Thursday, December 19, 2013

Year End Reflections, Part 1: A Society Based on Law

As of today, I've been unemployed for three months, and not by choice. It has been a difficult stretch. Although I partly enjoy not having to deal with a profession I increasingly hate and instead pay attention to other endeavors, like literally anything else, I would still rather be working and earning a paycheck. As my already laughable savings dwindled into pocket change and every interview is a battle against hundreds of other applicants, I have had ample opportunity to reflect on my life and life in general. I haven't done everything right in my life, but I think I have done enough so that I would be in a better position than I am now. Aware of how this sounds, I think I am a victim of bad circumstances, like most people over the past five years. The horrible economy devastated the financial landscape, which was the reason I was laid off the first time back in 2011. While we have seen a recovery, Emmanuel Saez, Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley, has indicated that 95% of that money is going into the bank accounts of the richest 1%, a story not at all shocking but still disheartening nevertheless. For my profession, law firms have been hit as hard as any other profession, in part because people cannot afford to pay thousands upon thousands of dollars for legal assistance. Attorneys get paid for their knowledge and skill, which is a difficult thing to quantify financially, particularly because the range of attorney's fees can vary wildly, depending on region, years of experience, firm size, the color of the sky, and whether you enjoy crunchy or smooth peanut butter. Slate recently published an article detailing how law schools are flooding the market with hungry mouths:
A crisis is looming in legal education. Last month, a notable group of legal educators who call themselves the Coalition of Concerned Colleagues released a letter declaring that law schools have spewed forth more graduates than the legal market can absorb, resulting in rising unemployment among young lawyers, who cannot pay off colossal student loans. As the New York Times recently reported, applications are plummeting, and a movement is on to reduce law school educations from three to two years—advocated in the New York Times by law professor Samuel Estreicher and law dean Daniel Rodriguez. The CCC letter similarly argues that legal education should be less expensive and less uniform, which sounds fine in the abstract. But in the details, the proposed fixes will make the crisis worse than ever.
That's just the opening salvo, but the entire piece is worth a gander. These young, inexperienced graduates are desperate for jobs. While you would think someone with my experience and resume would stand head and shoulders above the new blood, law firms are so cheap that they are hiring the lowest priced attorneys. I was recently offered a job traveling around 11 counties making municipal court appearances and settling or arguing those cases, in exchange for $15 per hour. Hardly the six figure dreams many law school graduates take with them upon receiving their diploma. I have applying for the same jobs hundreds of other people have as well. Some of the automated messages I have received reflect the bombardment of resumes these places are receiving (which I'm sure is true in many industries):
We are currently experiencing overwhelming responses [...] so please make sure to read and follow the application instructions carefully to ensure your resume is considered for this opportunity.
This email serves as confirmation that we have received your application. Due to the volume of responses to the advertisement for the position, we are unable to respond personally to each applicant. After we have completed our review of the applications submitted, we will contact those candidates who have been selected for interviews.
Back in August, I wrote about my disdain of my job and the problems I saw in the profession, noting that the American Bar Association warned students not to go to law school three years ago due to rising tuition and lack of job opportunities. Just for example, the ivy league school in my local city, the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, operates a prestigious law school. According to their website, for the upcoming 2014-2015 term, law school tuition will be $51,630 (plus fees and other costs). For the 2004-2005 year, tuition was $31,070. That is a $20,000 bump over ten years, per year. As Salon pointed out, law schools have no incentive to turn away students because they are raking in a small fortune. In hindsight, going to law school was probably a bad idea, and if I had an opportunity to do it again, I probably would have changed directions as an undergraduate. Salon also published an article decrying college in general (as opposed to law school):
Although educational credential inflation expands on false premises— the ideology that more education will produce more equality of opportunity, more high-tech economic performance, and more good jobs—it does provide some degree of solution to technological displacement of the middle class. Educational credential inflation helps absorb surplus labor by keeping more people out of the labor force; and if students receive a financial subsidy, either directly or in the form of low-cost (and ultimately unrepaid) loans, it acts as hidden transfer payments. In places where the welfare state is ideologically unpopular, the mythology of education supports a hidden welfare state. Add the millions of teachers in elementary, secondary, and higher education, and their administrative staffs, and the hidden Keynesianism of educational inflation may be said to virtually keep the capitalist economy afloat.
It's a fascinating look at higher education. In this fantasy do-over, not only do I pick a different degree (something in engineering or computer science), but I avoid graduate school altogether. My undergraduate loans were paid off years ago, and on my new magical career path I'd be enjoying a debt free, job secure life.