BY ANONYMOUS 3L
“The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in which direction we are moving.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
“Gah! I’m choking on my own rage here!” – Moe Szyslak
I used to tell people that if they were ever lacking in self-confidence, they should apply for a tenure-track position in a philosophy department somewhere. In return, you get what amounts to a mail-away self-esteem kit: a letter praising your accomplishments, expressing astonishment at your charm and sophistication, and assuring you that you will be a great success wherever you ultimately gain employment. It’s extraordinarily fulfilling to hear your praises sung by people of such power and influence, in particular if you have no interest in taking a crucial step towards adulthood. Only, again, you know – they don’t want to actually hire you. It isn’t an experience I expected to repeat when I enrolled at Harvard Law School.
It’s been a little over five months since I found out I did not get an offer. In those five months, certain topics have been rehearsed with wearying regularity. Greater world, on behalf of the Harvard 3Ls with no offers, let me tell you the things we know:
1. It’s not our fault. The economy changed unexpectedly, and things are tough all over.
2. In fact, as Harvard graduates, we have more opportunities. Most people encountering employment challenges in this economy are in worse positions than we are.
3. The loss of Biglaw opportunities means we may find something else from which we derive immense satisfaction, and which we may never have otherwise pursued.
4. People with offers but no start dates are in a poor position as well. Even those with deferrals of specified duration face the possibility of an unexpected deferral extension, or even an outright retraction of their offer. In fact, with things as bad as they are, there’s really no guarantee that even those who manage to start work won’t find themselves laid off somewhat soon. Biglaw right now simply doesn’t offer the degree of security it used to offer. Everybody is in the same boat.
Joined to this knowledge is the understanding that it is, to be fair, rather difficult as a Harvard Law Student to abandon all self-awareness and immerse oneself in self-pity. We remain conscious of the privileges we enjoy and the opportunities that exist for us even in our darkest moments. That isn’t to say we who were no-offered have no room at all for despair. But it feels impolite. Those of us who had been hoping to become Biglaw associates have been dealt a real financial blow. Must we admit what we were told to leave out of admissions essays and job interviews — that we did come to law school with the hope of making money? Must some of us admit that we hoped to make quite indecorous and undignified amounts of it? Or are we to put on a brave face and tell the world that our goal all along was to achieve enlightenment and live on an ashram, and for that purpose and that purpose alone did we deprive ourselves of sleep and commit ourselves to learning the Hand formula and the rule against perpetuities?
But the rejection has greater bite than a reorienting of our student loan repayment schedule. Not everyone who was a summer associate at a Biglaw firm had partner ambitions. Whatever the reasons we may have had for spending the summer of 2009 as a summer associate, the summer ended by confronting us with our deepest fear. Like many people praised for intelligence, talent, and discipline, Harvard Law Students are prone to the paranoia that we will one day be exposed as the frauds we suspect ourselves to be.
Then-Dean Elena Kagan ’86 alluded to these fears when we began our time at Harvard. Addressing the Class of 2010, she told us that our anxieties were ill-founded, and that we had all long since established ourselves as deserving of our reputations and the opportunities they made possible. So we studied, and we subcited, and we networked, and we keycited, and we summer associated. And employers looked at our grades, and our journals, and our work product, and our work ethic, and said, “We don’t want you.” We came from Harvard, and they were nonetheless unimpressed. Something about us was so unappealing that it outweighed the appeal of having another Harvard graduate at the firm.
And so we wonder – what mark on our resume is so bad that it outweighs the Crimson H?
We know the market has shrunk, we know the client base has retreated, we know that everyone is suffering, but we also know something else: not every Harvard 3L got no-offered. We did. We didn’t measure up. Maybe the hiring process was arbitrary. Maybe we really had almost no control over some crucial factor. But most of us got here because we’ve been on a long journey, with increasing momentum. And that momentum just evaporated.
I’m confident we will all land on our feet. And I’m certain that the experience will be an opportunity for us to find strength we didn’t know we had. I’ve met us. And we are, to be frank, pretty amazing. But the dream of Biglaw is hard to let go. And after all, there isn’t necessarily any shame in wanting to make money. Some of the wealthiest Americans have been its greatest philanthropists. Bill Gates has retired from Microsoft and dedicated a large portion of his financial empire to addressing global warming and poverty. And Tony Stark created his Iron Man suit to fight the spread of technological weaponry the sales of which, well, financed the creation of his Iron Man suit. Fine, that one isn’t very persuasive. Still, I don’t think we should be judged for wanting to be Biglaw associates with the money and power that would eventually have brought. Maybe we just wanted to be Iron Man. Think about it.