Fairness to New Lawyers

Via the New York Lawyer, first year associates are closing in on $200,000 a year.  If there are anything that could drive legal services away from Biglaw and into the hands of small firms and solos, this should be it.

With Williams & Connolly raising its first year’s salaries to $180,000, it’s only a matter of time.  Can anyone tell me what could possibly explain this phenomenon?  The compulsive draw of Biglaw for the “best and brightest” of law school graduates, or the competition to show that your firm can pay more than their firm? 

Let’s talk just between us.  First year associates are near useless as lawyers.  They are incapable of producing useful legal work, and at best churn out wasteful hours of memos stating the obvious at great length in order to produce the requisite number of hours.  Sure, they think they’re doing a bang-up job, but that’s only because they have no clue of the utility of their efforts. 

Still, somebody is paying for this time.  Hour by hour, there is a client being billed somewhere for some kid to carry a briefcase around the hallway.  It must be just fine with Biglaw clients to pay some top partner $1000+ an hour on top of a posse of kids following her around, nipping at her heels, fetching coffee and taking notes, so that every hour of actual legal work ends up costing the Biglaw clients $3,750.

To what end is this shocking waste of money?  Well, it let’s Biglaw associates buy stuff that they otherwise couldn’t afford.  After all, didn’t mommy promise a Mercedes Benz or a Condo by age 24?  Of course, I can’t blame these first year associates for the joys of excessive pay.  They didn’t go on strike for higher wages and better working conditions (like in-house nail salons and a concierge to pick up their dry cleaning).  Biglaw offers and they need only accept.

On the other hand, you have the second tier grads who may get an interview but never seem to get the job.  While everybody thinks they are going to be some rich lawyer, the reality hits home when there’s no summer associates position for them at Biglaw.  No firm picnics or ballgame outings.  It’s going to be their lot in life to have to work for a living, and then only at a fraction of what their brethren make.

But they do have an advantage in one regard, that the coddled first years will never know.  They will be forced to become lawyers or starve.  Having just addressed the “fairness” issue of Avvo’s ratings on newbie solos, noting the complaint that their lack of experience will show up on Avvo as a lack of experience, they will be constrained to find a way to get themselves some clients, work their little butts off to learn their craft and impress those clients, and then bootstrap that into a budding legal career. 

Necessity is the mother of invention.  Working lawyers will find a way to impress their clients because it will be necessary if they want to eat tomorrow.  They will have to prove their mettle if they want to claw their way up the food chain to success and, perhaps, even prominence.  There’s nothing wrong with this.

On the Biglaw side of the lane, these income-enhanced first year associates will not develop the skills needed to succeed as independent lawyers.  In a few years, they will learn that they either do not want to spend their lives as someone else’s legal-serf or that they have no future in Biglaw, meaning that their grades in law school didn’t turn out to be as much of a predictor of Biglaw success as their masters had hoped.  Hey, you need to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.  It happens.

By that time, their solo buddies will have gone far down the road to self-sufficiency, and will possess a practice and lifestyle that the Biglaw guys can only dream of. 

For the lawyers online who have a position to promote, telling the truth about the ups and downs of the legal profession isn’t always easy.  It’s not easy being a solo, particularly when you are starting from scratch, lack any client base or reputation in the legal community and have no trust fund to keep gas in the Ferrari as your practice together.  Don’t whine about.  You aren’t the first one to struggle, and you won’t be the last.

These fine talks from lawyerprenuers about how you to can become a star overnight by following three easy steps isn’t going to offer any magic solution.  Developing a practice takes time, effort and sacrifice.  Everyone who gets a law degree is not going to succeed.  Some don’t have the skill.  Others can’t stand the job.  And some aren’t willing to do the work necessary to become a good lawyer.  This is how it should be. 

Most of us have to prove our worth to our clients every day.  We make money the old fashioned way:  We earn it.  Is it fair that Biglaw associates will get $200k while everyone else has to struggle to bring work in the door?  Of course not, but whoever told you that this was a business about fairness was pulling your leg.  The law may be an honorable profession, but it’s surely no free ride.

4 thoughts on “Fairness to New Lawyers

  1. Simple Justice

    Tiime for PDs to Let Go of Biglaw Envy

    Most criminal defense lawyers, particularly public defenders, pay little attention to the ridiculous happenings in the world of Biglaw.

  2. Simple Justice

    Tiime for PDs to Let Go of Biglaw Envy

    Most criminal defense lawyers, particularly public defenders, pay little attention to the ridiculous happenings in the world of Biglaw.

  3. Simple Justice

    Time for PDs to Let Go of Biglaw Envy

    Most criminal defense lawyers, particularly public defenders, pay little attention to the ridiculous happenings in the world of Biglaw.

Comments are closed.