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Lost Generation Is Now Forgotten Generation

Vivia Chen

June 8, 2011

Lost gen If you're working as a summer associate at a big law firm, count your blessings. Despite the uncertainty in the legal market, many firms are rolling in dough again, and most hiring partners I've chatted with say they expect to make offers to almost all of their summer hires.

Normalcy has returned to the profession--but not for everyone. Certainly not the so-called Lost Generation--those unlucky newbie lawyers who lost their jobs (or never got one) during the recession. Remember them?

They are still there, pressing their noses against the thick law firm windows. I hear from them every now and then, and this is their message to the profession: We're still looking for jobs. And if you're hiring again, why won't you give us a look?

Sadly, they know the answer. "There's a glut of us," says a 2009 law graduate who got laid off from an Am Law 100 firm after less than four months on the job. And though they're told that it's not their fault that their careers derailed prematurely, few firms think of them as associate material.

"Maybe firms think we've already been [picked over] or they feel we're too cynical," says the 2009 graduate. "You'd hope that the industry would recognize us, but the behavior is to chop us off and forget about us."  

Of the 30 laid-off lawyers that this graduate knows from the class of 2008 and 2009, only two have gotten jobs in Big Law--and both were through personal connections, he says. "It's a total waste of time to go through HR," he adds. Even those who were superorganized about finding work, who made their job search a full-time job--most got nowhere, he says.

"I've fought hard not to have any gaps in my resume," says this lawyer, adding that he took a job in finance, then an unpaid legal position in government, to keep himself viable. When he came out of law school, he says, he had 11 offers. Now working in the public relations sector, he says he's still hoping to get a shot at a big-firm job.

But he says his laid-off colleagues are finally throwing in the towel about working in a big law firm: "Most have given up and now are doing different things; some are going to business school."

So is he at all optimistic that he'll be able to get back into Big Law? "Well, I think it's useful for me to stay positive, but it's definitely an uphill battle." And though he says it's important to tell the story of the Lost Generation, he winces at the idea that he's part of it. "I don't like the phrase because it sounds like a tragedy, and I still have hope."

Readers, what do you hear from the laid-off lawyers? Are they still trying to get law firm jobs? Or have they moved on?

 Related post: Stop Making Sense--Hire, Fire, Hire Again.

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

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So if they can't get the best law jobs at the biggest firms in the country, they just give up? Working in Big Law is great if you can get the jobs and if you actually want to live that lifestyle, but if it isn't an option then it is time to consider other options. Most lawyers don't work in big law firms. The importance and prestige of the big firms is just exaggerated to new law grads because most of their professors worked in a big firm for a year or two before becoming law professors.

Look at small law firms, boutique law firms, and even look at the idea of just hanging up a shingle and starting your own law practice. Be an entrepreneur. If you can't get a job, create a job. Yes it is hard, but if you aren't working anyway then what have you got to lose? Forget about the dream of some big law firm handing you a huge salary, and go out and work the streets to build up a clientele of your own. In the short term you'll struggle. In the long term, you'll be better off than if you had been a Big Law drone.

I think I must be one of the last lost generation members. I graduated from law school in 1990 and there were no jobs. This recession has provided obstacles for people of my generation as well. At least I have experience even if after relocating-- I don't have any clients after 20 years of practice. The younger folks are far more employable. Get some experience-- any experience and move on!

top teir law school. class of 2010, licensed.

still looking. hundreds of apps for small, medium, public interest, and government at all levels. DC area.

supported by parents in room I grew up in.

not just class of 08 and 09. not just biglaw.

As a 2009 graduate, I am an unfortunate member of the "Lost Generation." My only option after graduation was to do contract work (and even some volunteer work). I was forced to move back home and at 30 years old I am almost completely dependent on family to survive.
I didn't go to a big name school, but I had decent grades, law review, and I am even now a registered patent attorney (something 90% of lawyers can't say).
Still, I am frustrated with this profession to the point of being sick to my stomach.
I am "lost" and at a loss - a very big loss totaling over $100,000 in debt. This profession stinks. There is nothing respectable about it anymore.
I think the reason for the lack of hiring is that these greedy partners want to keep there hefty six figure salaries and would rather do the work themselves than give promising young associates the chance to succeed and contribute to society. It's a sad reality, but what is even sadder is that no one cares except those of us stuck without a job. Can you sense my bitterness? Given these circumstances, do you blame me?

I am not a lawyer, but I've been in the legal industry for 30 years. I've worked as a corp fin paralegal for law firms, law depts, and trust companies of all shapes and sizes. The ones I like the least were working for BigLaw for a variety of reasons. First, bigger is not always better from the perspective of being a lawyer (or even a paralegal for that matter). BigLaw is like a car factory; you'll most likely be working on pieces of a deal or a case, but it'll also be at a low level because you have to start at the bottom in BigLaw firms. Also BigLaw firms don't necessarily pay more, and with BigLaw, they will wring billable hour requirements out of you by taking your life away from you because you have to eat, sleep, and breathe your work. Forget about family, friends, etc. in the early part of your career because you won't have a life in the early years. Small to midsized firms tend to be better, especially if it's a boutique law firm that specializes in a particular area, whether it's subject matter or practice type. For example, I worked for a few small law firm boutiques that specialized in corporate securities work, both transactional and litigation. Of course, hanging out one's own shingle is always an option. I opened my own consulting and training firm after leaving BigCorpLand for good in 2006. For those having difficulty finding a good position, I would recommend hanging out your own shingle and continuing to look for work in the meantime. You may find, like I have, that you can take on contractual engagements which would allow you to continue running your own firm but having side work when business is slow. This way, you hedge your bets. Chances are you'll be much happier running your own firm, although law firm experience is an excellent way to really get a handle on what law practice is all about. Oh, and one more thing about BigLaw: It's not like it's portrayed on TV and in the movies. Not only do they tend to be the biggest sweatshops of all time, but it could easily be 10 years or more before you make partner and then you must be a rainmaking machine. It's an awful lot of pressure without the likelihood of glory, possibly ever. Also, if there are layoffs, you'll be one of the first to go, so no matter how much $$ they throw at you, you may not have it for long. Gone are the days where BigLaw courts and wines and dines the best and brightest to lure them for summer clerkships and post grad job offers. It's a New World Order in the legal industry and, at the end of the day, it's more about BigBusiness than BigLaw because the focus is on the $ and the bonuses; the clients are incidental for the most part.

@ Joe

Smaller firms pay less and handle less sophisticated work for smaller clients. They also have worse exit options. But hey, point me towards the smaller firm paying biglaw market with the same exit options and I'll gladly work there.

Some people say smaller firms are a good choice because they offer "work life balance." In my experience that's a load of crock. You end up working almost or as many hours in small law so that the pay cut just is not justified. Even if the work life balance myth were true, I didn't go into this profession because I wanted work life balance. I expected to work hard and to get paid well for doing so.

As one of the "Lost Generation," it's more than just BigLaw. Many friends and fellow graduates had problems getting into medium or small firms, as well as government jobs.

Many of us went for the best option available and hung up shingles. Most of the other start-ups kept looking for jobs as they worked. Many found jobs much faster than those who stayed on the job search or took temp jobs.

Personally, I've found that I enjoy the benefits of running a law firm. I will never get laid off, but it's up to me to keep the firm alive.

I agree with Joe. I'm in law school right now with the goal in landing in BigLaw, but have several smaller firms in mind as an option. This is not an all or nothing proposition. If BigLaw is not in the cards I know I can be happy elsewhere.

Was EVERYONE in that generation gunning for a job in BigLaw? What's wrong with smaller firms?

If this is your goal in life, you should get what you deserve, but maybe you should ask yourselves why this is what you want.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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