I'm the anon with the question about the small firm offer. But first:
To the person contemplating suicide, I knew someone close to me in a very similar situation during undergrad. They had gotten into such a mess personally and academically that suicide seemed like a better option than dealing with the mess. You didn't make a mess of your life, it's just a sucky job market, but the feelings of panic and failure are similar. The suicide attempt was unsuccessful for my friend and as a result the person was able to take a semester off, live at home, and put their life back together. I think for driven people, they literally have to feel almost suicidal before they can step off the rotating wheel of their circumstances and get the help they need. My friend is more resilient and tougher now. And happy. A semester off from school, which seemed like the worst thing, ended up actually being a very good thing. Suicide attempts are often a desperate cry for help for people who feel like they can't ask for help. The problem is that sometimes suicide attempts work, and a life is gone forever. You may not ever intend to actually step over that line, but if you get to close to it the suicidal feelings can take you over. And even when suicide attempts don't work, they cause a world of hurt and confusion for the people who love you. Your comment that going home would be a death sentence makes me think there's not a support network. But if there is a support network, even a humbling, awkward, difficult one, I sincerely urge you to make use of it. If you need to set the weight that's on your shoulders down for awhile, it really, really, really will be ok. If you were smart enough to get into law school you're smart enough to get your life back together, even if it takes awhile. If you don't have a place or people to go to for help, consider moving to a cheap city where there's steady doc review work. It often pays about $20-$25/hour. It's numbingly boring but easy. Get your paycheck and a tiny, cheap apartment, find a way to see a therapist (try the local bar association), and then figure out what you can do to make things better (pro bono work, finding a non-legal job, whatever). I understand how bitter and crushing this process is, being in it, but if you feel like you would rather die than not have a legal job, finding a legal job won't solve everything in the long run. Think about getting help, please, please please. And I know this sounds cheesy, but if you can find ways to cope right now, things that make you happy and calm even when everything is going to shit, whether it's cooking or exercise or your friends or meditation or therapy or volunteering or family or what have you, you will be set to cope with stress and setbacks for life. You may feel like you had certain expectations from friends or family that you didn't meet, hence the revulsion to perceived "failure." But any people who are worth two shits admired you not because of law school or certain job prospects, but because of the qualities you have as a person that put you in that position in the first place. Really bad luck in a bad job market doesn't wipe out those qualities. So remember those qualities. Literally make a list. Ask people you love to remind you. And then use those qualities to cope with the uncertainty and stress of this situation and build a path out of them. You need to pay minimum student loans without defaulting (that can be $0 or close to it), feed yourself, and a few other minimal obligations. As long as you don't wreck your credit score or your health, nothing is irreparable and there's time to figure out the rest (and even things like credit scores are fixable and not worth dying for). There are years of trials and tribulations and surprises and successes ahead, and it would be stupid not to see what you can make happen in your life, even if it takes adjusting some expectations and redefining success. What do you have to lose by accepting your circumstances, being brave and giving it your all to get out of the place where you're in? And there could be so much to gain. It sounds like you're pretty close to bottom emotionally, so I bet finding some acceptance of your situation will bring you a good deal of peace and perspective. You really can get to a place where life is on the balance enjoyable and satisfying. You don't have anything to lose by trying, and potentially a whole lot to gain. All that said, please seek help immediately if your thoughts of suicide EVER become concrete. It really does get better.
Re: the big firm/small firm debate:
Thanks so much lolwat and NYState. I will ask the small firm for about two weeks if it comes to that. It does seem like there are drawbacks and benefits to raising the small firm offer with the big firm. I am going to keep thinking about it and then see what happens. While I am being honest about being willing to renege on the small firm I don't do so lightly and would strongly prefer to avoid that situation if possible. For possibly the first time ever I won't mind if the small firm takes their sweet time to get back to me after the interview.
I also feel somewhat hopeful that news of some sort could come from the company or big firm early next week. It seems like a lot of people are still on vacation this week. When I heard from the small firm with what sounded like a likely-ish offer yesterday, I sent an attorney at the big firm a short e-mail with a (reasonable to ask) follow-up question and also sent the recruiter a short note just expressing my continued interest, acknowledging that things might still take awhile as attorneys and staff are busy after the holiday, but saying I would appreciate an update on the hiring process when she is able to give one. If I hear back from either the recruiter or partner it might help me decide how promising the big firm is and thus whether to let them know I have another offer. Test balloons. And to lolwat I'm not averse to small firm work because of the work itself, the colleagues, or the clients. All enjoyable. But the future successful career track (basically going solo, owning a business, chasing down clients for bills) puts me off a bit and the salary would make it very hard to service my debt and take good care of my family for the first few years and maybe more. It just seems like a big firm offers a) salary and b) some flexibility to make a variety of career choices down the road. Thanks again.