Con Law wrote:
The purpose of this book is to provide the reader, who is (or ought to be) someone interested in becoming an attorney – that is the purpose of attending law school, after all – with a second opinion. The hope is to provoke the reader into thinking a little more deeply prior to setting foot in law school, which is now such an expensive, time-consuming endeavor that going into it without considering these points is beyond foolish.
It also bears mentioning how this book came about. Once upon a time, Charles spent his days behind a large desk in a well-respected law firm in a great city, enjoying a panoramic view of the downtown skyline, sipping on the firm's finest Costa Rican coffee, and reclining in a puffy leather office chair. Hardly a failure by any measure.
He had it pretty good: a great salary, plentiful work as a real lawyer, manageable hours, about as perfect a private practice could ever be for a mid-level associate. Stressful at times, to be sure, but he knew he had it made compared to many others, and especially compared to recent law graduates, many of whom were already struggling to find jobs.
This was 2008.
Then something happened: The Shift.
A rapid, dramatic, unsettling shift in the legal economy. A shift law schools to this day refuse to acknowledge. The job market for attorneys completely dried up as the economy collapsed. First came the economic slowdown, followed by mass layoffs throughout the profession as firms restructured to become leaner, less stuffed with expensive young associates who were profitable in good times, but a drain on a firm's finances during slow times. Outsourcing and contract work, once terms reserved for customer service centers and debt collectors, became commonplace. Online services came of age, and started offering reasonable-quality do-it-yourself legal services for the average person on the street, making small firms all but irrelevant. The government, stung by suddenly-slashed budgets, stopped being a safety net for lawyers seeking refuge.
Experienced and dedicated attorneys left or were forced out of the profession, fleeing for safer, more stable careers – if they could find a position in a troubled economy. Many who tried to remain in the legal profession were demoted to performing mindless document review work on a temporary basis for a fraction of their former incomes, answering to a junior associate attorney and being treated like cattle. We all thought our jobs were safe from such degrading sub-positions. For must this was a career fate worse than death.
Charles too fell victim to these seismic changes in the profession. The firm's clients were suddenly no longer as busy developing real estate, acquiring companies, innovating, producing, litigating, or making money like they had in the good old days. There weren't as many deals to be worked on. Clients, in response to their own business slowdown, started slashing their own costs, including their legal budgets. The party was over; fewer business deals, and less money to squander on over-lawyering those few deals that remained. Clients they were paying far too much for basic legal work (and they still are!), and so negotiated their fees down to rock bottom levels, did much of their own work in-house, or just put off all but the most essential legal matters. Contrary to what many attorneys thought, clients had immense power over their lawyers and started calling the shots, rather than having their lawyers dictate what needed to be done and how much it was going to cost. After all, if their current attorney or law firm was not prepared to deliver legal services at bargain-basement prices, there were ten other firms in the same zip code that would gladly undercut and slash hourly rates in order to get the work now that the economy was in free-fall. Being paid half the typical hourly rate was better than not being paid at all. Billable hours were suddenly harder to come by, and what happened to many, many other lawyers happened to Charles: collateral damage as he was generating less income for the firm that what it cost to employ him. In better economic times, this would be seen as a temporary setback, something that time itself would correct, but when every penny counts and the future holds only greater likely austerity, an overpaid, underused attorney is a simple line item to erase from a budget.
So, unable to find a position in another firm (all of whom were suffering from the same weak economic conditions and fear) despite knocking on every door in town, plus just about every firm with a two-hour commuting range, which included two major metro areas with one of the nation's largest legal markets, and calling in every favor from every attorney he knew, he ended up opening up shop as a solo practitioner. This was about the same as being unemployed, except it cost money. Office rent, marketing costs, time spent promoting the business, and so forth, In hindsight, he knew he should have simply quit the law at that point, and move to another career. Perhaps he might try to reenter the profession when (if!) the economy turned around, which, of course, has not happened (and might not ever happen in the same way as before). After many months of effort, expense, and no paying clients – not even one! – he resorted to document review work in a desperate attempt to generate some income while he plugged away at solo practice in his spare time. After a few months of the most degrading experience of his life, he finally saw the writing on the wall and called it quits. There was nothing left the profession could offer, and he is now working happily in a non-law government position.
A word on law school rankings and on Charles' own educational background, which formed the beginning and basis for this work:
Charles wrote:I am not a Harvard grad, nor has my education been particularly distinguished or prestigious. I attended a great regional law school. "Great regional" is my own designation for a law school that is well-regarded within its hiring region (its home state, perhaps nearby out-of-state major metro areas too) but is not of a national stature.