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Résumé en français : très courtisés il y a peu, les jeunes avocats américains souffrent de la conjoncture actuelle et s'inquiètent pour leur avenir.
And he needed to pay off some serious loans.
Meet Mike*—a 30 year old lawyer in New York City who held a minor position with a major law firm. Just a year out of law school, he was among the ten percent of law school graduates who get hired into “Big Law”, where the average starting salary is $160,000. The rest of his classmates could expect $40,000 a year... but only if they found a job.
Things were going well until Mike, along with dozens of other newly hired lawyers, was informed of an unexpected “performance review.” A man he never met before read a generic statement scolding them for poor performance.
Then they were unofficially laid off, and paid a retainer to do “volunteer” work around the firm ... or use their time to find another job. That way, Mike said, the company wouldn’t look like it had fired anyone, was in any sort of financial trouble, or had hired bad people; to the rest of the world, their newest employees had merely gone elsewhere. The poor performance review was blackmail—if they complained about being fired, the performance review would go public, black-marking them for the rest of their soon-to-be hopeless careers. So Mike kept quiet, looked for work, played a lot of “Modern Warfare 2,” and lived in fear of back payments on his $160,000 law school debt.
That’s a familiar story for Jeff, 29, a graduate of the prestigious Duke Law School, who currently lives in Washington, DC. Supported by his wife’s work as a secretary, his primary occupation is sending out resumes in search of paying work. Jeff faces a work environment where the oldest lawyers continue to practice, instead of retiring as they may have if their stock-linked retirement funds were worth more money.
The vacancies they normally leave every year make room at the entry-level... which isn’t happening at the rate the nation’s 150,000 currently enrolled law students need.
It comes back to the economy: less money is being spent on litigation, research, acquisitions etc meaning that there is less money to support the existing staff at law firms... and less money available to hire new talent. Sectors like mergers and acquisitions, a cornerstone of “Big Law,” are so slow that firms in Boston, New York, London, Melbourne, and elsewhere are going out of business.
The hemorrhage of lawyers from these domains means increased competition in bankruptcy law and other areas thriving on our economic disaster. For instance, in the US, finance and government lawyers are doing well as they help companies navigate the various economic stimulus packages. New graduates like Jeff must compete against experienced lawyers, or occupy their time with pro bono clerkships, internships, and non-profit advocacy work... which doesn’t pay for rent, food, or those enormous tuition bills.
Every year, law schools turn out another forty to fifty thousand law students in need of employment. It’s a bull market for free labor, but the worst time in decades for students and young law professionals—even lawyers have to eat.
*Due to paranoia among those interviewed, all names have been changed.