Monday, November 22, 2010
I've recently had the pleasure of speaking with some third-year law school students and recent graduates. They have some... well... let's say, "interesting," ideas about the world. Almost every law school student or recent grad I've spoken with has this idea that not only are they marketable, but that they can still land a job in today's economy, which you know is a laughable idea if you've graduated within the last three to four years. I suspect that law schools (more specifically their respective Career Services departments) are keeping student hope alive for the express purpose of making sure that law school enrollment stays at an all time high even though legal jobs are at an all time low.
I personally graduated right when the economy took its downward turn. Many of my friends thankfully found work early on, but I was one of the less lucky (though still very fortunate) ones that had to go through two boxes of resume paper and countless online applications before landing my own job (without ANY help from Career Services mind you). It took me almost a year to find a steady job and not a day went by during that time that I wasn't actively, in some way, trying to land a job. The process was grueling, exhausting, and demeaning all at the same time.
I made the same error early on that so many graduates make. I assumed that I'd get work at a medium to large sized firm. I set the bar there (no pun intended) and I was committed to that goal. I realized there was a problem when I noticed that almost no firms were hiring and if they were, they wanted experience. "Experience," now there is a word to dread as a recent graduate. The one thing you can't possibly get in order to land a job that requires it. The comically tragic Catch-22 that rules out so many applicants when the economy is down yet law schools are pumping out graduates faster than ever.
I started to lower my standards and look for legal jobs that I wasn't even interested in, just so I could get the fabled "experience" that would make me marketable. I joined five temp agencies and got one job that lasted one week (actually it was listed for three weeks, but I was so efficient that I did the work in one - silly me for having a strong work ethic). So, when that didn't work, I lowered my standards even more and looked for paralegal jobs. Just something, anything, to keep me in the legal field. No luck... it's not that I wasn't qualified, it's that no one wanted to hire a lawyer to be a paralegal because as soon as a job opened up that lawyer would be gone... and... I totally would have been. Lastly, I turned to trying to get ANY job. That's when my eyes opened to all of the other opportunities out there available to a person with a law degree that had nothing to do with law. Click here to check out this blog about alternative legal careers. It lists four types of jobs reported by four different law school graduates, which are: financial planner, real estate investment, campaign work, and government consulting.
It was alternative legal careers that gave me new hope. I started looking into what it would take to get my real estate license, which is easy for a lawyer. I also looked into finance when a friend of mine told me that her accounting firm loved the idea of hiring a lawyer to manage certain finances. I also realized that plenty of companies were interested in the idea of hiring lawyers as business developers because while an MBA is nice, a law degree is often better. It was during this period of newfound hope for employment that I found my current position at WIN Interactive.
Granted, my current job is very related to the legal field, but as far as legal careers go, there aren't many lawyers that do what I do. At first, I thought it would bother me not to do what all of my colleagues were doing, but I quickly realized that I (like all associates) I probably would have hated the first few years of my career at a large firm. I'm sure the pay is wonderful, but they take it out of you in a reduction in the quality of life. Many of my friends were working obscene hours and burning out in the process. Often, alternative legal careers can give you a taste of the law without a lot of the hassle that goes with it. For example, as a litigation consultant and project manager, I get to work with some of the best attorneys in the country (not just the state!) and on some of the best cases in the country. I don't often have to deal with the early stages of a case where there's a lot of paperwork and very little interesting legal argument. Where I come in, I get right into the meat of a case and I get to help craft the presentation of a case at mediation, arbitration, or trial... and I got to do that right out of law school!
Many of us have talents that get tossed to the side in the pursuit of a legal career. For example, I was always very creative growing up and in school. I loved the arts and computers, but there isn't much room for visual creativity in law school. My alternative legal career allows me to take advantage of my love for the arts and computers and apply those skills to my legal knowledge.
As time went on, other, more traditional lawyerly, opportunities also began to present themselves because as a lawyer working for a legal graphics consulting firm, I work with other lawyers. As a result, we can try cases when we feel like it in addition to our regular business. A little over one year after law school and I cross-examined a witness in court in a small case. I also got to teach at a MCLE course on medical malpractice and visual communication.
The bottom line is that working as a lawyer for a firm is great if you can get it and that's what you want out of life. On the other hand, there are so many other opportunities out there if recent graduates are willing to open themselves up to them. Not everyone is cut out for firm life, and even less people are getting those jobs today, but luckily, there are alternatives...
Posted by Youssef Rizk, Esq. at 5:09 PM