Everyone knows that the legal job market is brutal. Firms have laid off thousands of associates and staff, cut back on new hires and summer associate programs, diverted incoming associates to public-service positions, and deferred new-hire start dates. New York-based Stroock & Stroock & Lavan has added a wrinkle to the “how-can-I-miss-you-if-you-never-go-away” minuet: it is paying incoming associates $75k to stay away. The new hires must decide now whether to take the money, payable in September and January installments, or defer until January–and hope Stroock has positions for them.
My first response is that of course I would take the money and go to Plan B. Is that the glib reaction of a lawyer who left big-firm life in the rear-view mirror two decades ago? It may be. If I were 25, graduating this month with $100,000 (or whatever) in student loans, and believed that big-firm experience and credentials were critical to my career, I would not just grab the cash. Working in a big firm can be a career-changer. My years long ago at Mintz Levin provide a still-useful distinct, if dim, aura of legal achievement. I cannot casually reject the big-firm imprimatur.
I don’t know how aware new law students are of the transformation being wrought in the legal profession. Everything I’ve written here over the past three years about the legal profession’s tiered nature, and the need to analyze the costs and benefits of law school with a gimlet eye, are truer than ever. A law school degree guarantees nothing: not financial success, not satisfying work, not professional respect, not entree to greater things. Nothing. I’ve written some two dozen law school recommendations since last September. Am I complicit in perpetuating mass delusions about the attractiveness of a law degree?