A Tale of Two Economies: Law Edition

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26 Responses

  1. Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

    One thing I have noticed about job postings is how hyper-specific they are and that people tend to get type cast for lack of a better term.

    For the last two years, I have mainly been doing antitrust law with some other plaintiff’s work thrown in here and there and some civil procedure.

    Sometimes I get broadly viewed as a plaintiff’s lawyer but more often than not, I am seen just as a antitrust lawyer and possibly only a plaintiff’s antitrust lawyer.

    Now there is nothing wrong with being a plaintiff’s lawyer or an antitrust lawyer. I like both but it seems to me that people should look at a resume and say this person looks smart and hardworking, they can catch up and learn.

    Firms also generally look to hire more people in the 3-7 year range or more to reduce any need for training.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Its even worse in particular fields. Immigration tends to get divided between business immigration and non-business immigration. Right now most of my practice is non-business immigration. If I apply for business immigration job, they don’t even assume that my experience with immigration will even translate and I’ll be a fast learn.Report

  2. Law school is a scam!!!!! DO NOT go unless $200,000+ in non-dischargeable student loan debt, no job, and living in your parents’ basement is your idea of fun. It’s a scam set up to make law administrators and professors wealthy off your federal government loans.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      That might be taking it a bit far, although I too caution interested students in taking a realistic look at the economic realities and frankly, if I had it to do over again now in 2014, I’d have opted for a path other than law school.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

        Art Forgery?Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        What if now in 2014, you were looking at an acceptance letter to a top 10 or 20 law school? Or what if you were looking at an acceptance letter and a healthy financial aid award for a second-tier law school that is well-regarded within a particular geographic area in which you don’t mind staying?Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


        Good questions. My year is interesting because we took the LSATs and made our applications and decisions pre-crisis and pre-recession. The economic crisis did not get really bad until well into our first semester (two major law firms shuttered in SF during my first semester) and the market was arguably rock bottom when we graduated.


      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        You know, art forgery could have been a whole lot of fun.

        If in 2014 I got admitted to an elite law school, or a mid-tier law school with the reasonable prospect of little to no student debt afterwards, then yes, I’d do it again.

        If in 2014 I got in to the law school I did (a good but not great one) on the terms that I did (had to borrow it all, on the prevailing wisdom of “no worries, you’re sure to make enough money to pay it back”) then no, I’d probably have become a software engineer like everyone else.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


        What happens when Tech 2.0/the App economy crashes? Or we produce too many coders. It seems now that people are starting to look at software engineer/computer programming like they looked at law school.

        I suspect that Tech 2.0 is a bubble and going to burst within the next few years.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        No, this time it’s different. There’s a whole new economic paradigm. 😉

        And hey, I’m smart. So when this tech thing doesn’t work out, I can go be a management consultant like everybody else. Take some classes, call myself a Six Sigma Black Belt or a Lean Machine or whatever the trendy thing is now, and boom-chicka-wow-wow there’s the hundreds-of-dollars-an-hour rate again, with the added benefit of no tangible product that I need to point to in order to justify it. Downside to that is, of course, a return to the billable hour.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        @burt-likko, I’m pretty that art forgery like many other things in life looks a lot more fun and sexy in the movies than it does in real life. In the movies, its all about putting cons on rich and beautiful people and sometimes sleeping with them two while trying to keep ahead of the law. In real life, its probably a bunch of craftsman/thieves doing meticulous work to make sure that they have all the details right.

        I’m really not sure what I would have done besides being a lawyer. Its a grueling and draining profession. Today was near good example of everything that can be frustrating about being lawyer. Last week was tough to. I just can’t imagine myself doing anything else and earning a decent salary at it.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        For a while I was trying to forge Jackson Pollocks, but they kept coming out looking like things.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        For a while, we collected hand-painted photographs; a companion collection to our books on the White Mountains and mountaineering. We’d begun this before Ebay; and purchased several photos on ebay in it’s early days. Then the prices began going up, really fast; particularly for choice pieces by famous photographers like Wallace Nutting or Charles Sawyer.

        I’ve looked at (and purchased) enough old photos to have a pretty good eye for them; how they should be framed and mounted, who the artists were, and how they age. So I was really surprised when I started seeing these really pristine images; no foxing on the mats, no water damage, really bright colors. And huge prices for what they were, meaning $200 to $300 for a decent-sized print. I refused to buy any, I was sure they were new; reprints of old photos that were being painted, framed, and then sold as antiques.

        Within a year, the bottom totally dropped out of the market, since it had been flooded with forgeries.

        What I never understood is how anyone made money on them; it would have taken a lot of time, material and energy — photo paper is expensive, time to paint and mat, frame, etc.

        So yeah, forgeries are not glamour; they’re just stupid grunt labor with little profit margin. Because if it’s a really famous and valuable work, someone’s going to check it; it’s the cheaper, don’t bother to insure art that gets forged and pawned off and overzealous collectors.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


        You are an expert but most people are not and were probably just looking at the name and saying “Woo Hoo!!!!”

        If something is too good to be true, it probably is but people are still going to hope beyond hope and what not for getting a real bargain/steal.Report

      • Avatar ktward says:

        There’s this guy and also this guy.

        Makes it hard for some of us to see distinctions.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        No, I only like the “having sex with attractive rich people” and “enjoying the pleasures of an elite lifestyle” part of art forgery. I’ll just hire some art students to do the actual painting in some workshop in suburban Saskatoon or something like that; I have neither the interest nor the talent for that sort of thing.

        Burt the Art Forger would be kind of like Thomas Crowne meets Jeff Koons.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        forgers get better money when someone contracts with a museum to “find” lost art for ’em.
        If no one can tell that it’s a fake, isn’t that better than not having the art at all?Report

  3. Avatar Jacob says:

    There will also always be a regional market in metropolitan areas where 1 to 3 law schools can get by. You may not make it to the white-shoe firms, but people are always getting arrested, divorced, hit by cars, et cetera. Not glamorous, sure, but the work will always be there, and income-based repayment takes some of the sting out of the loans.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


      I know quite a few people who have moved to the outer rings of the Bay Area or Central California to get legal work. I don’t know anyone who moved out of the NYC-Metro region (my home turf).

      Most of the people I know who are practicing are doing exactly the type of law you describe. I know a lot of people doing worker’s comp defense and crim law. A lot of people in various plaintiff-side stuff, etc.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Not necessarily so. Getting a job doing real people law like matrimony, tort, or criminal defense is tougher now than it was in the past.Report

  4. I still find it deeply worrying that we seem to have two economies developing and wonder if this happens in non-legal markets as well. We have elite schools that work as keys for all the good entry-level jobs and then we have everything else where the gamble is much higher. Maybe some of the small-liberal arts colleges like Amherst and Vassar and Oberlin are in a weird in between state.

    I think the two economies have been developing for quite a while now, although from my vantage point, Amherst, Vassar, and Oberlin, and even “lower” schools, seem to be pretty firmly on the elite side. But perhaps that’s the phenomenon of always comparing oneself to one’s betters. (One thing I learned in my graduate programs is that people with BA’s from small private liberal arts colleges tend to be much better funded with fellowships and guaranteed TA’ships, and when they don’t get funding, they’re pretty good at self-advocating. Nothing wrong with that per se, and I must admit that they tend to be better students, so it’s largely a question of them deserving it.)

    And I’m certain it happens in non-legal markets, although perhaps to different degrees. In humanities-academia (as opposed to, say, hard-sciences academia, about which I know almost nothing), it can matter if you got your PHD at Yale or Harvard or at flagship state U or at prestigious major private school or at second-tier state U. My purely anecdotal experience is that generally, schools try to hire PHD’s for academic faculty positions from at least one position higher up. The flagship state U tries to hire Harvard and Yale grads, for example. They’ll almost never hire their own grads.

    However, it’s not all bad. The grads from my own program–which was at a sub-flagship school that thought/thinks it was/is a peer to flagship U but was/is just a solid but overrated program at a decently performing but overrated U–has had what I consider freakish success. Most of them haven’t been hired at “important U’s”–although one was hired at a prestigious private U–but they have gotten tenure-track jobs at many places that if I were in that market I would be thankful for getting. If I had been told the success rate would be as high as it appears to be now, I would have thought the teller was being overly optimistic.

    All of which is to say, there’s a lot we don’t know. Or at least a lot I don’t know.Report

  5. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I say this whenever the higher education topic comes up ’round here, but since it never sticks…

    These conclusions only apply if you assume that your success in life in entirely dependent upon whether or not what you do at 50 is what you thought you wanted to do when you were 20.

    Zoom out a bit, and compare income levels, promotions, and job offers in non-attorney white collar positions given over a lifetime to those who have a law degree, compared to those of the average person. There are a whole lot of CEOs, COOs, corporate execs, and other highly-sought WC jobs out there who are held by people who have a law degree on their resume.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      There’s a body of statistics about how lawyers are faring, and there’s a body of statistics about how law school grads are faring. To be sure, the cohort of law school grads for whom the trends aren’t looking so good these days hasn’t hit 50 yet and we have no idea whether they may one day have very successful careers outside the law. All we know is that, for the first decade or so out of law school, trends in employment in positions that require law degrees in the early years afte graduation is a pretty good proxy for how well law school attendance is paying off for grads relatively speaking. And relatively speaking, in the last few years it ain’t great.

      Many law school grads certainly go on to successful careers outside the law. But ask yourself this: how many of them are law school grads who were unable to find work that required they have a law degree in the first few years after graduation? Some! But for how many of them was the law degree the thing that got them on the path to that successful non-law career? 100% by some definition, as every life is path-dependent to some extent. But realistically, some considerable number of them drew upon skills that law school didn’t appreciably enhance to launch those careers. And it’s never clear how much the law degree advanced their progress above and beyond what they would have achieved without it, possibly with a degree more tailored to the path eventually taken in lieu of the law degree.

      In earlier eras when law school costs were on the order of a quarter to at most half what they are now, law school could be seen as a reasonable way to pursue those alternative careers despite law school’s seeming profession-specific training course. But today, when there will be a lot more people who necessarily will have to develop those alternatives and they’ll all (more or less) be doing it with much more law-school-related debt, that path looks a more and more dubious choice.

      AFAIK, law school remains a type of training that opens doors in a number of fields (as they always used to say). It remains fair to point that out. But it does it at much greater cost, and produces far more people with the same credential to compete with each other, than it ever did before. These factors really mute the extent to which we can point to a law degree’s versatility as a consideration that should mitigate concern about discouraging trends in law school graduate employment rates.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


      I don’t disagree with you. I often say something similar (and usually get mockery as a reply). My point is more broadly that careers take decades to develop and blossom and that it is not immediate success or bust. Our media and culture doesn’t focus on this lesson though.

      When I was in my second semester of law school, they had a judge speak to us on a Saturday. He told us when he graduated, things were so bad that he was painting houses for money. I’ve also heard other anecdotal stories about how you found taxi drivers with law school degrees in 1970s New York.

      I do wonder how many of these people just went off the radar. How many held on or fought long enough for successful careers in law or business and how many just drifted into a quiet oblivion.Report

  6. Graduating from one of these top universities is almost a guarantee for a good job. However, a lot of talented people do not have this opportunity which is a sad case.Report

  7. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:


    I wish I could get a JD. The funding mismatch doesn’t work for foreign students, though.Report