Is This How Kid Lawyers Think?

Unemployed Kid Lawyer writes to small-firm-owning Young Lawyer (obviously not me) after four on a Friday afternoon:

I am a recent cum laude graduate of [third-tier law school], and write to express my interest in potentially joining your firm. A colleague of yours, [Some Friend], whom I met at a networking event, recommended that I contact you about a possible position. Please see my attached résumé, writing sample, transcript, and list of references. If you have any questions or would like additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you should you decide to contact me about a potential opportunity.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

YL’s response, an hour later (after five on Friday, now):

Do you want to come in Monday afternoon to chat?

What we are looking for is someone who is considering starting a solo practice but doesn’t have the capital to get an office, supplies, malpractice insurance, etc. I have a lot of overflow right now, but given that we just opened our doors last year, I can’t pay someone $85k a year, salary, and benefits. Maybe soon, but not right now. 

On the upside, we have a nice office, conference space, etc. 

KL says he wants “opportunity”; that is the essence of opportunity:

  • Not a guarantee but a chance.
  • Someone covering the overhead while you figure out what you’re doing.
  • Two smart, hardworking young lawyers who aren’t yet grumpy, jaded, and cynical, and whose doors are open to you.
  • More experienced lawyers’ table scraps.

KL didn’t feel that way. His reply, three days later:

Sorry for the delayed response.

I really appreciate your getting back to me and offering to meet with me. Unfortunately, I don’t think this would be the best fit. I just don’t really have an interest in a solo practice. But all the best to you and your new firm.

That made my jaw drop. Scott Greenfield keeps telling me about the entitlement of the slackoisie, but I didn’t believe it—the young lawyers I deal with regularly show no character defects (though I may unconsciously select for initiative; nobody without gumption is likely to spend more than a minute on the phone with me)—until now.

Some people—such as KL?—see self-employment as a last resort, preferable only to unemployment. Those people should by no means be self-employed, but they are increasingly unemployable because employment requires initiative. Being paid $85K a year to learn your craft is not “opportunity.” It’s the gravy train. Maybe KL will find that ride on the gravy train that he is looking for. But such rides are few and far between nowadays, and a lawyer with no interest in working for himself isn’t going to be much good to anyone else for anything but contract document review (not that there’s anything wrong with that—there are documents taht need reviewing).

On the other hand, some people see every other option as a stepping stone to self-employment. Lawyers like that will see that what KL offers—an office, mentoring, and overflow—is worth more than money.

If you are in the Mid-Atlantic states, and interested in such an opportunity, email me and I’ll connect you with YL.

(And if you’re in Houston, and interested in such an opportunity, email me. I had given some thought to creating an incubator for criminal-defense lawyers here, but if KL is representative of the new generation of lawyers it’ll never work.)

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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20 Responses to Is This How Kid Lawyers Think?

  1. Cynthia Henley says:

    Back in the day lawyers hired associates and pay them small salaries to work 60, 70, + hours per week and put up with abusive language and treatment (besides the hours.) If someone has a lot of overflow and free space, etc., a new lawyer would be BLESSED to have such an opportunity!! Hell, I might want to take it on….. ; )

  2. Keith Lee says:

    Unfortunately this is true for some kid lawyers.

    Not all of them though. Due in part to the “scam” movement, I think many kid lawyers are entering the job market with lowered expectations. Of course, there are always going to be some people who expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter.

  3. Anna Durbin says:

    Well,to be charitable, maybe KL has big student loans to pay.
    But if you aren’t interested in solo practice, why are you expecting that a small firm can take you on for bucks? A small practice is like solo practice, more than big law, because the share of risk is bigger for small firm. You want the security and someone else to take the risk? Yeah, me too, but it hasn’t ever worked that way for me. I worked part time no benefits for awhile to learn how to do a solo practice and I gave good value.

  4. I was unemployed right after the bar exam. No one would hire me until bar results came out.

    To kill time, I took a part time, per diem gig with a solo, spending enormous amounts of time preparing for a medical malpractice trial. We settled on the eve of trial and it was very favorable. He was up front from the get go: when this trial was over, my job was finished. In turn, I was free to continue to apply for jobs and use him as a resource. He didn’t need an associate, just a guy for a few months.

    A few years later, this solo ended up running for judge and got elected. He shut down his successful private practice. We remain in contact to this day and he still sends me work, based on our friendship preparing for the trial. He is also a great resource and a mentor.

    I could have sat on the couch that summer. Glad I didn’t…

  5. Pauline says:

    I can’t say that I’m surprised by this person’s attitude and expectations. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that self-employment is seen as a last resort, especially for new lawyers who have just passed the bar exam. I don’t know many people who came out of law school raring to start their own practice. I know I certainly wasn’t one of those and I “went solo” in part just to have something to put on my resume while I was looking for a job.

    That being said, I was also looking to gain experience during that time and, had an opportunity like that opened up, I probably would have jumped at it. Overflow work and office space? Not a bad gig at all. Hell, I wouldn’t even mind that now, but sadly, I’m not in the mid-Atlantic area . . .

    • I had a firm job right out of law school. I viewed it as a temp gig until I had the experience and capital to start a law firm.

      There is nothing worse than living your life in .1 increments, dealing with firm politics, sitting through a performance evaluation, and never knowing if tomorrow was going to be the day a layoff hits you. Firm life isn’t easy, and it can be downright brutal at times.

      Self employment was my goal, and I am delighted that I managed to get there at age 31. I couldn’t be happier with my self-created job. My life has become immensely more interesting and rewarding. This wasn’t my only option — it was a goal and a calculated decision.

      My partner started his practice right out of law school. It wasn’t ideal for him, at the time, but now he wouldn’t give it up for anything.

  6. Ric Moore says:

    “Being paid $85K a year to learn your craft is not “oppor­tu­nity.” It’s the gravy train. ”
    NO DOUBT! Now I wish I had studied law! At 63, I’ll take 40 grand a year to be paid to be a student! :) Ric

  7. Ric Moore says:

    Mark, you could use me for cheap to babysit your criminal clients! Like the Chinese Curse, it would surely be “interesting”. :) Ric

  8. Gideon says:

    So, I’m going to be the contrarian here (no surprise). The initial unsolicited contact was for an associate position: someone who wanted to work FOR someone else, for a salary etc.

    YL’s response was qualified as follows: “What we are look­ing for is some­one who is con­sid­er­ing start­ing a solo prac­tice but doesn’t have the cap­i­tal to get an office, sup­plies, mal­prac­tice insur­ance, etc.”

    Someone who is considering starting a solo practice. KL, judging by his response (“I just don’t really have an inter­est in a solo prac­tice.”) recognized that it wasn’t for him. Was his reply tardy? Sure. But he was polite about it.

    So under your formulation of things, he shouldn’t have looked this gift horse in the mouth, even though it wasn’t something he wanted to do? Beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose, but what of doing something you want to do, rather than what you’re forced to do because based on the limited information we have, he had no alternatives? Maybe he was waiting for other interviews with firms that would offer him an associate position. I don’t know.

    I do know that if I were in his position, I’d consider the arrangement proposed by YL only if I’d been looking for a job for about a year and had no luck and there really wasn’t anything else going on in my life at all. Going Solo is not something I want to do, so I can’t blame someone else for hightailing it when that is the only prospect in sight.

  9. Could fear have been a factor?

    Going on your own is a big step. Being your own boss, responsible only to yourself, etc. This is something someone fresh out of school may not, heck is probably not, ready for. They need guidance, some hand holding, even being yelled at.

    I ‘m not a lawyer, I’m a private investigator, but I cut my teeth working for other firms for awhile before I bit the bullet to try on my own. Am I glad I did? YES. DO I regret working for others first? Hell No.

    Now this person had a chance of getting a real leg up in having work given to them, which is a big difference. With the numbers of fellow professionals out there (in this case lawyers, in my case investigators) good referrals are the blood of a successful client base.

    I do not think the reply was due to entitlement, but more in the “I’m not ready for Prime Time as a solo.”

  10. Jeff Gamso says:

    I am, as usual, of multiple minds about KL.

    On the one hand, it is a great opportunity he’s being offered. On the other hand, not every lawyer wants to be a solo or should be, and the opportunity to (1) lie about one’s interest in going that way or (2) take up the offer and spend some time learning to do what you know you don’t want to do isn’t all that appealing. On the third hand, who’s the person at the networking event who made the recommendation? What was their conversation like?

    When I went into practice, I had a gig something like the one YL offered (though I had to meet some of my own expenses, they were very low – the guy who took me under his wing still remembers that I had for some time a large cardboard box, as my desk). It was a great opportunity for me, but I knew I was going to be basically a solo criminal- defense lawyer. Not so for everyone.

    It is a helluva deal KL is passing up. Maybe it’s because he knows where he wants to go and has some real idea of how to get there and this isn’t the path. Or maybe he’s just a self-entitled, dumb-ass kid who believes that since he’s licensed and brilliant, there’s nothing for him to learn and people should be beating a path to his door with job opportunities.

  11. Max, stop trying to convince people you’re a complete fucking moron. No one is that stupid.

    • Max Kennerly says:

      Brian doesn’t know the difference from inside voice and outside voice, but it seems he thinks new lawyers should be “mentored” in solo practice by sharing space with a young lawyer who just opened a solo practice. Any grownups here see a potential problem?

      • Apparently just the children Max.

        Wait..what was that? You hear something? No? Me neither.

        Maybe we’ll wait a few more days and see if the crickets stop.

        And inside voices are so overrated.

  12. Based upon my experience, this article is an accurate depiction of how most entry level professionals respond to being self employed. I am a licensed civil engineer in California and am working on my juris doctorate degree at night to supplement the services i provide to my clients. I am 28 years old and have proposed to my friends from college to form a brain trust and be part of my start-up civil engineering firm. Although my friends have masters degrees in this field, they lacked the confidence to find projects and complete them. They wanted the 60k/year, vacation, benefits, and job security.

    However, they fail to realize that unless they actually own the key to the door they never have a shot at having a homerun year. I do not know why this my generation lacks the gunslinger mentality to start firms.

  13. For better or for worse with the flooded legal profession, an ad in Craig’s list for part time lawyers in Chicago will likely get you a Harvard grad for $45.00 an hour.

    BTW–Great Blog Mark

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