I, like some of you, read this insightful post which tries to explain the mentality of poor people. If you haven’t read it, you should do so before continuing. I am also taking this blog in a different direction – see below.
Updated to correct numerous grammatical errors. Still not done yet.
There’s no way to structure this coherently. They are random observations that might help explain the mental processes. But often, I think that we look at the academic problems of the law school scam and have no idea of the why. We know the what and the how, and we can see systemic problems, but it’s rare to have an unemployed attorney with over $150,000 in almost nondischargeable student loan debt to actually explain it on their own behalf. So this is me doing that, sort of.
Rest is a luxury for those with real jobs. I get up at 6AM, check Craigslist, Symplicity or various job boards to check for any open attorney positions (I have multiple ding letters but I only go to one to two interviews per month which lead to nothing) then go to doc review hoping the case didn’t settle, then I buy lunch for an older attorney where I subtly beg him to send me his overflow work, then I go back to doc review, then I have half an hour to change and go to a bar association function or another networking event schmoozing with struggling also-rans like me. I get home from that at around 10 PM, then I have to moonlight as a bouncer or the night-shift stock clerk while spending my meager break time checking Craigslist again. I’m in bed by 3AM. This isn’t every day, I have two days off a week from each of my obligations. I use that time to check the job boards again and customize my resume and cover letter to make sure that I tweak my accomplishments for the mill or shitlaw firm I’m applying to. After that, I soothe Mr. Martini, stroke Mr. Jack Daniels, smell Mary Jane’s perfume while seeing Breaking Bad for an hour. I then spend time looking for free CLEs or read a practice book on a subject I am interested in. Those nights I’m in bed by midnight, but if I go to bed too early I won’t be able to stay up the other nights because I’ll fuck my sleep pattern up, and I drive an hour home from Job 2 so I can’t afford to be sleepy. I never take a day off from work because I am easily replaceable. It doesn’t leave you much room to think about what you are doing, only to attend to the next thing and the next. Planning isn’t in the mix.
When I got laid off the first time, I was living in my parents’ basement. I had a laptop and nothing else. I was on IBR. I ate whatever leftovers that were in the parents’ fridge. Had I had a job, I couldn’t have bought Chipotles anyway since my student loan payments would have increased. And I needed the job, I was fucking broke. I might not have had to pay rent while living at home, but I am intelligent enough to know that “gaining experience” and pro bono work was not going to decrease my student loan balance.
I know how to litigate. I had to do 40 hours of pro bono work per month at a small firm and several non-profits to graduate law school. Most law schools didn’t have that requirement. The courtroom can be intimidating. You have to have understand the court rules, know how to deal with opposing counsel, know the judge’s particular perversions, and you’ll have meet the court deadline no matter how tired you are or your case will be dismissed. These are huge new skills for a lot of people. That’s not great, but it’s true. And if you fuck it up, you could get fired or get a malpractice suit. We have learned not to try too hard to beg for an associate position at the firm you are coding for. It always makes you think about Biglaw and always makes you feel worse for having tried and failed yet again. Better not to try. It makes more sense to do doc review, contract work or the rare government non-legal job. Lofty, idealistic fantasies are a pleasure that we are allowed to have; why would we give that up? We have very few of them.
The closest document review facility to me is three hours since the temp firms decided to move to an area with lower cost of living. That’s a lot of money in gas. Lots of unemployed lawyers can’t afford that, and even if you live near one you probably don’t want to have multiple doc review jobs on your resume. We’re aware that we are not “getting real legal jobs” we’re “coding.” We want paychecks for much the same reasons that I imagine real lawyers do. Urge to pay the bills and all. Nobody likes doc review coders pretending to be attorneys, but they judge an entitlement attitude even harder.
Convenience food is just that. And we are not allowed many conveniences. Especially since BAPCPA passed, it’s hard to get student loans discharged or even have it negotiated down to a workable payment plan. But with a soul-crushingly large student loan balance, you spend a lot of time figuring out how to get a mortgage or car loan and getting deferrals to pay bills. Most banks now have a large-student-loan-no-mortgage policy. I wandered around 10 banks for five hours in the rain once with nearly ten thousand dollars on me and could not qualify for a mortgage even if my cousin were to co-sign the loan and offer his retirement portfolio as collateral.
Nobody gives enough thought to depression. You have to understand that we know that we will never have a steady career. We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a fucking chance at the $160,000 Biglaw salary. Ever. We know that the very act of being unemployed makes us more and more likely to be unemployable. It doesn’t give us much reason to improve ourselves if you think about it. We don’t apply for Biglaw or even Midlaw jobs because we know we don’t have the credentials to even be considered. I would make a super associate, but I’ve been turned down more than once because I “don’t fit the image of the firm,” which is a nice way of saying “gtfo, coder.” I am good enough to draft a motion, even while slaving away in the doc review basement, but my temp boss won’t recommend me for an associate or even a staff attorney position because I don’t “fit the corporate image.” I did not graduate in the top 10% of my class. I’m not a law review editor and have a spotty employment history consisting of law clerk, coffee server, appearance attorney, insurance sales, paralegal, and real estate agent. Prestige is a thing you get when you can afford it, and that’s how you get the job that you need in order to be prestigious. There isn’t much point trying.
Posting your job availability on Craigslist attracts scammers and exploiters. Nobody realizes that. I’ve spent a lot of hours telling people my salary requirements and that I don’t work on a commission only basis to discourage cheap, broke-ass no name solos. It doesn’t work, and it is fucking frustrating.
“PSLF loan forgiveness” only exists for T14 graduates. It’s great that there’s a public service loan forgiveness program at my school, but most law school graduates will never get a reputable and paying public interest job. We don’t belong there. There’s a Legal Aid Clinic in town? Great! But only temporary, unpaid positions are available. We’re not going. Besides, all they’ll tell you at the clinic is that the paid positions require substantial public service experience, which seriously? Might as well be a SCOTUS clerk for how accessible it is. IBR and PAYE sounds like “money you have to spend” to me, and they can’t actually help you anyway, especially with the fucking tax bill at the end.
I smoke, drink and do drugs from time to time. It’s expensive. It’s also the best option. You see, I am always, always exhausted, depressed and/or angry. They’re stimulants and mood enhancers. When I am too tired to review one more document, I can smoke and go for another hour or drink and temporarily forget the shitty life I live. When I am enraged and beaten down and incapable of accomplishing one more thing, I can drink, take a toke or a hit and I feel a little better, just for a minute. It is the only relaxation I am allowed. It is not a good decision, but it is the only one that I have access to. It is the only thing I have found that keeps me from collapsing or exploding.
I made a poor financial decision by going to law school. It doesn’t matter in the long term really. Even if I leave the law, I will never pay off my student loans AND live a decent lifestyle, so what does it matter if I pay the minimum amount possible on any my bills? It’s not like paying extra will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn’t that I’m on forbearance with Sallie Mae. It’s that now that I have proven that I am a forgotten attorney and that is all that I am or ever will be. It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to. There’s a certain pull to live what bits of life you can while there’s money in your pocket, because no matter how responsible you are you will be broke in three days anyway. When you never have enough money it ceases to have meaning. I imagine having a lot of it is the same thing.
Forgotten attorneys with no secure job, no connections and no family support are doomed to live a life of poverty. Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It’s why you see lost attorneys wearing used, brand name suits and driving used high mileage luxury cars even when they cannot afford it. You grab a bit of prestige wherever you can to feel better about yourself. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It’s more basic than food. You pay (with money you don’t have) to go to these networking events to meet judges and rockstar attorneys who make you feel hopeful about your career for a few minutes that one time, and that’s all you get. You’re probably not going to have a meaningful professional relationship with them for anything long-term, but right this minute they can make you feel like you have a chance at getting a job. It does not matter what will happen in a month. Whatever happens in a month is probably going to be just about as indifferent as whatever happened today or last week. None of it matters. We stop making long-term plans and sending resumes because if we do we’ll just get our hearts broken. It’s best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it.
I am not asking for sympathy. I am just trying to explain, on a human level, how it is that forgotten, disillusioned attorneys complain on message boards, start scamblogs, and basically give up on a lot of things. This is what we believe our lives will be like, and here are our defense mechanisms, and here is why we think differently. It’s certainly self-defeating, but it’s safer. That’s all. I hope it helps make sense of it.
A Thought – Obviously this is a parody of the original post and should be interpreted that way. Most law school graduates are intelligent (although this seems to be declining), come from good backgrounds (but not so much in the future), have a decent work ethic under the right conditions and have the fortitude to want to improve themselves. Some will succeed. But at some point, even highly motivated people will give up if the obstacles are just too great.
For those who try to tell unemployed law school graduates to hustle and make something of themselves, stop. Just stop. As I said previously somewhere, some people went to law school for the wrong reasons and should be allowed to resign from the bar in exchange for a full discharge of student loans. Once student loans become dischargeable in bankruptcy, the Feds will all of a sudden care about how law school graduates are doing financially and may even sue shit schools that lie about employment statistics. So help those who want to be helped.
Starting today, I am turning this blog into a collection of stories of forgotten attorneys and will post less personally. For obvious reasons, I am more interested in publishing stories about people who did not win the law school game. But I am willing to publish a story with a happy ending provided that it helps readers – particularly 0Ls and 1Ls – make an informed decision about entering or continuing law school.
A detailed story would be preferred but please avoid identifying information. But I would appreciate it if you can identify your law school. Chances are, a lot of your classmates and alumni have gone through similar situations so naming your alma mater is not likely to identify you.