26 August 2009

"Downturn Dims Prospects Even at Top Law Schools" - so low as (GASP!) Public Interest!

Newest in a spat of NYTimes articles on the sorrows of would-be top law firm associates not making the thinner and thinner cut adds a taste of insult for public interest attorneys. No only are top law school grads considering working at "lesser" firms outside of LA or NYC ... "many students say that for the first time, they are considering and seeking work [horror of horrors] with government and public-interest groups.

I'm happy for my many friends at firms who are happy and living for dreams and with their principles ... and I know every one of them doesn't look down on public interest work, in fact, many of them give so much financial and personal support that many public interest organizations couldn't exist without them. But this NYTimes article paints them in the wrong light.

But students who miss the brief window of opportunity to land an offer this fall may struggle to break into firms once next year’s class rises. When Julia Figurelli, a second-year student at the University of Pennsylvania, decided to enter law school a year ago, she expected to find a lucrative law firm job in three years — if not collecting the $160,000-a-year associate salaries at one of the uppermost partnerships. By the time she obtains her J.D., she says, she will have around $200,000 in debt.

“Had I seen where the market was going, I would’ve gone to a lower-ranked but less expensive public school,” she said. “I’m questioning whether law school was the right choice at all.”

Once aiming to work in Philadelphia, Ms. Figurelli is now hunting for jobs in lower-paying markets, like Pittsburgh and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “I’m looking anywhere my competition isn’t looking,” she added.

School officials are pushing students to look beyond the white-shoe firms, to delve deep into alumni networks and to start mass letter-writing campaigns to potential employers. Like Ms. Figurelli, many students say that for the first time, they are considering and seeking work with government and public-interest groups.

This is so very wrong ... wrong about the value of these positions and wrong about many, if not most of the people who graduate from law school (at least mine). They respect public interest attorneys and their work rather than see it as a last resort to make a living.

Many students begin law school intending to work for the public interest; to fight for people rather than profits. Too many are drawn into working for massive firms because of their massive debt load or simply the opportunity to make $160,000/year + bonuses and raises and the prestige that can be found in comparing your check with a classmate's, a colleague's. Some need the income to support families, too often because of medical problems that are not covered or insured.

But those who do seek out and struggle for public interest positions are not falling back on them, they're fighting for them. And once they get those jobs, they are fighting to keep them against lay offs and budgets which leave out the least well off. That fight for public interest jobs results in top attorneys working in outstanding offices working for the people and principles they went to law school to protect. Let the failed corporate wanna-bes who see these jobs as second rate come to public interest offices and offer to take these "meager public interest jobs" ... they'll be surprised to find that it's not a job, it's a commitment. This work holds lawyers up to and brings to life the ideals in the Constitution. That's not a fall back position, it's the front line.

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