Monday, June 20, 2011

The Single Life

When I discuss the state of the legal job market with people outside of the field, one of the most common reactions I get from the over-forty crowd is:  “Why don’t you just put out a shingle?  In my day you could just put up a shingle and make (fill in the blank) dollars a day/week/month, just by dealing with things like wills or real estate closings, or DUIs.”
Apparently, that mentality is making some inroads with the new generation of law grads. This article from MSNBC claims that 5.7 % of graduates of the class of 2010 who are employed in the private sector work in a solo practice.  That number does not seem especially high to me, but it is an increase.

Here are a few interesting parts of the article:

'Chetson doesn’t blame his school’s career services for focusing more on maintaining long-standing relationships with bigger, more established companies. But he does blame law schools for being as expensive as they are, causing students to rack up a large amount of debt only to be faced with meager job prospects.
“Law schools recognize that to get people to keep coming, you’re going to have to hold out the hope that you’ll be able to make $150,000 at the end of the year,” he said.'
Sounds mostly right, except for the part about not blaming career services for focusing more on maintaining relationship with big firms, when the reality is that the lion's share of law graduates stand little to no chance of ever getting a job at a big firm.  The fact that they do that is a large part of the second problem he mentions, which is that schools have to hold out hope that you will get a $150K job, knowing that it is nonsense.

'Aaron Street, co-founder and publisher of legal resource blog, said a majority of law schools continue to focus on how to interview for jobs or submit resumes for job postings, rather than honing the skills needed to be a successful business person.
“Current or prospective law students need to understand that you can’t just sit back and have classes spoon fed to you and think it’s going to be done,” he said. “You’re going to have to figure out things on your own and if you’re not prepared for that don’t go to law school.”'
 Well, yes.  I agree that if you don't want to figure things out on your own (or if you don't want mountains of debt and poor job prospects), you should not go to law school.  But I still think that is a failing on the part of the schools.  I have said in numerous posts that no one deserves to get anything handed to them.  But we are not asking for things to be handed to us.  Rather, we are PAYING schools for a SERVICE.  That service is not just to hear some egotistical professor blather on about substantive due process.  The goal is to become employed, and it is the school's job to prepare you for that position through training and to assist in placement because that is what they advertise.  Mr. Street is correct that as a law student you will have to figure all of these things out on your own, but there is no reason that should be the case given the sticker price.  Which is the point Mr. Chetson makes earlier in the article.

Do any of my readers have experience with solo practice?  Is it really a viable alternative for people who are struggling to find a job?


  1. “You’re going to have to figure out things on your own and if you’re not prepared for that don’t go to law school.”

    Shouldn't that be "You're going to have to figure things out on your own, so why bother going to law school?"

  2. Precisely, 2:40. If we have to figure it all out on our own, and there are to be no internship- r apprenticeship-like experiences, just graduate and "hang out a shingle", why the need for law school? It doesn't teach ANYTHING. The stuff I needed to pass the bar I got largely from a bar review course.

    Anyone who can pass the bar should be able to practice law regardless of law school attendance. Then, and only then, will I ever accept the putrid, sickening "figure it out for yourself" advice.

    Until law school is rendered an option, they can ram the advice "figuring it out for yourself" right up their ass, for all I care.

  3. Law school is an expensive, three-year admission ticket to SIT FOR a bar exam. It does not adequately prepare students to practice law. (In fact, most of the "professors" did not practice law for long - and many mock attorneys.)

    As 4:22 pm noted, law school does not even prepare one to pass a bar exam. Yes, that sounds like a hell of a deal, doesn't it?!?!

    Would you pay $58K for a 1991 Toyota Corolla - with a bad transmission and 289K miles on it?! (At least under this scenario, you can claim bankruptcy.)

  4. My cousin became a lawyer in the early 90s and made a pretty good living as a high priced defense attorney working for himself before the Recession. He has been having trouble getting clients to pay their bills so has been struggling for several years now. Getting money up front has been harder and if a case is lost, he sometimes doesn't get paid at all.

    The problem with overselling degrees, particularly graduate degrees, is true in numerous fields. But if the graduate becomes, for example, an unemployed library graduate -- it's easier to switch into something like systems administration or database management. And the debt for a degree like this one is so much smaller -- say $30,000 or so for the degree. Huge difference. Law degrees are another one of those cash cows. It's ridiculous to charge that much for a degree and then expect that graduates should work for $10 an hour.

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