Job Search Strategies: No worse off than anyone else

Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.

The Sunday New York Times is one of my favorite reads on weekends. In this Sunday’s edition, lawyers are featured in both the SundayStyles section and in the Magazine, in a first-person story.

Both these articles paint a dire picture for lawyers. The SundayStyles story headline is: “No Longer Their Golden Ticket,” and the subhead is “Young associates are stuck with depreciating law degrees.”

The gist of the story is that as bad as conditions were for young lawyers pre-2008, with the devastating work schedules and having to deal with unreasonable senior associates, new associates were automatically advanced in rank and pay scales if they were modestly competent. And, they made huge salaries for their pains. Now, the story says, everyone is working even harder just to make sure they are not laid off in the next round, as many of their colleagues have been.

The story in the Magazine is by a middle-aged lawyer who is returning to the workplace after being a stay-at-home mom. She mentions that she used to represent clients with household names. In the story, she is now working in a fulfillment house for $12 as a seasonal worker.

Had she come back to the workplace when the employment picture was more positive, would she have found a law position making what she did before her hiatus? I doubt it. Her career situation would still have been difficult.

Well, I went to law school in 1998 and the reason I went to law school, quite simply, was that I believed (and still do) that one of the best ways to improve things in our world is through legislation and enforcement of the law, by, you guessed it, lawyers, judges, etc. That has not changed.

The people I tapped for advice when I was in the process of applying to law school were sole practitioners, members of small practices or people who were in jobs where being a lawyer was useful but not a requirement. These people faced the daily work of getting clients, doing the work, having their fees paid, or, sitting in a cubicle and having to deal with the inevitable crazy boss.

All of these people are still doing what they did before. The solo and small practices may now be scaled back and the corporate workers may have jumped jobs a few times, but none of them are crying over the loss of a six-figure salary at a major law firm.

But now, most of the stories we read about lawyers out of work are about big firm lawyers being laid off from what is depicted as a life of wealth and privilege and now not knowing what to do. Well, in my experience, and that of countless others that is not reality. Among lawyers, there exist a wide variety of experiences in this post-financial crisis world.

Lawyers are subject now to the same low employment that other professions are. So why are we being singled out as being particularly destitute and as having lost the respect of the world? The financial meltdown is not limited to lawyers. Pretty much all professions are in this recession together. At least, as lawyers, we have the option of setting up our own practice or doing contract work in the interim.

So I am no worse off as a lawyer now than anyone else is in any other profession, most of which have been adversely affected by the economic downturn. And in my view, I have more options than people in a lot of other careers.

So, media, stop making out that as lawyers we were all making $160,000-plus a year and that we are all now crying because we are out of work. We all have to weather the crisis, do the best we can and maintain the dignity of our profession or of whatever job we happen to be doing — just like everyone else. For many, if not most of us, a law license was never a “golden ticket.”


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