SDevlin

Number 63 and Abandoned: A Rant From the Forgotten Eighty Percent

I’m not in the top twenty of my class. I’m not even in the top twenty percent of my class. In fact, by definition, the majority of my law school class is not in the top twenty percent of my class. Yet, we keep being forgotten by our professors, our deans, and perhaps most noticeably, our career services offices.

How many speakers, meetings, and panels have I sat through only to find out that what they’re discussing doesn’t apply to me because I’m not in those top slots? If I’m even interviewed, I will probably not be hired by a large firm right after graduation. I will probably not be chosen for a judicial clerkship. I will probably not become a law professor. I will not be making $100,000+ in the year after graduation. Is that fair? Maybe not, but that’s not what I’m ranting against today. I’m not bitter about these opportunities being closed to me. I am bitter that the opportunity to learn what career choices are available to me has been closed. I want to work hard. I want to succeed. I’d like to know where I can do that and what there is out there for me. Why is it that only twenty percent of law students get their options paraded in front of them, while the rest of us have to dig, guess, and flap around without being taught to swim?

I’m not ashamed of my grades or my class rank. I’m number 63. 63 out of 150. Most law students probably would not post their rank for the world to see, but I’m hoping to make some kind of statement. I work 20 hours each week, I volunteer, I am extremely involved in the organizations and general goings on of my campus and community. Yet, because I’m 63 and not 3, what happens to me after I graduate doesn’t seem to matter to the school that I pour so much time and effort into. When did being average become subpar? When did it become okay for law schools to overlook the majority of their students? I’m 63! That’s not bad! When did that become bad? When did someone comfortably above average become a bad student?

Many recent posts have discussed the stereotype of Generation Y as “lazy underachievers.” If this stereotype is true, could it be that many of us from middle class America, who don’t have parents in the legal profession, fall in the lower 80% and have no idea what is out there for us? Could it be that 80 percent of the students in our law school classes take longer to find a job that makes them happy because while in law school they haven’t been exposed to the job market available to them? When I have asked, I’ve been presented with a string of ‘can’ts.’ I can’t count on working in a big firm. I can’t count on being a clerk. I can’t count on becoming in-house counsel. I can’t count on becoming a law professor. So what CAN I do? Eighty percent of the people with law degrees are not unemployed , so there has to be some career path available. What is that path?

I’m number 63 and I’m tired of not being heard. Who cares? Certainly not Career Services.

6 Comments

Elizabeth

I think you've raised an important issue here, and my best advice is to distinguish yourself in whatever your chosen niche is.  For example, if you want to get a job as a trial attorney, try out for leadership roles on mock trial, and work really hard to excel and get recognition in that non-academic, skills-specific setting.  Write papers and try to get published in various law reviews and enter your writing into national writing competitions.  Even if you can't get published, you can get your paper online with SSRN, and you can direct potential employers or judges (if you're applying to clerkships) to your work.  Try to cultivate relationships with professors who can write you recommendations for jobs or clerkships.  I agree that it's easier if you are in the top of your class, but at most schools, anyone can go to office hours or request an independent study under a professor.  It's true that all these things require extra work that people in the top 20% don't have to expend, which isn't fair.  On the other hand, it builds clarity and character to work hard for what you want, and the process of figuring out your dream job and building a road to it is not without its rewards.

ndh

I totally understand where you're coming from. 
When I talk to my professors, they say they can tell that I understand the subject matter. However, the law school exam is NOT getting the same message across. So, my grades are not stellar. I have never had grades before in my life quite like these so it's been a shock. What's also been a shock is that I feel like so many options are closed to me now.
I understand what I learn in class. I am very good at trial ad work and legal writing. I am president of a student organization. I am great with people and I do well with networking. I volunteer. I work. AND I have a social life! I know I have what it takes to do any number of legal jobs, but I fear that I will not get the opportunity because of my GPA.
I say all of that to say… Ditto.  

guydubrow

As a member of the forgotten 80 percent, I know your pain. Your choices are few. The best option is to get out of law school as soon as possible. It will be the best decision you have ever made. If you graduate and pass a bar exam, along with jumping through all the hoops that accompany those tasks, you will emerge on the other side with no career prospects. You will not be an associate unless you know someone in a very high position at a firm. Career services will barely lift a finger to do anything for you (if they help you at all). If you are extremely lucky, you will get a staff attorney job at some firm with no opportunity to ever become partner.
You will find yourself forced to become a contract attorney in order to pay back your student loans and still be able to afford luxuries like food and a roof over your head. And since contract attorney work is temp work, you will have zero job security, no career path or advancement, and face every day with the possibility that it may be your last day of work for an unspecified period of time.
Unless you are in that group of people who are getting the interviews to become associates, your law degree will not be worth the paper it is written on.

Ms. JD Weekly Roundup

I think it's melodramatic and incorrect to state that every person at every law school across the country who doesn't graduate in the top 20% of their class will end up as a contract attorney (or worse).  There are a lot of opportunities available at smaller, regional firms in small cities or towns across the country, there are non-profit jobs, there are solo practices, there are government jobs, etc.  There are literally thousands of law jobs, and there aren't thousands of people who graduate top of their class.  I think the only door that really might be closed by going to a smaller school and graduating in the bottom of your class is a big firm job in a big city.  If that is your lifelong dream and the only reason you went to law school, then maybe you should drop out if you get your 1L grades back, and you're in the very bottom of your class.  On the other hand 1) grades can improve, so you're not stuck with your current class rank; 2) some people magically use hard work to impress the right people and eventually get their dream jobs regardless of where they went to law school or what number they graduated—there's no reason you can't be one of these people; and 3) a law degree can be valuable in gettng another, non-law job if necessary.

Peg

I agree with the comment above from anon.
Also, consider this option: I know a biglaw lawyer that went to a very mediocre school because it was in the region she thought she would live forever and they offered her a scholarship.  After graduation she found work at a small firm in the same town as her law school.  Eventually she ended up divorced and looking to move.  Realizing that she wasn't doing the kind of law in the kind of city where she wanted to be forever, she decided to get an LLM in tax from a good law school in a place where she wanted to live.  (Luckily her law school scholarship made it so she didn't have loans to worry about.)  So, she did one year in a tax LLM program and utilized that school's reputation and career services to land a biglaw job.  And, even better she didn't get hired to be a tax attorney.  Instead she is now working in her dreamjob—corporate work at a big law firm, in a great city.

McCoy

Remember the old adage: A students become professors, B students become judges, and C students make money.
Perhaps the problem is the truth in that adage. Law professors, deans, etcetera cannot help but focus on the top percentage of the class because those are the students to whom they can relate. In my experience, professors simply focus on education and scholarship without consideration of those of us who came to law school to make careers from law practice.
The other problem may be that firms have no more to rely upon than our grades. After all, we can’t take the bar until after we graduate so we can only clerk or become certified interns. However, I would argue that students who do not receive the best grades concentrate more on what is required to be "the best" attorney. Personally, I did not decide to leave my first career so I could go to law school, pass the bar, practice for three years, and teach for the remainder of my professional life. Law school is the necessary step to take the bar and eventually serve clients. Reality is stranger than fiction.
 In the end, I see the problem as law schools that do not have big "name brands" for graduates (i.e. Harvard, Stanford) think that if the focus is on the top performers, the top performers will boost the name brand. I would remind those folks that the late Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson (think lead prosecutor during the Nuremberg trials) attended Albany Law School (still a no-name law school) for one year and clerked for two more before he took the bar. Ain’t shabby for a guy who wasn’t a top academician.

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