Media class bias

No Longer Their Golden Ticket:

In fact, "The Deep End" was conceived in 2007, that halcyon era of $160,000 starting salaries and full employment even for law grads who had scored in the 150s on their LSAT's.

Those days are over. As the profession lurches through its worst slump in decades, with jobs and bonuses cut and internal pressures to perform rising, associates do not just feel as if they are diving into the deep end, but rather, drowning.

Lawyers who entered the field as recently as a few years ago could reasonably expect a life of comfort, security and social esteem. Many are now faced with a different landscape. Firms shed more than 4,600 lawyers last year, according to a blog that tracks the legal industry, Law Shucks. Bonuses for those who survive are shriveling, and an increasing number of firms now compensate associates based on grades for performance -- shades of law school -- rather than automatically advancing them on the salary scale.

Below is the first-year salary distribution for the class of 2008. The whole article is focused on the mode, the $160,000 salaries of top-tier graduates and top-flight law firms. In other words, not the typical lawyer (the distribution is likely somewhat different now that the mode is collapsing in the current economic climate).


And here's a chart of unemployment by education from Calculated Risk:


Y-axis is the unemployment rate and the X-axis is the year. All lines represent those 25 years and older.

Red = less than high school
Purple = high school
Green = some college or associates
Blue = bachelor's or above

I know that the nth story on laid off blue-collar workers is probably boring. But I suspect part of the attraction of the perils of professional & white collar work in the present economic climate is that these are the people who reporters for The New York Times might actually know personally, and also are the target audience of the paper.

Some partners say that the next generation may have to expect less from a legal career. "What has come to pass is that a law degree is not a ticket to a six-figure salary and a six-figure bonus," said Matthew A. Feldman, a partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher in New York.

Smart, talented people will still find advancement within firms, he said. But "speaking candidly," he added, "in the past, associates were a little oblivious" in presuming that if they "simply showed up every day and didn't offend anyone, they were there indefinitely.They have had a wake-up call."

It is more than dips in income that are reshaping the law firm culture. The prestige and self-identity of being a lawyer are in play. Pre-shakeout, lawyers could tell themselves that they were, if not exactly Masters of the Universe like investment bankers, perhaps Major-Domos of a Mid-Size Galaxy.

As a young lawyer, you could get through 1 a.m. due-diligence sessions by reminding yourself that you were following in the tradition of Louis Brandeis, Clarence Darrow or, at least, Ally McBeal.

It is harder to maintain that sense of esteem now that your contract work is being farmed out to low-cost lawyers in Bangalore, and your client who is splitting up with her spouse can handle it herself with a $31.99 do-it-yourself divorce kit from Office Depot, said David Lat, the managing editor of Above the Law, a well-read blog about the legal industry.

Welcome to globalization and productivity gains rendering you redundant. At least you have a licensing which might be able to staunch the bleeding by fiat if you have the will to go there.

More like this

Probably it's a glut and a function of the bubble. Law is one of the most convertible degrees -- only something like half of lawyers end up in law.

Incidentally, some head-hunting firms go after PhDs regardless of discipline, just because they're smart and hard-working. I friend of mine who was an ABD in Arabic got an unrelated business job. They just figured out that people who can learn Arabic can learn other things. Her first six months were miserable because she started from scratch in her new business and I think was hazed a bit (sort of throw them into the pool and see if they can swim -- getting them used to the new culture) but it worked for her -- she doesn't especially like her new work but it works for her.

By John Emerson (not verified) on 17 Jan 2010 #permalink

Surely some people will celebrate the decline of the lawyers?

By bioIgnoramus (not verified) on 17 Jan 2010 #permalink

I remember visiting the US some years ago (about 2002) and having a brief relationship with a girl who was about to enter law school. She had a magnificent body and was an excellent dancer. Last time I checked she had a job at a big law firm in NYC doing litigation.

I didn't know globalization had hit law like that. I thought rather that the ABA kept a pretty tight lid on supply of legal services.

Thousands of routine lawyer jobs in UK and USA have been outsourced to India, for 20% of salary
and the trend is accelerating

It's not just a factor of globalization. Law Schools are cash cows for universities and student loans are (were?) easy to get. So, the number of law students and law schools and tuition costs went up. Plus, many of the big law firms levered up in staffing for the real estate and finance industries. The bubble has now popped there. There is still a need in places like rural areas and depressed neighborhoods (and the money can be good there, partially due to lack of competition).

However, part of the whining you hear from attorneys today has to do with student loans. Now, even the lowest tier schools have tuition in line with the top schools, unconnected to that actual value of jobs available to the new attorneys.

So, being more employed than those with lower education is cold comfort when you are materially poorer due to $100k in student loans, which cannot be discharged by bankruptcy and still require payment during unemployment (absent deferment).

On the scary note, 10,000 more people took the LSAT this year than last.

"The whole article is focused on the mode" - always an unwise move for a bimodal distribution, I'd have thought.

By bioIgnoramus (not verified) on 18 Jan 2010 #permalink

What legal services have been outsourced to India? Paralegal services maybe? I could easily see that, but despite what paralegals are usually stupid enough to think, they are not attorneys.

You can't outsource actual legal work,advice, and representation, unless of course the person in India has a law degree from an ABA accredited U.S school, and sits on the state bar where you are requesting legal advice from. Law is sort of like medicine in that regard...You have to actually "be there" for it to work. It is just not possible.