Author: Andy Mack

Recent Developments: The Difficult Job Market

Bad news is never fun, but there’s always plenty of it out there, even when the market is up and last month saw significant positive job growth of around 150,000. Law jobs are still projected to lag behind, however, and a recent National Jurist article gives a pretty succinct explanation as to why. A brief snippet of that article can be found here, but one of the more salient portions explains:

Here are three relevant observations:

1. The traditional law firm hiring model (pedigree and grades) doesn’t do a very good job of selecting candidates who are likely to succeed as large firm litigators or corporate lawyers.

2 The traditional credential-based model is gradually being dismantled because clients are no longer willing to absorb the cost of bad hiring decisions.

3. The skills and behaviors you need to set yourself apart are not taught in law school—indeed, your typical law professor is completely unqualified to serve as your jungle guide.

The full article contains a fairly lengthy explanation of where the legal market finds itself today, especially in light of young or aspiring lawyers, and is well worth a read for that reason alone. This raises all kinds of questions for the individual considering a legal education, and should raise a lot of concerns as to the risks as well. Change comes slow to law schools, and to firms as well. But, the legal profession as a whole is undergoing serious, hyper-evolutionary changes, and their overall ramifications are still unclear.

For current third-years, who have watched the last two years’ worth of graduates leaving law school jobless and in debt, the likelihood that many of them will suffer the same fate seems a possibility, as noted in U.S. News & World in June:

Though official statistics will not be released until next May, the class of 2010 is likely to have lower raw employment numbers than the class before it, says Jim Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement. The employment for the class of 2011 will likely also be “very compromised,” he says.

“The Class of 2012 will be the first class for which we might see some kind of uptick in employment,” Leipold says. “I’m not making a prediction that it will recover in 2012; I’m saying it probably won’t recover much before then.”

The outlook has not much changed with the uptick in the economy as of recent, and it seems instead that the principle suppliers (the law schools) of the glut of lawyers are going to be under pressure to close as the unemployment woes of recent law school grads reach critical mass.

Slate also had a recent article chronicling the typical cautions and risks inherent in going to law school in the current economic climate that concluded with a similar premise that the market will have to level out.

These are the most recent developments I have seen on the employment front, and with the legal market under change, with lots of entry-level attorney jobs being shipped to India, with the large oversupply of attorneys already out there, law school seems to be daily becoming an ever riskier investment, even on the advent of economic recovery.

[UPDATED: Things are looking better for 2016]

It’s hard to admit it’s getting better: Legal Market Update October 2010

I’ve been holding back on doing this. Dreading it, in fact. The last time I posted about the legal employment market, the stastics out there showed little growth in May, and a dive back into the negatives in June. At the same time, the nation was dealing with a massive oil spill, Greek debt crises abroad, and latent unemployment everywhere driving what was supposed to be a “Summer of Recovery.”

Well, summer is at an end. The markets have been up for a month. Students who were fortunate enough to win the Summer Associate BigLaw lottery are looking at higher retention rates (and job security) and helping clear the field a bit for the 3Ls still looking for work. Legal employment numbers were also up for August and September.

But there’s still a lingering uncertainty in the stormy legal market. More and more entry-level legal jobs (and document review jobs that unemployed attorneys could rely upon) are being shipped to India. And then there’s that backlog of graduates from the last two years who have been unable to find work — those who haven’t given up on their dreams of legal employment may be coming back into the market to fight for jobs, even if their contract attorney work experience doesn’t carry much weight.

Sources near me tell me that even for low-paying legal secretary jobs at their firm, they are seeing hundreds of unemployed J.D.-toting applicants. It’s both an absurd and sad testament to the times.

So – are things on the mend? Probably so.

Are the nervous 3Ls who have watched the two law classes before them sentenced to unemployment purgatory beeming with excitement? Not yet, at least. And it’s fair to say not for awhile.

[UPDATED: Things are looking better for 2016]

Personal Statements: Don’t be a Law-o-phile

It’s law school application season, and there are plenty of applicants out there anal-retentively tending to their personal statements in attempts to make themselves sound like the beacon of light that law schools are searching for to join their class, maintain their ranks, and get all those fancy entry-level BigLaw jobs that haven’t been shifted to India.

So what makes for a good personal statement, anyway? Well, for applying to law school, you would think it would be saying how much you love the law, dream about the law, sleep with the law under you pillow, live, breathe, eat, drink, and piss law. All the time. Everyday.

As JETs, you should already know better, but if you don’t Yale Law School’s associate dean has kindly stated the obvious for you.

Reflect back on that moment when you first applied to JET. You had to write a personal statement, right? What did you write about?

I would like to imagine that after a little bit of internet research (or a few moments thought), you came to the conclusion that writing about your deep and profound knowledge and interest in everything Japan might be a red flag to recruiters. If the rosy expectations you expound on in your personal statements are going to clearly clash with reality, what’s going to happen when your expectations don’t match with reality? For example, if you spend half of your personal statement expounding about how you adore Japanese technological innovations, and ignoring (or not realizing) that you might have to live in a small apartment with no central heat and keep your toothpaste in the fridge to keep it from freezing, I might be nervous as a recruiter to how you might react when you find your placement doesn’t have flying cars and robots all over the place. Linch-pinning your personal statment to anime and manga interest has been a known red flag for years. Talking about your lengthy research project on the existential questions raised by Super Mario Bros. 2 being a near duplicate of Doki-doki Panikku would similarly be ill-advised.

So, too, with the law.

Lawyers don’t want to work around people who live and breathe the law anymore than your JTE would want to constantly hear about your opinions on DBZ or the anything else Japan-obsessive. Much like a Japan interest is almost implied in your application to JET, so too an interest in the law is implied merely by the fact your applying to law school.

Why waste a whole page gushing about your interest in the law, when you can cover the genesis of your interest in a short paragraph, and then spend time actually explaining your background, adaptability, work ethic, and academic strength: things that will actually help you succeed in law school, and help make the law school you go to end up looking good?

The entirety of the article from Yale’s associate dean is here, and is well worth reading. While I would love to pretend the advice is nothing more than Yale elitism, which some of the commenters have done, I cannot do so in the face of what I consider to be legitimately helpful advice.

Oddly enough, the one consistent piece of advice I have heard from law professors is this: if you want to stand out on your personal statement, say you’re coming to law school for the money. Almost every other applicant out there is so busy trying to sound like a resurrection of Atticus Finch that no one ever brings up the desire to come to law school to actually increase their earnings potential.

Other advice for personal statements can be found here.

And here.

And sample statements here.

Interview Advice from the Top 14

tie-690084It’s a tough market out there, everyone knows. And, with a tough market comes a tougher job interview. With On-Campus interviews looming — it’s time to see what the Top Fourteen law schools have out there for interview enhancement:

With a significant percentage of law clerks whose work gets questioned or reversed, Yale Law school has a sizable list of sample interview questions for you to consider.

Harvard Law School emphasizes certain characteristics in finding a public service job — the advice seems to be applicable to any kind of interview, however.

Stanford may want to unseat Harvard and Yale, but they don’t have much available online for interviewing.

Columbia gives us a link to 50 Worst of the Worst (and Most Common) Interview Mistakes. This includes helpful advice such as don’t light up a cigarette or bring your mom to the interview.  Wow.

University of Chicago keeps all of its resources behind a login. Boo.

NYU provides a list of resources you can consult in your search for legal employment.

UC Berkeley keeps everything behind a password wall as well.

UPenn Law too.

University of Michigan has resources in interview preparation, questions to ask, and what to do if you get a call-back available.

The University of Virginia follows the pattern of keeping their interview tips blocked to the public.

Duke has a fairly lengthy page of interview advice here.

Northwestern keeps most of its stuff blocked, but does have some interesting info available on various legal markets across the country, certainly helpful.

Cornell has some brief interview advice available.

Georgetown has taken the password protection route, too.

Enjoy. After all, if you interview well, you not only get to walk away with a job, but you can say the current unemployment rate isn’t in part a result of your lousy interviewing skills.

Law School Grades versus the Grade of Your Law School, Which is More Important?

As a prospective student, one of the hardest choices you have to make is which law school you will choose for enrollment.  While you naturally want to make sure the school you choose has the faculty and course selections you are looking for, how are you going to choose amongst the schools that meet those criteria?  The instinctive choice, one would think, would be to choose the school with a higher ranking.  Higher rankings open more doors, right?  And if “C’s get degrees,” what need is there to worry about taking  a hit to your GPA if it means you get a degree from one of the top schools in the country?

Not so, say two law professors. UCLA law professor Richard Sander and Brooklyn law professor Jane Yakowitz argue that the “eliteness” of your degree doesn’t matter as much as your GPA. When it comes to predicting career success, they say, it’s all about the grades.  So, while C’s may get degrees, it’s the A’s that get what pays, if you will.  My first reaction to this, not being part of an elite law school myself, was: “Excellent!”

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Choose your law school by the height and quality of its towering spires. 

My second thought was: “Wait … what?”

But before I can get to the major problem this study leaves untouched, for the uninitiated let me provide a quick bit about law school grading– which is vastly different than anything you experienced in your undergraduate studies.

 

(1): Nobody Fails Law School

Seriously.  Of course, like JET, every law school’s grading situation is ESID.  But, even with bare minimum effort, at law school you are guaranteed a C average.  Once you are in, it would take a far more concerted effort to fail — requiring you to get things blatantly incorrect on exams and plagiarize your papers to truly fail out of law school.

(2): Most Law Students Don’t Have an A-Average

Unlike your undergraduate years, a well-concerted effort in law school is no guarantee of an A. The undergraduate system rightly rewards hard work: put forth the effort and show mastery of the material and you will get an A, if your understanding is a little off, you might hope for a B. Law school, however, grades on a curve.  This is assuming your law school even has grades, but again, ESID on that. Most law schools set a curve where a few number of people walk away with A/A-, a glut of people walk away in the B range, and a few unfortunate souls get a C.  If you do walk away with a C, there is a slight chance that your grade may actually go up, retroactively, with inflation, but that’s a risky strategy not worth banking on. Moreover, because the whole system is curved, the law school grades aren’t a measure of competence or material mastery, but a competitive comparison of where you stack up against your classmates.

Add to that the fact that most people at any given law school are within the same LSAT range, and that means that if you go to a law school within you LSAT range score, you are competing against a couple hundred clones of yourself for a very finite number of As.

(3): Most Employers Know Both (1) and (2)

And hire accordingly.  Of course, one C on a transcript can easily be explained as an outlier and dismissed if the rest of your transcript shines accordingly– but a host of  C’s on a law school transcript will likely raise a red flag to potential employers.

But really, do grades outweigh eliteness?  Is it really advisable to take that lower ranked law school instead of that shiny Harvard or Yale law degree?

It seems that the study runs a great risk of being misunderstood.  Perhaps there is a correlation between GPA and the amount law graduates end up earning in the long run (which is what the study maintains), but the study doesn’t speak to your actual job prospects in the lower ranking schools as opposed to the elite schools.  The ability to earn more money with a great GPA from a lower ranked school is meaningless if you don’t have a starting salary to develop that from.

Certain employers, moreover, knowingly discriminate by eliteness of school. If you’re an Ohio State law student, for example, you can pretty much count out a Supreme Court clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Scalia.

My point is simple: a higher GPA at a lower ranked school might net you more money at some point, but it’s still the elite named law school degree that will open doors.  And, in an economy where the doors to the legal profession are few and narrow, the edge of eliteness cannot really be understated.  Of course, in an era where even the elite law students are begging for work on Craigslist, my guess is as probably good (or bad) as any.

JLPT Registration Starts TODAY

Registration for the December 2010 US-based Japanese Language Proficiency Test begins today.  Head over here to get your registration complete.

Information describing the substantive changes to the new test is available here.

Resources, including kanji and vocabulary lists for the new tests, are available here.

Advice for Legal Interviews: Be Psychic

Okay, well maybe you don’t have to channel Miss Cleo to get legal employment these days.  But, in addition to the healthy dose of luck you’ll need, the legal career services world has created a brand new buzzword concept through which all prospective employees can be vetted: emotional intelligence.

What is emotional intelligence, you ask?  Emotional intelligence, or as those trying to sound more professional than they really are might call it, “EI,” is the demonstrated ability to show, and practice, professional competence by providing good answers to hypothetical questions and connecting with interviewers. The idea behind the concept is that you are being hired not just for your legal acumen and ability to detect italicized commas in a document of hundreds of pages — you’re being hired to develop and maintain clients. What does this all boil down to?  Don’t be a jackass.

It’s hard to imagine why a new buzzword for an obvious concept like emotional intelligence even merits creation, but oddly enough, a JET alum probably possesses more of it than most law students, especially the rural JET alum.  There’s something about being the sole foreigner in a town that breeds the sort of thick skin capable of dealing with clients regardless of whether those clients are truly deserving of your empathy and advocacy, or whether they, let’s just say, suffer from a severe lack of emotional intelligence. Rural JET life is, in many ways, a true test of your personal “EI.”  It may be true that in  a legal interview you are outgunned by the experience of your interviewer, but at least you’re outgunned in your own language.  On JET, your schools and your community are akin to clients.  Their taxes are your salary at the end of the day, and they’re happiness with your presence is the ultimate determiner of where you end up on the scale of Immortal Super JET Hero, or in Utter Misery.

Of course, completely unaddressed in the article is the fact that law school may actually degrade emotional intelligence.  Three years of having your fate decided by ultimately petty distinctions (LSAT score, narrow grading curves, law journal write-on scores, the list goes on) can turn even the most most emotionally balanced and likable person into a petty, cut-throat monster. Not surprisingly, lawyers lead the professional world in depression and drug abuse. If “emotional intelligence” is going to be a significant factor in legal employment going forward, it might be worth it for law schools to consider whether their curriculum amounts to too much of an emotional lobotomy to ensure their students’ some degree of employment prospects.

Clerking in the Tropics (3): The Northern Mariana Islands

This is a continuation highlighting clerking opportunities outside of the fifty U.S. States available for American law graduates.  The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (“CNMI”) is the third stop in a series on seeking out clerkships in U.S. Territories.  Located just north of Guam, the Judiciary of the Northern Mariana Islands includes Saipan.

The site for the Northern Mariana Islands judiciary is located here, and includes information on the CNMI Supreme Court and CNMI Superior Court.

Unlike Palau and American Samoa, however, I have been unable to get replies from the folks over at CNMI.  Life over there must be just that good.  It is worth noting, however, that also unlike Palau and American Samoa, data on CNMI judges is available on the OSCAR Symplicity site, which is the primary hub of U.S. Clerkship applications.  Any openings, and the means of applying for them, will likely be available there.

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Resume Advice from the Top 14

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So far, so good.

A legal education is, in the end, a ranking obsessed education.  Are you in a Top 14 school or aren’t you?  Are you on the main journal or some secondary topic law journal?  Are you in the top 10% of your class or not?  I could go on and on.  It’s not fun, and most students don’t like it, but it is the unfortunate way of life in legal education.

For some reason, the rankings Gods have decided to loan hallowed status to the Top 14 ranked schools in the nation.  Why fourteen?  Nobody knows.  What everyone does know is that it must really piss school School #15 off.

With On-Campus interviews looming — it’s time to see what the Top Fourteen law schools have out there for resume enhancement:

(1) Yale Law School has its breakdown of resume writing, albeit aimed at alumni, here.

(2) Harvard Law has a page covering resumes, cover letters, interviews, and more: here.

(3) Stanford has a long .pdf file on resume writing here.

(4) Columbia gets it done in three paragraphs, here.

(5), (6) University of Chicago only offers resume advice to prospective students, and NYU offers more than a few resumes for legal academic careers.  Fueling the Law School Tuition Bubble a bit, perhaps?

(7) UC Berkeley doesn’t have their resume tips out for the public eye.

(8) University of Pennsylvania has some sample resumes and writing tips up for grabs.  (Note: The writing tips never loaded properly for me either).

(9) University of Michigan has it’s sample resumes right long with its sample everything else.

(10) University of Virginia’s public resume samples are aimed at those seeking public service.

(11) Duke offers some straightforward advice here.

(12) Northwestern’s resume guide is off limits to non-students / non-alums.

(13) Cornell has an example third-year law student resume on display.

(14) Georgetown has its resume pointers here.

Yes, the Situation Really Can Be That Bad

This site is as much about giving prospective students a clear picture of the legal market landscape as much as it is about anything else.  And, when it comes to law school (or any other graduate level education), knowing what your end game is going to be is critical.  That’s because law school is nothing like your undergraduate years.  It’s three years of high-intensity, high-cost study — and if you don’t know what you’re going to do after that, it can be the road to ruin.

Especially now.

Even with the recession bottoming out, going to law school is more akin to playing the lottery than it is to educating yourself into prosperity.  Of course, if you lose the lottery, you don’t wind up in triple-figure debt.  If you lose out in law school, different story.

Although the economic collapse hit in late 2008, the legal market remains in the doldrums.  June’s employment numbers were again in the negative, after May added as few as 300 jobs for the pool of unemployed attorneys and law graduates from 2008-2010 to fight over.

The point in all this is simple: the legal market really doesn’t know what it is at the moment.  It doesn’t make job finding impossible — but it does mean that, more than ever before, luck is playing just as significant a role as skill, hard-work, and networking.

If you are considering law school, realize that the moment you sign up you are making a bet.  You are gambling that in three years time the employment market for legal jobs will have reached some sense of balance, and that that balance will be in your favor to get a job.

And while there are plenty of voices out there still lauding the value of a legal education, you need to recognize that if you are coming to law school, you are still taking a gamble.  And there is still the chance that you will roll snake eyes.

[UPDATED: Things are looking better for 2016]