I was hiking in Iceland this past summer. We were pretty high up – around 1,000 meters – and it was raining hard, high wind, snow on the ground.
“Damn, it’s cold,” grumbled one of my American companions.
An Englishman behind us stumbled over a patch of frozen volcanic ash. “There’s a clue in the name, mate,” he offered helpfully.
Some things are so obvious they really don’t need to be explained anymore. Like it’s icy in Iceland. Like it sucks working at a big law firm. You kinda ought to know that by now…
…which is why interviewing 2L’s feels so heart-breaking.
I should know, I’ve been listening to senior and mid-level associates for the past month, telling me how much it sucks interviewing 2L’s.
Why? Because if you hate them, you’re interviewing someone you hate. And if you like them…then you feel a moral obligation to clue them in on the hellish misery they’re clambering to claim for themselves.
It’s hard not to hate law students, especially from the vantage point of a senior or mid-level associate. They’re clueless, and yes, many conform to the worst stereotypes. There’s always the tall dork who wears a suit to class and raises his hand to ask obvious, meandering questions. There’s the girl with hair dangling over her face, who trails the professor after class to smarm, in her peculiarly nasal voice, over the subtle charms of today’s lecture. We all hate them.
One of my senior associate clients reserves her remaining tolerance for part-time law students. “At least they’ve got a clue,” she says. Maximum disdain is reserved for the full-timers who slid into law school directly out of undergrad, scribbling their name on loan documents like so many fevered lemmings racing to be the first off a ledge.
The worst story I’ve heard so far came from a mid-level associate, miserable and deeply in debt, who interviewed the obnoxious 2L son of a huge corporate client’s CEO. While this over-privileged sack of ordure grinned in his preppy suit and barely bothered answering her questions, she returned to an old fantasy of firing a pistol into her mouth in the firm’s dining room, taking special care to splatter the head of litigation.
(Hey, it’s her fantasy. And yes, as her therapist, I strongly disapprove.)
Anyway, CEO, Jr. knew and she knew and everyone else knew he already had the job. She left the interview feeling dirty. That was an extreme case.
On the other hand, sometimes you meet a law student you like – someone you want to help. That’s when you face the real agony.
One client was asked by a friend at the firm to assist a woman he’d called back. Her grades weren’t great, but she was older, and smart and together – not your usual 2L – and he plain liked her.
“So I meet with this woman, and he’s right, she’s terrific. And that’s the weird part. All I could think was – how can I warn you away?”
He knew perfectly well she’d hate it at the firm. Everyone hated it at the firm. He described the place as “utterly toxic” and “filled with assholes.”
He ended up doing what most associates with a heart do in these situations – hinting broadly something might be rotten in the state of Denmark. To his way of thinking, that was all he could do – and what he had to do. But she didn’t seem to hear. At one point she actually told him she was “looking forward to becoming a part of the firm.” He stared back in disbelief.
I reminded him none of that mattered.
Okay – here’s the big reveal: Because they already know.
At least, the smart ones do. C’mon…2L’s aren’t entirely cloaked in ignorance anymore – how could they be? Half their class (at least – probably more like three-quarters) won’t get jobs, and they know it. The news is out. Firms aren’t hiring big classes of juniors anymore. As one senior partner told me recently: “those days are over.”
2L’s don’t care about your warnings. They know how bad it is. At very least, they’ve heard the stories.
Why don’t they care?
Duh. Now you’re acting clueless. $180k in school loans ring a bell? That’s why.
At this point no one’s pretending there’s any difference between law firms. No one’s pretending they’re excited to be a part of Evil & Evil. They simply need an offer – any offer. They need to pay loans.
Here’s a tougher question. I was debating with a junior partner client whether a 2L with average grades at an average law school isn’t better off quitting now, and giving up.
Sound insane? He’s nearly done, you insist – only that final, pointless third year, and the bar exam, and he’s set! But stop, and think it through. That final year costs at least $60k. That’ll take two years – minimum – to pay off. He probably won’t get a job, either. If he does, it’ll be insurance defense at a sweatshop in East Dubuque – earning about $60k, working day, night and weekends.
See my point? It makes sense to quit – “take a leave of absence” – and save the $60k. Then you’re only looking at $120k in loans, not $180k. That’s a big difference. And it’s not like the JD’s gonna do you any good. You won’t earn any more with it – but you will end up deeper in debt, stuck in the worst job in the world.
If you’re going to take the leap and “tell them,” then tell them the whole truth. Yes, your firm is a hell-hole. They already know that – and they still need the money.
Tell them they should drop out, prontissimo, and do something – anything – else.
This piece is part of a series of columns presented by The People’s Therapist in cooperation with AboveTheLaw.com. My thanks to ATL for their help with the creation of this series.
If you enjoy these columns, please check out The People’s Therapist’s new book, Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning
I can also heartily recommend my first book, “Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy”.
(Both books are also available on bn.com.)