Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Dream and Aspirations

Well, it the season for job hunting at the Law School, 1L and 2L are feverishly looking for that summer gig and 3L are looking for an actual job. It is a new world for me, for the last five years I been in a very niche line of work, compensation management. Not very many people do compensation, it’s too much like finance to attract people with HR backgrounds and it’s too much like HR to attract people with finance backgrounds, therefore, the talent pool is tiny and the demand is high. After getting into compensation, I never really had to look for a job again. I was recruited away from my first employer, and recently, before quitting and going back to school, I was being swooned by Microsoft.

The law is a very different field, the labor supply is huge and the number of jobs is limited. In Seattle alone, between the two schools, there must be at least 1,000 students looking for work. If you count in students from Gonzaga, Idaho, Oregon and other schools the numbers must grow near 2,000 job seekers. Last July, over 700 people passed the bar in Washington State. If you add in the December bar, I bet there must be somewhere near 1200 new lawyers every year stepping up to practice in Washington!! This scarcity of jobs and the surplus of talent has breed a competitive job frenzy that is slowly driving me and my contemporaries crazy; we are just like so many frenetic piranha jumping at any position that happens to fall in the water. I myself have applied for two clerkships this year and I am going a little nuts waiting for word, a rejection, an interview, anything….after five year of being recruited it feels a little strange to have to be hunting for a position again.

There is, of course, despite the over supply of lawyers, a lot of elitism in the kind of work the students want and will take. Everyone, well nearly everyone, wants a clerkship at a big firm. For a lot of obvious reasons, a big firm is the goal: the money, the prestige, the type of work. All around me everyone dreams of the joining Gates, or Perkins, or some other big name. Law students leave school with a lot of debt and with starting salaries at these big firm hanging around 135K, it isn’t surprising that is where most students want to go. When compared with the public sector, which pays around 35-55K to start, it isn’t surprising that student don’t drool at the notion of working for Uncle Sam. Yet, in reality, there is a lot more choice out there for law students than the mere dichotomy of government work or a big firm.

The majority of law firms in Seattle are small to midsize. The majority of lawyers work for firms ranging from 3-50 lawyers, yet you wouldn’t know that from the talk around the school or the information coming from career services. The problem may be that these small firms don’t have the time and resources to do on-campus recruiting. Further, most law firms don’t advertise, so student don’t know about these other firms in the market, it essential problem of a lack of “name recognition”. You would think that the school would do a better job of directing student’s attention toward these smaller to midsize firms as that is where most of us will wind up, but they don’t. A recent survey from the school to judge our post grad expectations had a multiple choice question to determine our aims. The choices were: large firm, solo practice, government, or in-house counsel. Small firm, midsize firm; these choices were non existent.

Although I wouldn’t pass on working for a large firm, I’m not going to bank all my aspirations on getting an offer from one. I would like the experience, the money, and the ability to start my career strong; yet, I don’t really think my future happiness or success as a lawyer is predicated on getting into a large firm. A recent graduate of a California law school who landed one of these prized large firm gigs in L.A. confided that she is unhappy and doesn’t think she’ll last more than a year or two. Her unhappiness isn’t do to stress or workload, she says, but that the work is boring. With hundred of associates, the new hires get grunt work. The menial hard lifting, so to speak, and that isn’t why she went to law school. Although I have no proof, I am pretty sure the new associates at smaller firms get similar grunt work, but I am also sure they also get pulled into bigger cases and handling more difficult questions that, if at a larger firm, would be tossed to more experienced lawyers. So, happiness and job satisfaction is not dependent on getting that dream job at a large firm.

Now, if only I could convince my fellow student of that.


Anonymous said...

No, you don't want to convince your fellow students of that until you have a job, and are an established lawyer in your own right!

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