Saturday, July 14, 2012

Keeping Up With the Dow Joneses

May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’ That day—may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine on it.  (Job 3:3-4)
There's something about the story of Job which draws everybody in, religious or not.  The story of his struggle is legendary, and rightfully so.  It has the drama of legends like the Ramayan and the reality of relatability.

Today, a down legal market has many struggling.  There are scores of underemployed and unemployed lawyers out there. These jobless are unfortunately not Jobless, which makes the whole scenario very unfortunate.

When the legal market sank, many lawyers who worked for big corporations and big law firms were let go from their "top tier" jobs.  That is because firms and companies wanted to cut costs.  The best way to do that was to get rid of pricey lawyers.  These "top" lawyers then sought jobs on the next tier below.  Employers rushed at the chance to hire these legal brains.  This resulted in the standard crop of applicants to this level looking elsewhere for jobs. The steps downward continued all the way.

Trickle down economics, if you will.

One of the drawbacks of the legal industry is that lawyers can practice law until the day they die.  A working body is not needed.  So long as your brain works, you can practice law.  As a result, lawyers can and do practice into their 80s and 90s and don't retire or die soon enough.  Longevity, as great as it may be in many other cases, is a real problem for the legal industry.  The new breed is effectively stumped from gaining critical legal experience in their young age.  The top guns in their old age, for some reason, are not taking advantage of the situation and training these young, moldable minds.

How does this prevent jobs from opening up?  If old lawyers (most who are partners in law firms) are not retiring/dying, then those jobs do not become available.  As a result, the lawyers below their status do not have an opportunity to move up to that position.  And if those lawyers cannot move up, then the lawyers below the other lawyers cannot move up.  And if those lawyers cannot move up, then their jobs cannot become available to other lawyers available for hire.

Again, trickle down economics.  

[Digression: Lawyers, for the most part, love to talk, and if they love to talk, then they love to talk about themselves. That's what we in the industry call "networking".  If you are a new lawyer or a law student, you attend networking functions and ask the lawyers about themselves and keep making them talk about themselves.  Then the lawyer finds that he had a very interesting conversation with the young lawyer or law student, perhaps not realizing that the entire conversation was about the lawyer, which is why the lawyer finds the young lawyer or law student interesting.]

Back to the old lawyers.  They have a desire to do as much as they can as their minutes tick away.  However, if they have a desire to make an impression in the legal world, then the greatest way to leave an impression is to train the new breed of lawyers.  By training the new breed, one is guaranteed to live forever.  Thus, the wealth of knowledge the senior attorneys have does not go to waste when they retire or pass away.  The knowledge becomes an inheritable treasure which can benefit others long after the lawyer has passed on.  

Those who evolve, externally or internally,
are the ones that get to keep on keeping on.
Otherwise, we continue in our current stage where lawyers apply for jobs at all levels.  And lawyers with little to no experience apply for whatever they can get.  This leads to employers clearly stating in their job postings for paralegals "JDs need not apply" or "paralegal certificate required".  A law school grad not getting a job as a paralegal is like a chef from Umberto's not getting a job at Domino's.

It is all a cyclical struggle.  And why wouldn't it be?  If we didn't struggle, then what's the point?  Why lounge around in total comfort?  That's not what the grand thing called "LIFE" was ever meant to be.  Complacency is never an option. This cycle is crucial to who we are as humans and a testament to what we can become.

In the period when we're "between jobs", we feel like Job.  We cry out Job's sorrowful soliloquy (part of which begins this article)  and we send our complaints to the heavens, only to know that the answer from God has been the same since time immemorial:
Brace yourself like a man.  (Job 40:7)
At the worst, and best, of it all, that is all that we can do. And, hopefully, that is what we will do.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Tale of Two Tiers

Yesterday, I had two separate meetings with Ian and Tommy, two people with legal backgrounds.  Ian is a lawyer. Tommy has moved on from law and is in the improv world.  Both are from opposite ends of the law school tier system.  Ian attended a top law school, Tommy attended a lower ranked law school.  I don't know why, but I expected very different conversations with both people.  Not that one conversation would be dumb and the other intelligent, but that each conversation would have different outlooks on life, different strategies, etc.  Yet, in both conversations, the same word popped up.


Tommy hustled upon graduation.  He rented an office, took the per diem route, and, within a matter of months, gained many clients for his solo firm.  Ian had a highly sought-after job at a top law firm.  Ian did not have Tommy's hustle yet, but *spoiler alert* it's about to happen.  Both were, undoubtedly, making a lot of money.

But, like most people with great plans rattling in their brains, they were restless.  They wanted more. They wanted something else.  

For Tommy, a lifelong performer, it was a life that involved a stage and comedy.

For Ian, a CPA with a background in banking and business, it was a life of running his own law firm.

So the two left their jobs to pursue other things, essentially, to pursue themselves.  

Enter the hustle.

Tommy offered to mop floors at comedy clubs just to get his foot in the door.  Now that his foot is in, he continually reaches out to firms, corporations, and people in many different ways to offer his services. Ian is in contact with law schools, law students, and law organizations to get his name out and let his message be heard.  

Tommy is now doing a lot of work to bring laughter to people, but he has not completely left the legal world.  He has an accredited CLE, which he has taught in places all over North America, called "Improv(ed) Legal Skills".  This is not about bringing humor to the courtroom, rather, it is about thinking on your feet, developing a better relationship with a team, listening effectively, and conquering fears.  The class has been so successful that there is a waitlist to take it.  However, appointments can be made so that he brings the class to your corporation or law firm.  

Tommy does all this while being the Director of Corporate Programming at one of the great improv theaters/schools in New York City: The People's Improv Theater (The PIT).  Although he took an economic hit when he transitioned from law to improv, he told me that he is much happier now eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with his young son than he was eating steak dinners in Bermuda.      

Ian has his feet firmly rooted in the legal world, but his feet are not exactly rooted in a typical office.  Ian embraced technology and opened a virtual law office just a month ago after leaving his job at the law firm.  He specializes in immigration, bankruptcy, surrogacy/adoption, wills, and contracts.  

Ian also runs a blog about being successful in law school and beyond.  This blog is in anticipation of his upcoming book, The Law School Lowdown, which details everything from getting into law school to getting a job.  More info on this at a future date (hopefully a book review as well).  Ian is hustling his way to new areas, which is inspiring to see.

Ian and Tommy have excellent backgrounds and attitudes to ensure that their hustle helps their craft come to light.  Both have gone the route of believing 
There will be plenty of time to think inside the box when I'm dead.  
What did I learn?  Tiers matter when one wants a job in a multi-billion dollar industry making a name for the company and making a couple bucks for yourself.  But, when it comes to making a name for yourself, tiers don't matter.  It's the tears you put into your work that will undoubtedly take you to where you need to be.