Question for current/prospective students and recent grads

A forum for applicants and admitted students to ask law students and graduates about law school and the practice of law.
Paul Campos
Posts: 644
Joined: Mon Dec 12, 2011 9:44 am

Question for current/prospective students and recent grads

Postby Paul Campos » Wed Dec 28, 2011 9:29 am

I'm a law professor who is studying the question of the extent to which and under what circumstances going to law school is worth it, given present circumstances and the foreseeable future. I've spent some time over the last few days reading through many threads on TLS, and I've come away impressed both by the overall level of knowledge and the generally realistic attitude of so many forum participants regarding this issue (I was particularly impressed with the thread in this sub-forum in which current students were asked what they would say to prospective students if they had known what they know now before they enrolled).

Here's my specific question: Many posters take the view that going to law school right now, and especially paying anything close to sticker price, only makes sense if the prospective student will end up with a realistic shot at getting a big firm job, given the likely debt load the student will take on. What I've seen very little discussion of (it's quite possible I've just missed it, in which case I'd appreciate links to the relevant threads) is what step three is after: (1) Get into a good school; (2) Get a big firm job. Given the very high attrition rate for associates from such firms, a crucial question would seem to be, what are people planning to do once they're no longer at Skadden & Watkins and the like? Have people looked into what, for example, the entering associate classes from five to seven years ago at AmLaw 100 or 250 firms are doing today? (This isn't a rhetorical question, as I have little idea what the career outcomes for ex-Big Law associates look like at present).

In short, the current life plan of many posters here seems to be something like, go to a prestigious law school, incur a six-figure debt, work insane hours doing largely unpleasant tasks for several years while living frugally in order to pay that debt off quickly, and then . . . what? 20 years ago, during my very short detour into Big Law, the conventional wisdom was that ex-Big Law associates would end up with smaller regional firms, or in-house with former firm clients, or with government agencies, and that the firm would at least informally help ex-associates get these new jobs. Is this still the plan today? Because at the level of anecdote I've heard a number of things suggesting that plan isn't nearly as reliable as it was 20 years ago.

But as they say data isn't the plural of anecdote, and I'd like to hear peoples' thoughts on this topic, both in regard to their own plans, and to any insights they may have as to what the post-Big Law landscape looks like now for former Big Law associates.
Last edited by Paul Campos on Wed Dec 28, 2011 12:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Wholigan
Posts: 763
Joined: Sat Jan 29, 2011 4:51 pm

Re: Question for current/prospective students and recent grads

Postby Wholigan » Wed Dec 28, 2011 10:39 am

I have seen a fair amount of discussion of exit options here. This thread, for example.

viewtopic.php?f=23&t=166449

I would say that my experience on TLS made me aware of exit options as something to be mindful of during my job search, and it played a part in my selection of a firm (although I haven't started there yet). Specifically, I contacted several alumni who were junior/mid level associates at the firm I ultimately chose to summer at, and among other things, asked about what happened to those from their classes who had already left the firm. The answer that I basically received was that just about everyone had landed on their feet, generally with jobs like boutique firms, in-house counsel, AUSA, big government, etc. One associate also told me that partners at the firm take an active interest in helping associates find their next job. So, while I have no delusions of being able to make partner at this large NYC firm, I feel okay about the options that will hopefully be available three or five years in.

Paul Campos
Posts: 644
Joined: Mon Dec 12, 2011 9:44 am

Re: Question for current/prospective students and recent grads

Postby Paul Campos » Wed Dec 28, 2011 10:55 am

Thanks, useful thread. One latent issue in that discussion is that the legal employment market may be changing quickly enough that the experiences of people who lateraled out of big law ten or even five years ago could be significantly dated.

User avatar
Wholigan
Posts: 763
Joined: Sat Jan 29, 2011 4:51 pm

Re: Question for current/prospective students and recent grads

Postby Wholigan » Wed Dec 28, 2011 11:19 am

That's a good point. As an example, I've heard that AUSA hiring is much more competitive now than it was ten or even five years ago. Hopefully for my own purposes, what will matter is the state of the lateral market in 2017 or 2018 and not its state now or five years ago. I can't imagine anyone knows what that will be, so the only thing that current law students can reasonably go on is that the firms that have offered good exit options historially are most likely to offer the best ones in the future.

User avatar
Grizz
Posts: 10583
Joined: Mon Jan 04, 2010 6:31 pm

Re: Question for current/prospective students and recent grads

Postby Grizz » Wed Dec 28, 2011 11:30 am

Wholigan wrote:That's a good point. As an example, I've heard that AUSA hiring is much more competitive now than it was ten or even five years ago.

As in they're currently not hiring.

Incubateus
Posts: 185
Joined: Mon Mar 21, 2011 6:23 pm

Re: Question for current/prospective students and recent grads

Postby Incubateus » Wed Dec 28, 2011 11:39 am

I really don't have an exit plan per se. In an ideal world I would clerk for two to three years, work big/medium law to gain some more real world footing, and slowly begin to specialize. I guess my exit would actually be specializing into the field I want to go into (antitrust litigation in the technology sector). I've also realized that much of this may not workout due to career crowding so I have several off-shoot plans that interest me (criminal defense, civil lit, etc.) and place me into different areas of the law.

Financially speaking, the sooner debts are payed off, the better. But realistically, these matters can be dealt with over time if need be. This is just the way I have my future game plan set up for me. I really like the law. I worked for a few years in contracts and international trade and really narrowed my professional interests so I'm confident in my choice. I feel like a lot of people go into the law with different priorities, rather than quality of life (not bad or good either way). But that's just me. It obviously wouldn't work for everyone.

STLMizzou
Posts: 386
Joined: Thu Dec 01, 2011 12:45 pm

Re: Question for current/prospective students and recent grads

Postby STLMizzou » Wed Dec 28, 2011 11:57 am

I’m a 0L, but I work as a clerk for a defense litigation firm as a way to gain knowledge/experience before law school.

I talked to one of the partners, and he had quite a different experience. He was an older associate with a biglaw firm and considered one of the best younger attorneys in his specialized field. He, and 2 other well-regarded specialists were planning on leaving mid-spring to open up their own firm. Word got out, and they were all fired right before New Year’s Eve. He went through quite a bit of hassle during the initial few years of opening up his own practice.

I guess what I am saying, is while I am planning on working BigLaw after graduation from law school, I don’t expect the partners of my firm to help me find the “what’s next”. I plan on approaching it like one would becoming a sports agent; make as few enemies as possible but have no naïve expectations of the firm being happy to see me go if I am a valuable attorney.

User avatar
Wholigan
Posts: 763
Joined: Sat Jan 29, 2011 4:51 pm

Re: Question for current/prospective students and recent grads

Postby Wholigan » Wed Dec 28, 2011 12:16 pm

STLMizzou wrote:I’m a 0L, but I work as a clerk for a defense litigation firm as a way to gain knowledge/experience before law school.

I talked to one of the partners, and he had quite a different experience. He was an older associate with a biglaw firm and considered one of the best younger attorneys in his specialized field. He, and 2 other well-regarded specialists were planning on leaving mid-spring to open up their own firm. Word got out, and they were all fired right before New Year’s Eve. He went through quite a bit of hassle during the initial few years of opening up his own practice.

I guess what I am saying, is while I am planning on working BigLaw after graduation from law school, I don’t expect the partners of my firm to help me find the “what’s next”. I plan on approaching it like one would becoming a sports agent; make as few enemies as possible but have no naïve expectations of the firm being happy to see me go if I am a valuable attorney.


Starting your own firm if you are (presumably) partner material and trying to take some of the firm's clients is not what most people mean when discussing exit options. No firm is going to help you out with that plan. The firm will be a lot happier to help you find another job if you will be working for a client's in-house legal department, and giving your old firm work. As I understand it, most associates leave because either they don't like it, or they see (or have suggested to them) that they don't have a long-term future with the firm, which happens to lots of associates, even if they do quality work.

dixiecupdrinking
Posts: 3142
Joined: Sun Oct 26, 2008 2:39 pm

Re: Question for current/prospective students and recent grads

Postby dixiecupdrinking » Wed Dec 28, 2011 2:12 pm

I think Step Three is close your eyes and hope and pray that there are still jobs to lateral into after you pay off your debts. That's my plan.

The fact is, most law students have never worked full time or have only done it for a year or two. I don't think many people are really able to conceive of their careers beyond the first few years out of school. It is a problem and you're right that it seems even if you beat the odds, get Biglaw, and can pay your loans, you're just going to hit a second, less dramatic day of reckoning a few years later.

Then again, being debt free and making well into six figures is hardly a crying shame in this economy, regardless of where the career track dumps you afterward. There is no job security or sure career advancement in anything anymore, except, perhaps, being a law professor.

User avatar
hung jury
Posts: 159
Joined: Tue Dec 27, 2011 1:52 am

Re: Question for current/prospective students and recent grads

Postby hung jury » Wed Dec 28, 2011 3:33 pm

I'm hoping a biglaw firm gives me tenure so I don't have to worry about it.

On a more serious note, I've thought about general career tracks and I am doing what I can while in school to make them feasible but the idea of having a twenty-year career locked down because one has degree X seems out of touch with ITE ("in this economy" for Prof. Campos).

User avatar
rinkrat19
Posts: 13917
Joined: Sat Sep 25, 2010 5:35 am

Re: Question for current/prospective students and recent grads

Postby rinkrat19 » Wed Dec 28, 2011 3:43 pm

I have only the vaguest sketch of a "plan," which involves lateralling to government.

What's the stat? Most people will hold 20 jobs in their lifetime? I don't think the average grad in any field looks at their first job as The Only Job I Will Ever Have, but they also won't have a concrete plan for what job they'll be aiming at in 5-7 years. You can't plan that far ahead.

Paul Campos
Posts: 644
Joined: Mon Dec 12, 2011 9:44 am

Re: Question for current/prospective students and recent grads

Postby Paul Campos » Wed Dec 28, 2011 4:34 pm

rinkrat19 wrote:I have only the vaguest sketch of a "plan," which involves lateralling to government.

What's the stat? Most people will hold 20 jobs in their lifetime? I don't think the average grad in any field looks at their first job as The Only Job I Will Ever Have, but they also won't have a concrete plan for what job they'll be aiming at in 5-7 years. You can't plan that far ahead.


That's fair. My question is aimed at teasing out some of the less discussed aspects of what might be called the triple gamble involved in attending a $40K+ annual tuition law school right now at sticker, or even at a significant discount. The first gamble is getting an initial job with a six figure salary. The second is holding onto it long enough to pay off all or at least most of the debt incurred by going to law school. The third is that what comes after that will make the sacrifices involved in winning the first two gambles ultimately worth it.

There seems to be a huge amount of discussion regarding the first gamble (and therefore a healthy recognition of its dimensions). There's less discussion of the second -- I know a bunch of people who got Lathamed after two or three years and still have six figures of debt -- and even less of the third.

I'm certainly not suggesting there are easy answers to any of the difficult issues that are raised by the current legal economy and the economy in general.

MNbound
Posts: 51
Joined: Fri Sep 23, 2011 9:42 pm

Re: Question for current/prospective students and recent grads

Postby MNbound » Thu Dec 29, 2011 2:28 pm

I think your also making a lot of assumptions based on the TLS posters. While there is definitely a huge number of posters going to the highest ranked school they can get into, no matter the price, there is also a fair number of applicants looking for a full scholarship. In that sense, when graduating law school with little to no debt, the options expand quite a bit for law school graduates. Instead of spending a few miserable years at big law and hoping to land something in a few years, a graduate can move right into a small or midsized firm that they would want to work in. Granted, those jobs might be hard to come by, but worst-case scenario, they would be unemployed with basically no debt.

Another thing to consider is the different markets that law school graduates move into. In big markets, like NY, LA, CHI, big firms are structured pyramidally, with a lot of associates at the bottom, with a large majority of them never becoming a partner. However, in secondary markets, like the minneapolis/st. paul market, the one I live in, big firms are structured in parallel. There are many fewer associates, making it much more difficult to enter right after graduation, but chances of becoming partner are much greater.

User avatar
johnnyutah
Posts: 1709
Joined: Tue Aug 10, 2010 6:00 pm

Re: Question for current/prospective students and recent grads

Postby johnnyutah » Thu Dec 29, 2011 4:11 pm

I'm a class of 2011 graduate who is currently working as a state court clerk. My time in law school didn't quite end up how I had planned, but my original idea was simply to end up in a better position than I was in before. I knew I didn't want to do Big Law forever, but I just figured that whatever job options I'd have after I left it would be superior to the options I had at the time I made the decision to go to law school (i.e., working retail for minimum wage). It was a pretty vague plan, but I don't think it was a terrible one.




Return to “Ask a Law Student / Graduate”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Baidu [Spider], Google Adsense [Bot] and 3 guests