Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Unpaid Internships

If you have followed the comments in any of my previous threads, then you know exactly how I feel about working for no pay.  This article from The Guardian gets it right.  Here's a quick excerpt:

"Perhaps most disappointing, given that the code was drawn up as a response to recommendations of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, is its failure to even cursorily explore the negative impact of unpaid internships on social mobility.
Skipping over the disadvantages faced by those without the resources to fund themselves while working for free, the code simply states blandly that recruitment should 'be conducted in an open and rigorous way so as to enable fair and equal access to available internships'."
As I have said before, I reject the idea that people should have to work for no pay. When an employer hires someone for a position, they are necessarily taking a risk.  Some candidates might be bigger risks than others, but it is the employer's responsibility to assess those risks in the application and interview process and make the best decision they can.  But they should not be reaping the benefits of free labor while they make that determination.  What incentive does a company have to hire someone for a full-time, or even part-time position in this economy when they are getting good work for free?  I realize the premise is that an intern is there to learn and gain experience.  But the reality is that many interns and post-graduates are doing the exact same work as regular employees but for no pay or a token stipend.

I'm glad to see someone in the U.K. is getting it right.  Now what about the U.S.?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Read it and Weep

The legal blog "Concurring Opinions" posed an open ended and extremely valid question to law students and law graduates:  "Why did you decide to go to law school given the current economic conditions?"

You can check out the comments.  There are 9 right now.  Here's a particularly painful one:

"I’m a 1L as of today. Honestly the decision to incur the debt was not easy. I did the research on those purporting the law school scam, read the materials on the inacuracies of U.S. News and World report data, and have spoken with a few lawyers about the bare job market. I do believe (possibly in error) that there are some jobs for those who work hard enough. I also recognize that there are very few jobs availible to those who only hold a bachelors degree. Compared to the legal job market ten years ago things are dire but sadly that is also true in most other job markets. Given the “rock and a hard place” employment options I chose to pursue law because interests me and I’m certain will challenge me."
Sigh.  He read the scam blogs and saw the data.  He even spoke to lawyers.  You know what they say about leading a horse to water... But Steve is right about one thing.  Law will challenge him.  Finding a job somewhere other than behind a cash register, paying off staggering debt and eating something other than ramen noodles will all be a challenge.  If you have to choose between a "rock and a hard place", why choose the one that leaves you with non-dischargeable debt?  The mind reels.

On another note, here is a particularly sane and sad comment:

"I went to a T20 school and graduated in 2009. I did well (honors) but am still under-employed. Many of classmates are in the same boat of under- and unemployment.
I went to law school because I believed the US News stats for my law school, which were apparently completely ginned up. (They base the numbers off the self-selecting group of alums who reply to Career Services’ inquiries). I’m in the Paul Campos/ATL boat of law schools being engaged in a giant Ponzi scheme.
When I talk to people who are going to law school, they’re shocked when I point them to blogs that highlight how bleak the situation is. Most law students go straight from undergrad. They’re busy partying, studying, doing what undergrads do. A NYT series, some blog posts in farflung outposts of the blogosphere, are not enough to break through the noise.
I think the general answer is: they are ignorant and they will get swindled as a result."

I've already gone over my poor reasoning for attending and staying in law school many times, but if you have missed those posts I think the name of this blog speaks for itself!  I feel bad for the people starting 1L this month, but the information is out there now to an extent that it was not when many of us matriculated.  And if all of those things named by the gentleman in the first comment I posted were not enough to dissuade him, it pains me to say that I do not know what can be done.

Monday, August 15, 2011

All Press is Good Press

Fox News reports on the situation for recent law graduates in Nevada.

Here's a quote from a Nevada attorney:
"'I will tell you there are lawyers in this town that are driving cabs. There are lawyers in this town that are doing part time work for Starbucks. They're young kids, they don't have families and they love Las Vegas. But many of them are moving,' Massi said."
And from a recent law grad:
"Martinez is one of the “kids” trying to tough it out and stick around. 'I've applied for anything from human resources positions at the casinos to clerk positions, secretary positions, anything,' she said. 'And I'm still struggling.'"
I can sympathize with Ms. Martinez.  It is very disheartening to apply for entry level positions that you probably could have been hired for out of high school and not even get interviews.  If I have any readers in Nevada who want to comment on the job market there, feel free.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

News from the City of Brotherly Love

Here is an interesting piece from the Philadelphia Inquirer, reporting on Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and his request that the ABA do more to clarify their standards for insuring accurate employment and admissions data from law schools.

One thing I found interesting was a comment from Joanne A. Epps, the dean of Temple University Law School.  From the article:

"Temple Law School dean JoAnne A. Epps said she welcomed the additional scrutiny but added that much of the criticism was a result of inadvertent imprecision. She said law schools had been criticized for including graduates with nonlegal jobs in their employment data.
Four or five years ago, when every graduate could find a job as a lawyer, that wasn't a problem, she said, so no one thought to make the distinction. But now, with a smaller legal job market, more graduates are working outside law.
'I think it is perfectly appropriate for people to ask law schools to make sense of the statistics they report. That is a completely fair question,' Epps said."

I never thought I would agree with a law school dean on this blog, but I think Epps has a point.  In the past, the distinction between legal and non-legal employment within each category (private sector, public sector, academia) probably mattered much less than it does now.  But things changed and it is incumbent upon the law schools to change with the times and report data that gives an accurate picture of the job prospects of their graduates.   Hopefully Temple will change with the times and set a better example than its similarly ranked cross-town "rival."

While we are on the subject of Philadelphia and its ridiculously saturated legal market, here is an article (also from the Inquirer) which I missed a few days back.  The article claims that, based on a study, Philly area law schools outperform their competitors in terms of number of Big Law partners.  Choice quote:

"Philadelphia's strong legal market likely helps the region's schools usher alumni into law firms, Lennon said."

Is there anyone from the Philly area reading this blog willing to comment on the legal market in Philadelphia?  My impression is that to call it a strong legal market is a bit of an exaggeration.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The fighter still remains...

Being unemployed has put me on the most bizarre sleep schedule.  With no real incentive to wake up at a normal hour, I end up sleeping until 11 AM, but staying up until 3 or 4 AM.  I would not quite call it insomnia, because I don't exactly have trouble falling or staying asleep.  I'm just on a really strange rhythm.  Hopefully that will change if and when I find a real job, but truthfully I have always been a bit of a night owl.  Anyone else on a vampiric sleep schedule?

Anyway, this has been a big week for those of us working to expose the law school/higher education scam.  First, we have the arrival of a new blogger, a professor sharing his or her insights on the scope of the scam from the inside, and at a first tier school no less.  Then, there was the announcement about the lawsuits against NYLS and Cooley.  (Check out some coverage of that here.)  I won't belabor these stories, as the other scam-bloggers have done an excellent job of covering the details.  (See the links on my blog roll.)  Suffice to say, I believe that momentum is on our side and, more importantly, I strongly believe that the truth is on our side.

Big news:  I have a legitimate job interview scheduled for Monday morning.  We will see how that goes.  I am slightly more optimistic about this position than about the prior ones, as this company actually sought me out rather than the reverse.  They found my information in a resume bank I signed up for shortly after I graduated.  Wish me luck!  Going on these interviews and getting rejected can be draining.  But for those of you who just finished the bar exam and are now going to be beginning the process of interviewing/getting rejected, there is a silver lining.  After the first ten or so rejections they stop stinging as much, mostly because they cease to be a surprise!  This is surprisingly liberating, and allows me to go about the process of applying for jobs with companies or organizations I know I will likely either not hear back from or not be selected for with an odd detachment.  (Although I will admit, there is something vaguely irritating about those form auto-replies that state that due to a high volume of applications they will only contact those people they wish to interview!)

On that note, I will leave you with my "unable-to-sleep" song of choice, which I find strangely appropriate in spirit if not in actual lyrical content.  :) I hope you are getting more sleep than I am tonight!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What if you want to be a lawyer?

I was in the process of writing the second post in my "Bad Reasons For Starting Law School" series, but I was sidetracked by some of the comments in the first post.  I want to highlight a couple of them here because I think they are important.  One anonymous poster sent in the following comment:

"Law school is for people who WANT to be lawyers! Period! If you do not want to be a lawyer, then don't go to law school! It's just that simple!!! If you actually WANT to be a lawyer, and PRACTICE law, then you should go to law school! Not because your parents want you to; Not because you think you will make a lot of money; Not because you think people/friends will look up to you; Not because you think you will have more standing in the community; You should go to law school because whether you make $20,000.00 annually or $100,000.00 annually, advocating for others is what you want to do for a living and you are willing to do it no matter how much money is on the table."

I have wrestled with this concept before.  What about the people who "want" to be lawyers?  (Overlooking, for the time being, the fact that most prospective law students have an extremely warped idea about what the practice of law really entails.)  It seems odd to tell someone who really wants to be a lawyer that they should not apply.  But it's really not that simple.  Even if you want to be a lawyer and some law school in the country accepts you, there is no guarantee in this economic climate that you actually will be able to get any kind of legal job.  That's a really big risk to take unless you get into one of the best schools.

Another anonymous commenter summed it up well;

"I agree with the sentiment that you should go to law school if your heart is in it and you actually plan to "practice" law. That being said though, the risk/reward ratio is very different from what it was even 10 years ago. Today, you will be going in hock to get that degree and there may not be any pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, only a lot of debt and no reasonable way of paying it off. Truth be told, I doubt I would attend law school at this time. It's just too expensive to justify. In the early 2000's, my law school charged $20,000 per year. Not even a decade later, they are charging $40,000 per year. Yet salaries have stagnated decreased provided you can even get a job. I took another bar exam last week and met a recent student who told me she was $300,000 in debt. She graduated from a 4th tier crap hole, which is not going to open many doors. Despite my own misery at my current debt level, it has become easier to manage over time. But when you're talking about $300,000 of debt, you're in a whole different ball game. That's insane debt, which will have severe repercussions on one's life, i.e., the ability to afford a house, have children, find a suitable spouse, etc. You're basically a debt slave when you're carrying that level of debt. Game over. So the bottom line is, the analysis of whether to attend law school in today's current climate goes well beyond doing what you "want" to do or what you perceive will make you happy. There is a definite cost component that, whether you want to admit it or not, will crush your soul in the long run."

Emphasis mine.  Read that sentence over and over again.  There is more to consider when making long term life decisions than some abstract whim.  Okay, in theory you might think you like practicing law.  The question you have to ask yourself is whether this notion that practicing law is what you want to do or what will make you happy is worth a very heavy financial investment that has a decent chance of not paying off.  People will say you shouldn't worry about how much money you make if practicing law is what you love.  But there's a huge difference between working for a $25,000 salary with no student loan debt, or doing something you love for $25,000 with upwards of $100K in debt.  With no debt, if you change your mind about your career path you can do so.  You might struggle, but you have at least a little flexibility.  If you have $100K or more in student loan debt, that debt is not going anywhere.  You are stuck with it.  It will own you.  The reason I try to discourage people from going into such debt if at all possible is that you can't really fathom what carrying that debt load is like until you have it.  Until it has a major impact on all of the other decisions and milestones you face down the road, including your career, home ownership, marriage and family.  Maybe you will be one of the lucky ones who gets a great job and pays off their student loan debt without a problem.  I would be lying if I said there are no success stories.  Of course there are.  But you have to look at the odds.

I am an anonymous blogger.  There is no reason for someone to take my advice as the last word on any given issue.  Educate yourself.  Look beyond my blog.  But make sure you look beyond the numbers and employment statistics put out by the law schools themselves.  Talk to recent law graduates of the schools you are considering, and similarly ranked schools.  Read other blogs and publications.  Crunch the numbers on how much debt you will incur and how much you will need to earn to make the payments manageable.  You might decide to take the plunge anyway, but please don't be afraid to arrive at the conclusion that law school, or any graduate school, could be a bad investment.  If you have been thinking about going to law school for the past decade, or if you are far along in the application or enrollment process, this might be a scary decision to make.  There is no shame in it. but whatever decision you make, it should be an informed one.