How bad is the job market for lawyers? Statistically speaking, it’s pretty bad. Recently, the National Law Journal reported that the number of lawyers working at the top 250 law firms dropped by 5,259 in 2009—an amazing realization when you consider we still have a month and a half to go.
As Leigh Jones summed it up, “It’s as if all of the lawyers working at two firms the size of Jones Day vanished in 2009.” But statistics only tell some of the story.
Given the sorry state of BigLaw’s headcount, it’s clear from reading blogs like Jobless Lawyer and Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer that many in the legal profession are doing the unthinkable—turning to Craigslist for job leads. While there are no official stats on the trend, lawyers are increasingly turning to their last hope of finding work via online bulletin boards.
In a recent Bitter Lawyer poll, more than 60% of respondents said they would consider using Craigslist. And why shouldn’t you be able to find an attorney position on Craigslist? It is, after all, a great place to find an apartment, a fuck-buddy, and slightly used IKEA furniture. So why not a career?
Well, before you plunk down a Benjamin for that “almost new” Melbu bed frame and fire off your most-updated resume, you need to swallow a big old grain of salt, my friend. Because even though everyone knows that Craigslist jobs are a class below what you really want, not all postings are created equally. Or, put another way: There’s more variety in ShitLaw than you think. Here are some of the terms and angles most often used that you should be too smart to fall for.
1“JD Required”. This is a job for a lawyer, but it’s not a lawyer job. Capisce? You can file it under “alternative legal career” if you like. But, in a nutshell, it’s the brainchild of an employer who wants to trade on some unique aspect associated with your degree. Which means you can be a copywriter for a website about employment law or asbestos cases, or maybe a recruiter (kind of a sick joke in this market, if you ask us).
In practice, these jobs mean you’re being paid to look like a lawyer, talk like a lawyer, but guess what—you won’t work or be paid as a lawyer. And once you go down this road, you can kiss practice goodbye.
2Temp/Doc Review. For some reason, these jobs always try to sell you on their prestigious clients. “We staff for firms like Skadden, Proskauer, and Latham,” the copy typically reads. Talk about false hope. Even in a good economy, it was unlikely that some senior partner would stumble into a conference room overcrowded with sweaty, over-worked/under-paid contract lawyers and say, “You there, the hardworking chap who spotted the errant comma yesterday—you seem like associate material.”
That was a one-in-a-million shot back then. Today it’s pure fantasy.
Contract jobs are sweatshops for people with graduate degrees. Period. You will not make a killing, you will not move up, you will burn out. But on the upside, you’ll be able to keep your apartment, keep up with your loans and be able to honestly tell friends, family, and prospective lovers that your are indeed an attorney.
3Tweener. Are you a seasoned lawyer? A recent law school graduate? Do you want to be an associate? Law clerk? Paralegal? Secretary? Accountant? Intern? Janitor? Babysitter? Slave? A tweener ad promises all of these positions (and any others you and your prospective employer can conjure up). Here’s the best part: All of these jobs are available at just one law firm, so you don’t need to submit multiple versions of your resume for each. Which means that it’s encouraged that you be both under- and over-qualified for this position.
4Illiterate or Desperate?. Technically, we can’t even call these job ads. While you’re looking for employers that have openings, the author of this ad is busy posting his plea for employment in the wrong section. Flag him if you like. But trust us, a rejected ad won’t stop this guy’s behavior. And don’t be tempted to try it yourself. It will get you nowhere.
5“Business Opportunity”. Got a book of portable business? Are you a seasoned lawyer with an entrepreneurial streak? Well, if you answer this Craigslist ad, you and your newfound partner will go on to be the next Kirkland & Ellis. (Didn’t that firm start when Ellis answered a classified ad written by Kirkland? “Young Ivy League lawyer seeks same for partnership. Sense of humor a must. Preference given to cat people.”)
Well, before you take a meeting with a random on Craigslist, consider this: The same guy who posted this ad about starting a law firm with a young go-getter like yourself is probably the same person who posted his plea for a job every other day in the legal jobs section of Craigslist. And that “office” of his is likely a studio apartment or a local Starbucks. And by “associates,” he means his pet Iguana who he calls the Rainmaker.
6“$100K” Six figures on Craigslist? Wrong! There is no sex in the champagne room. There is no Santa Claus. There are no six-figure jobs on Craigslist. Well, regardless, you’re still searching for your run-of-the-mill ShitLaw job. Maybe it’s doing insurance defense or DUI. Maybe it’s a lonely, aging solo practitioner who handles anything and needs a young body, or maybe it’s an ambulance chaser’s paradise.
The place you find could do just about anything. But the takeaway here is that they probably do it poorly. The thing to remember about ShitLaw is that only the bottom of the barrel are so messed up that they take a shotgun approach to hiring. So find an employer who believes in slightly more rigid job titles. It’s the best way to avoid having a dispute over your year-end bonus with your boss while you’re holding his dry cleaning. Good luck.