Saturday, September 02, 2006

Cry me a river

I am easily offended when it comes to certain subjects: the Middle East, my family, religion, and big law firms' desperate search for candidates. No wonder, then, that this New York Times article made me want to punch a wall. No, it wasn't the brunette in the Legally Blonde suit holding out her BlackBerry defiantly, being so important she must check her e-mail even during a photo shoot. It wasn't the mention of the firm with whom I had the single most traumatic interview of my life. It was this:

Most firms followed suit [in raising the starting salary from $125,000 to $145,000] because they compete for the same law students, and also need to stanch attrition of their current associates. Hiring has become particularly competitive because of expanding practices in corporate law, litigation and bankruptcy.

William V. Fogg, one of the partners responsible for recruiting and hiring at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, said that “law firms are getting bigger at a faster rate than law schools,” creating a growing demand for lawyers and commensurate salary increases.

Boy, what a fucking tragedy!! I feel so bad for these firms. They just can't find candidates.

Which universe are they living in? I did OCI at the beginning of my second year. Now, when I say I "did OCI," it means I had two interviews, both of which were courtesies, and I observed the law review d-bags walking around in suits with full interview schedules poking out of their leather folders. "I have Weil at 10:15 and Willkie at 10:40, am I going to have time to review my notes in between? Ugh! This is so frustrating!" I was depressed about the whole thing, knew I wasn't going to get any callbacks, which I didn't, and knew I had wasted the $5 I had just spent on stockings. And I was one of the lucky ones, because with my grades, I shouldn't have had any interviews at all.

This is clearly way too obvious a solution for people like Mr. Fogg, but if you are only willing to interview 4 people, you kind of can't complain about why there are no candidates. The problem is that you have antiquated standards, and you believe that grades and LSAT scores are the only worthwhile predictor of performance as a lawyer. I don't dispute that they are a predictor. While I firmly believe that they are unrelated to intelligence, first-year grades will show which people are willing to have no life, work around the clock, and skip relatives' funerals (this really happened). So go ahead, snap 'em up, but keep in mind that these are also the people who will be burnt out by the time they start to work, and can keep it up no longer than two or three years. Then they will jump ship and go work for a mid-size firm, or go in-house, or whatever, anything to get out of there.

Many of the people I know who didn't make law review from my school often worked harder, were smarter, and overall less excruciating to be around than the law review people. Why didn't they make law review? I don't know. Numbers, I guess, only ten percent can and we all know that going in. Does that mean the other ninety percent are worthless and couldn't hack it in a law firm? It just can't be the case.

What's the solution? What are other predictors? How can you weed out the people who are smart and who will succeed from those who won't? I don't know. I don't have all the answers. But it's kind of not my job to figure that out. William V. Fogg and counterparts, it is your job. The problem isn't that law schools aren't putting out enough lawyers to supply your departments. The problem is that you will only interview from a very limited number of schools, and only a very limited number of people from those schools. Trust me, the people are there and they are willing to work for you. It's time to pull your head out your ass and look around at the new legal landscape. Things have changed and it's just going to keep costing you more and more money to keep doing things the old way.


Blogger Zuska said...

for the record, i'm at a school ranked at #89 (it was 70-something when i started here); I had strong grades after putting in minimal study time (as a mom of 2 kids, it wasn't likely that i'd be working many evenings or weekends, and yet ... the grades were surprisingly there), and I'm slated to start work at a large firm in a year.

and we don't HAVE a law review, so i'm certainly not on it.

one of the reasons, i think, for my ability to land a job from a mediocre school was that i had enough of an understanding of the system before going in, since i was married to a law student for some time. i understood the geographical loyalty that firms have, and put myself in a school based on the area i wanted to work, rather than just going for the "highest ranking" (which would not have been top 10, no matter what). So large firms from my city WERE interviewing at my school.

I think that firms in general are starting to look beyond the top 10 schools. I know that the hiring partner at the firm I'm going to decided that with increased demands due to a growing firm - it was better for the firm to cast the net WIDER, versus DEEPER. So he traveled to more schools, and looked a the top 5% of more schools, rather than digging down into the lower ranked students of the TOP schools.

I definitely agree with you that firms should be looking at more than the top 2% from the top 10 schools ... but I believe that they are. New York is a unique case, I know, but perhaps it's no so bad to have to cross New York off the list of possible cities in which to practice.

best of luck,

9:43 PM  
Blogger Strict Scrutiny said...

I am definitely talking only about New York here. Sorry, I thought that would be pretty clear. The article to which I referred was mainly about the starting salary raise from $125,000 to $145,000 this past year, and as far as I know that's mainly only happened here and in California.

Based on my experience, the NY firms are looking at top 10 schools nationwide, regardless of class rank. At the NY schools below the top 10, they will go to the top 25% at Fordham, and top 10% at all the others. It is this practice that gets under my skin.

Good luck to you in your job!

1:53 AM  
Blogger Zuska said...

the raise happened everywhere - NY is higher, but always has been, due to cost of living. the other "major cities" went up from $120,000 to $135,000.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Strict Scrutiny said...

Let me clarify. No matter how widely the net is cast, so to speak, as you say, they are not looking deeper. Interviews may happen at schools ranked below the top ten, but I have personal experience with what a farce they are for 90% of the students at these schools. I maintain this is a major problem. I think it sucks for them that they have to pay their first-year $135,000 or $145,000, since that money's coming out of the partners' profits. But obviously I care more about the law students who aren't in the top ten percent. When I say "law review," I use that term synonymously with people in the top ten percent. Being on law review isn't going to help you otherwise, since the "write-ons" I know are making crap money just like the rest of us.

Huge, unnecessary raises like the one I write about are merely widening the gap between the "elite" lawyers and the other 90% of law students from second-tier schools who don't get those opportunities. And for those law students who are lured into law school partly because they believe they are going to make their school's mean income of $80,000 it's a pretty rude awakening when you realize how the salary breakdown really works.

10:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dont worry, the $ is coming out of client's pockets...

10:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree. Not to mention that the recruiting strategy - increasing the salary to $145K - is disgusting. Most associates do not want more money. The will take a pay cut for less hours. At $145K you are asked to sacrifice everything and be the law firm's bitch. As you kind of should, for that amount of money. There is no question that law firms are very arrogant at OCIs. "So, why do you want work for this specific firm, as opposed to the other 100 idential law firms in the area? What distinguishes you from the other 35 candidates I interviewed at your school today, not to mention the other 300 candidates I interviewed this week?" Please! Arrogant bastards.

2:10 PM  

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