This week, we have invited a guest columnist to share her experience as a top-twenty law school graduate.
I will get a job.
This is what I tell myself each night before I drift off to sleep. I try to imagine a world in which I get up each morning, put on an uncomfortable pant suit, and drive to work. One in which I wrinkle my nose as I make student loan payments, rather than filling out forbearance forms. Then I drift off to sleep, dreaming sweet dreams in which I complain about the amount of taxes taken out of my paycheck each month.
When I wake up, I’m still unemployed. The 20th of March marks exactly ten months since graduating from the University of Texas Law School. Ten months without permanent employment. For someone who managed to graduate law school without feeling bitter and soulless, the eternal search for a permanent legal job (preferably one that offers dental and vision) has been the single most soul-crushing experience of my life.
Before my search for permanent employment, I was a confident young woman who believed in myself and was proud of my accomplishments. Now I feel a lot older and a heck of a lot less confident after two years of increasing desperation on the job front.
So, where did I go wrong? In the past year, I’ve searched for an answer to that question. After all, things started out okay. I went to a law school that was (back then) ranked in the Top 15. My grades were always solidly Top 50% and I was well-rounded in terms of types of classes, clinicals, and extra curriculars, including interscholastic moot court. I’d landed a sweet judicial internship after my first year and worked for a non-profit after my second year. I’d been a research assistant for a professor. I participated every time on-campus interviews came around, did the small and midsize firm reception, and applied for judicial clerkships. I read all the interview tips and got help on my resume. I have solid professional references and my former employers always seemed pleased with my work. I graduated with honors and passed the bar exam on my first try. I’m flexible in terms of geography and practice area. I don’t have halitosis, leprosy, or one of those semi-creepy wandering eyes that make people uncomfortable because they don’t know which one to look at during conversation. And I know this is really starting to sound like, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me,” but doggone it, people like me.
Here I am, ten months after graduation with a fancy law license, no permanent employment, and still (woe!) still living with my parents. I try not to beat myself up over the first six months. After all, May through July was stressful enough without having to think about finding a job, and every application submitted between July and November got a “call us when you get your bar results” response.
But November through March? Just depressing, really. In the meantime, I’ve been working part time as a research assistant for a law professor, and that’s helped my sanity and sense of self worth, but it doesn’t exactly pay the bills. And by bills, I mean student loans.
Back in December, I had some really promising interviews. Three of them, all in my home town. I felt fantastic after each one and started to stress out about how to go about choosing between them. One by one, though, they called to say that they’d gone with people who had 10, 15, and 20 years of experience. I wasn’t losing out to people who’d gone to better schools or who had better grades or a year or two more experience than I have. I was losing out to people who had been practicing law since I was seven years old! I mean, seriously, how do I compete with that?
I did some soul searching-and by soul searching I mean sobbing, forcing myself to face the world each day, and eventually finding hope as the WGA strike came to an end and Lost returned to television-and started again. I met with some people, made some calls, and in some cases, begged.
I thought briefly about just hanging my own shingle, but spending time researching legal ethics for my part time job, I’m frightened by the overwhelming number of ways in which an attorney can screw up and get disbarred. (And quite frankly, I’m really hoping I’ll be able to hold out for vision and dental. I’m on my last pair of contact lenses.) But my latest contacts have helped me to hope again, and I’m optimistic that employment is just around the corner. After all, I can’t stay jobless forever, right?
Looking back, I still loved my three years at UT, and would probably do it all again if given the chance. But the obvious moral of my story is that if you really want permanent legal employment, go to Harvard.
Ruth is a recent law school graduate and the author of Amicus Curiae, a tongue-in-cheek, hilariously self-aware blog, where she delights in making mountains out of molehills.