State of the Profession

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?

Dissolution Blues

You are a first-year associate in a big law firm.  The economy tanks.  The firm decides you are an expensive piece of overhead and lays you off. Thousands of other lawyers are being laid off and your prospects of finding another lucrative big-law position are slim.  Pretty bad, right?  If this description resonates then I feel for you.  But if that is as bad as it gets for you, be thankful.  Many big firms loan incoming first-year associates a loan, in the form of a salary advance, to pay for bar review courses and living expenses in the months between graduation and the start of employment.  Thacher Proffit & Wood dissolved and laid off its entire workforce.  As reported this week by Legal Times, the firm’s “dissolution committee and bank are pursuing the former associates for repayment of salary advances issued last year to cover their bar and startup expenses.”  No lawsuits have been filed to collect the loans, reported to be for $10,000.  Legal Times reports that the total amount owed by students could range from $300 to $350k; Thacher owes its bank $32 million.  Every penny counts.

To give credit where due, Latham & Watkins announced that it would forgive the loans it made to laid-off incoming associates.