it gave him an “extra” 2L summer — in other words a second shot at the big firm summer associate recruiters, and enough time to take a semester in Tokyo, which helped him land a summer associate position IN Tokyo. This transformed into an actual job opportunity. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Epilogue

Of course, Japan is in a state of legal reform, and this situation may change at some point. But anyone who has worked with Japan knows that change can come slow, and for now, if you want to independently practice law in Japan, you’ll need to get to Gaiben first.

Lateral Interviewing Advice for Asia US Associate Positions (c/o Asia Chronicles)

Interviewing is a tricky business. Part competency assessment, part social skills assessment, part luck of the draw — even with a shining resume the interview is the most significant barrier to finding employment in a tricky legal job market.

The Asia Chronicles, a weblog that puts out materials, including occasional jobs relating to the legal market in (unsurprisingly) Asia, has just put out a great resource on the interviewing interests firms in Asia have in recruiting US associates. It’s a concise, quick read, and is available here.

Law School Tuition Increases from 2005-2011 (c/o Law School Tuition Bubble)

Law school is not an endeavor for the faint of heart. Not only does it present tremendous challenge, high levels of stress, and inordinate amounts of work– it also costs a shit load of money.

At least with IBR, you can aspire to be crushed with debt for only a quarter of your lifespan. Yay?

I usually prefer to let my colleague’s website speak for themselves, but last month Mr. Leichter over at the Law School Tuition Bubble has provided an excellent resource for the cost-mindful prospective law student.

This resource contains charts documenting tuition changes for every law school in the country, by state, over the past five years.

The page is available here, and is well worth reading. Enjoy!