Congratulations, law school Class of 2010. Your survivors’ guilt begins now.


On behalf of the fellow members of your employer, our most prestigious law firm, we wanted to offer a heartfelt congratulations to you, incoming associates of the Class of 2010! You’re now only a month or two away from the end of your academic lives. Take a breather, enjoy your victory lap, and blow your savings on that extravagant bar trip to the new Club Med in Goa; when you check your account balance after that, you will only relish discovering the date that you will be beginning of your bondage to Me, LLP. And I may or may not mean literal bondage, but I don’t think it would be a good career move for you to ask.

Trust me, we have work waiting for you. It may not be substantive. It may not be billable. We may use these facts to later turn you out on the street, with insufficient experience to make a lateral move, and literally no other recourse in this economy but your state’s rapidly dwindling unemployment funds. After all, did you think we were going to keep you around, hiking your pay when there’s always a fresh new crop of 3Ls being grown somewhere in this great country? As long as America continues opening more law schools, your stock will keep going south. Sorry.

But take heart. You’re among the lucky ones. We know all about your friends – deferred ad infinitum, no-offered entirely, forced to beg for jobs at Human Rights First or some other vanity project that’s been pretty happy to pay J.D.s in “experience”. Take a moment to think about whether you’d toss some pennies to your failed classmate when he’s lying face-down in the gutter and reeking of the stench of cheap whiskey. Of course you wouldn’t. I mean, you did choose to take a firm job. That’s just not the kind of person you are.

Oh, but the guilt – the guilt will be bad. You’ll shed some tears over the lost comrade from study group whose promising gunning seemed destined to land him a seat on an Appellate Court, at least. You’ll wonder why the girl who won the Sears Prize that one year now shows up to reunions with an 87 year old scion of the Astor family and lists her profession as “homemaker”. You may think you recognize that Starbucks barista, mall janitor, or “sanitation engineer”. But then you’ll shake your head and say “nah”. Harvard Law grads sunk so low? Impossible. I mean, you definitely weren’t informed about it by the alumni magazine.

But you won’t think about these things for very long. In the old days, we were flush enough to bring in consultants to help bright young things deal with the fact that the telos of their high octane, extra extracurricular-fueled adrenaline rush through adolescence and early adulthood was a cell-like office with no view, shared with another dejected victim of diminished expectations. They talked about family and how it could help balance an unsatisfying work life (not that we’d ever think it was acceptable to ignore your vibrating BlackBerry when baby was in distress), or played up the different “lifestyle choices” of mergers and acquisitions versus capital markets practice as if there were a real distinction.

My favorite was the paralegal who came to us from i-banking and decided to leave the Financial Times‘ “How to Spend It” magazine around the office, allowing associates to daydream about what they would be doing with all the free time we never allowed them to have. We even had a billing code for it. Pacing the office at night, I’d come across a second-year associate, eyes practically raccoon-like from lack of sleep, hands jittery from all the caffeine consumed to maintain the momentum of doc review.

He’d be gazing wistfully, with what little energy he had left, at the glossy pages of “How to Spend It,” imagining he’d partied away his graduate education in business school and was actually able to bail from the office at 6:30, like some kind of sales-rep troglodyte. “Oh, you want a boat?” I’d ask, and the beleaguered plebe would look up, encouraged by my effort to engage him in human conversation, a slight smile beginning to emerge from his weary façade. “Well,” I’d then deadpan, “maybe it’d get you to the deposition you’re supposed to do in Hong Kong. In 12 hours.” Then I’d hand him the ticket and remind him how unfortunate it would be if he didn’t make like that famous Cravath associate and take advantage of the International Date Line to bill more than 24 hours that day. I’d remind him that the Cravath associate in question had managed to ascend to the heights of senior associate on that whim alone. Those were the times that stirred men’s souls! Now I’d just remind my hapless charges that said associate still has a job – though just barely. As a contract attorney. In a basement. In Fargo.

Sorry, Class of 2010. We can’t afford those sort of sundry amusements anymore. Ditto the ordered-in meals and cab rides home. But there’s a Subway around the corner, and a subway beneath your feet! Funny how one word, capitalized differently, can take care of so many of your needs. Speaking of which, you had better not fail to capitalize the right words on the first memo you prepare for one of our clients. After all, you all said on your resumes that you were “senior editors” of your respective journals, and if you haven’t memorized the Bluebook as well as a Christian fundamentalist militiaman has memorized the Bible, well, you’re dead weight, son. And I do mean son: the clients are no longer paying for the ink it takes to make all our inter-office communications gender neutral anymore.

Not every quality of life provision is so costly, you say? Wrong. Casual Fridays? Over. We’re not chasing pots of gold at the end of magic rainbows; we’re lawyers, and we need to look professional. Buy a suit or two. Italian only. I’m talking to you, kid from out of his league who wore a Jos. A. Bank outfit to his exit interview.

Don’t like it? There’s a homeless shelter down the street, and I’m definitely not telling you that because you’re allowed to use your pro bono hours volunteering there. And don’t forget that, should you complain, there’s a pretty angry crowd of pitchfork-wielding crazies willing to knife you for daring to compare long hours spent in our marble hallways to your own private Gulag Archipelago. Yes, you’re between a rock and a hard place. But you do get $160k for the privilege. And with that, I’ll turn it over to your financial services representatives, who I understand are very interested in talking to you about that outstanding debt on your student loans.

Ekstreem Azwhol is managing partner of his eponymous firm and an esteemed alumnus of Harvard Law School, where he won the Sears Prize, the Fay Diploma, served as President of the Law Review, Grand Wizard of the Federalist Society, and was deemed “the crown prince of egomaniacal chauvinism” by the editrix-in-chief of the Journal of Law & Gender. He clerked for Justice Scalia and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush for his service to American ideals.

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