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The Thing is More Than Half Done Already: Economic Downturn Also Offers Unique Opportunities for Law Graduates

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So, you went to law school. Now you’ve graduated, and you haven’t yet found a job. Or, you’re starting school again, entering your 3L year. Now you’re worried that you might not find a job. Well, as you know, you’re in it now. And the question is not whether to proceed, but, rather, how to proceed.

Of course, the sky is not cloudless. Anyone who says that the legal profession is not presently one in flux, and featuring large amounts of holes and its share of disjunctions, does not have his or her eyes open to the reality of the situation. Problems like: For one, most lawyers don’t make near as much as people think they do, including you. Oh, and then there’s your student loans. Don’t forget those. For another, there is the entrenched billable hours problem: the foisting of a twentieth century idea of charging upon the twenty-first century minds of your savvy clients. Oh, and everybody passes the bar now, too, which means it’s harder than ever to get a job, with all that mass of competition out there.

You have a stomachache yet? I do. And, I’ve even been out for a little while now.

But, it can’t be that bad, right? As bad as everyone says it is, right? Well, it’s pretty bad. The economy sucks for everybody right now. But, this is not to say that there is no hope. I believe that, despite the dragging of the general economy, and despite the dragging along of the legal profession, that unique opportunities are now being presented to diligent law students turning attorneys. And, I intend below to present selections tending to four categories. I’m not attempting a magic, fix-all elixir here (nobody has that), but what I am saying is that, for those willing to hustle, a passable existence can still be scratched out while you wait out the improvement of the general economy in your foxhole of some kind of security. As you consider that, that the creation of a reputation is not a one day, or a one year, process, consider also that this too shall pass, as all things will, and do. You must not only keep in mind keeping yourself afloat for now, but you must also determine how what are you able to do, especially in light of the circumstances of today, will begin to look five, ten, twenty years down the road.

Engage in Social Media. You know, just because you don’t have a ton of experience doesn’t mean that you can’t engage in the discussion. A learning experience on social media sites can become the seedlings for your own growth of reputation in a field. There is still a cultural disconnect with respect to the use of social media and new technology as between older generations and younger generations: older generations, who’ve never had Facebook, think Twitter is, like, the most awesome thing ever, and is a great business tool, to boot; younger generations have been using social media for quite some time, and began that use for strictly social purposes, and tend to wonder why Twitter is so popular, as it is not robust at all in comparison to Facebook. In this scenario, you, as recent law graduate, or late law student, have the advantage. You know how to use all of this stuff, and feel comfortable doing it. Now your task is to turn the fun into a business endeavor that can help you to get a job, not a social endeavor that can hurt your chances of getting a job. You have, in the modern world, unprecedented, and easy, access to those masters of the legal realm that you could never have gotten to before. Become part of the conversation, broadcast your questions, but also your ideas, thoughts and interesting points. Market yourself for reputation in support of your job search, or market your reputation in the advancing of the cause of your new law firm. If you’re marketing your firm, or yourself, as a solo, be careful to stay within the strictures of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct, which are extrapolated for new media. But, don’t be overfearful: jump into the cultural lag-breach, and make a name for yourself.

Check out a few of these law students/new lawyers, who have already done so: the Twitter monster known as Rex7; social media maven Leora Maccabee; the LinkedIn Lawyer, David Barrett; and, king of all media, Gabriel Cheong.

Work Pro Bono. You’ve always talked about working pro bono, knowing it’s a good thing to do. And, if you’re not working now, well, now’s the time to do it. You likely won’t get paid, and, yes, it is increasingly difficult to find pro bono volunteer positions in such a fierce job market, so it may be tough to land a gig; but, keep pushing, and don’t be afraid to cobble a couple of opportunities together, to create a volunteering segment of your resume. It’s always better to do something, even something for free, than to do nothing. Potential employers favor industriousness, especially if that industrious is exercised within the realm of the field you intend to enter. And, if you have immense trouble finding a paying position to supplement your pro bono efforts, think outside the legal field. I don’t care what anybody says, over-excessive pride is not a good thing in this status quo. If you have to get a job at Stoppie’s, work at Stoppie’s. It’s not the end of the world. You’ll only be as embarrassed as you feel. And, there are plenty of good people who work hourly wage jobs; and, remarkably, I know, they’re good people despite the fact that that they aren’t lawyers. You see some sucky jobs moving up the ladder, and you have to put in your time sometimes. That’s just the way it is. Everybody goes through it. Don’t let your preconceived notions and hubris get in the way of your ultimate success. Mark Twain was penniless many times over; Ulysses S. Grant was classed a degenerate drunkard; Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman were, at times, viewed as failed, or failing, politicians.

Raise the Bar for Small Firms. So, you can’t get that job at a large firm. You’re probably better off, frankly. Oftentimes, the large firm lifestyle is a glorified version of wage slave. Sure, you’ll be paid well (although those big salaries are definitely going to experience a “market correction”, in the legal sense, and very soon), but what does money mean when you can’t enjoy any of it? You’ve been paid handsomely to sit at a desk while your life departs from you at breakneck speed. Great. That’s not my style. Now, some people can apparently make the large firm gig work; but, it takes a specialized personality: one that absolutely and unequivocally loves the law. And, there will be sacrifices, and serious ones, regardless of how well you turn the script. One potential positive stemming from this current economic disaster is that there is likely to be a trickle-down effect: wherein the best and better candidates take “lesser” positions than they otherwise would have, in a better economy. (Not every better candidate is taking Ropes and Gray money to work pro bono.) This may be your unique opportunity to become a more vibrant and integral contributor to a smaller firm than you would have ever had the chance to be before. Your voice is more likely to heard (and social media and marketing may be your “in” to responsibility, as most smaller firms will ask for your heavy hand in marketing) now, more than ever. Faster tra
ck yourself; look at the small(er) firm option.

Or, Start Your Own Firm. Starting your own law firm is a serious endeavor; but, if you think well about it, and determine that it is your course, it is certainly not impossible to make a go of it, if you are willing to hustle. Hell, that’s why we’re (LOMAP’s) here: to aid in the process of discovering whether it is your thing, what you want to do, and, if so, how to go about it. Younger lawyers are more willing to try and apply new things, and this can be an advantage. Technology, and the efficiency it brings, can grant you massive time savings over your letter-writing competitors. The application of alternative billing philosophies can give you a marketplace edge. An aggressive nature and deep-felt work ethic applied at the outset of your practice can help to make your reputation for years to come. The most difficult aspect of starting a firm from scratch is in the development of a client base. Of course, on the other hand, it is easier and cheaper to market yourself now than ever before, when you use social media marketing, and other new technology, to promote yourself, and your firm. Most disadvantages can be turned to potential advantages with a little creative thinking and hard work, unless you’re Eric Gagne on the 2007 Red Sox. That’s just an irredeemable situation there. (Don’t buy these.) In any event, starting a law firm, and gestating a successful law firm, is often what you make it. Of course, this is not to say that you should leave Grandpa entirely in the dust, trailing you in his Rascal. That is, because, finding a mentor to lead you through the steps for creating and for maintaining the successful law firm, and to run questions by, can be essential . . . you just don’t have to listen to everything you’re told.

Perhaps some of your butterflies have now flown, in your consideration that you may not end up in the breadline after all. (And, in all honesty, with the institution and entrenchment of New Deal and New Deal-style social programs, it is very difficult to become abandoned by modern society, unless you fall on the wrong side of the unofficial war on drugs.) Sure, things are difficult, but not impossible. You should be proud of your achieving your juris doctor and bar passage, as you make those steps. Just make sure that you recognize, that your hard work is far from over: it is only just beginning.

. . .

Alright now, while all the grandfathers and grandmothers are trailing us, let’s talk seriously. I figure I’ve got about a decade left of remaining somewhat cool and relevant, the end of which time will likely coincide with the falling out of the greater part of my head (not ear-cruel fate!!!) hair. (For those of you who have seen me this past week, this process has been abetted by a razor clip mistake that has resulted in a strip of my hair becoming missing.)

So, I discovered a new musician the other day, courtesy of my 17-year-old sister-in-law, Sarah, who, in return for my finding some sweet old school jams, like James Taylor’s “Nothing Like a Hundred Miles” (that’s right, you won’t find that on YouTube), keeps me up to date on new artists through the use of the iTrip on long car rides. (I swear to God, without Sarah and my wife Jessica, my music knowledge would have ended at roughly 1993, with a gaping blackhole appearing thereafter.) This is how I first learned of Wyclef Jean’s “Sweetest Girl”, and so verily impressed my co-workers.

So: Who’s the latest, you ask? So, there’s this dude named Adam Young, who has formed a one man band, initially starting in his parents’ basement, because he is an insomniac, and apparently had nothing better to do. Tell me about it. Anyway, I thought it was trippy because he sounds JUST LIKE the guy who is the lead singer for Death Cab for Cutie (Benjamin Gibbard); anyway, I like Death Cab, so I liked the sound to begin with. But, as I’ve listened to more tracks, I started to like Owl City in its own right. People are calling this eletronica, and, yeah, it looks like this dude strictly uses a synthesizer, but this is far closer to straight pop than to electronica (and, we all, by now, know of my genetic addiction to bubblegum pop); but, I would never tell you to take my final word for it. Check out some of these songs, and I think you’ll be impressed: “Vanilla Twilight”, “Fireflies”, “Hello Seattle” and “Hot Air Balloon”, the last of which kind of sounds to me like a combination of Death Cab, POTUSA and Nena. Another good track is “The Saltwater Room”, which Mr. Young performs with Breanne Duren, another MySpace-generated singer, who also appears (in the role of Ronnie Spector) on Jamestown Story’s remake of Eddie Money’s “Take Me Home Tonight”, which sucks, by the way, in comparison to the original version. That’s right, I said it.

(By the way, there’s absolutely no way Eddie Money is really playing that sax. Maybe my musical knowledge actually stops at 1986. Damn, Wasn’t that the year Genesis hit with “Invisible Touch” . . .)

CATEGORIES: Career Planning & Transition | Law Practice Startup | Marketing | Planning | Technology

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