One 3L Perspective on Life After Law School Circa 2011
By John C. Stellakis
“The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.”—Vince Lombardi
The most-asked question to third-year law students from friends, family, and mentors is something like the following: “Are you excited to graduate from law school? You’re almost done!” The most received response to this question is something like, “Sure . . . if I can find a job.” Of course we’re excited to graduate from law school. Scare you, work you, bore you—right? We’ve been scared. We’ve been worked. Now, we’re bored and anxious to launch our professional careers as successful, earnest, and trustworthy attorneys. Launching our careers, however, may be more difficult than our three years of law school.
I believe I am doing all that I can, but there’s just not much out there.
Have I done enough in law school? I survived the first two years. I found my way onto a journal, clerked for two judges, studied abroad, completed a healthy chunk of pro bono hours, and passed the MPRE. I sent out dozens of applications—some to very good contacts—to land a second summer job at a firm. Not many firms hired, so I spent my second summer working as a research assistant for a professor and a law clerk for two solo practitioners. During my last year I am serving the journal and the clinic. I believe I am doing all that I can, but there’s just not much out there.
I’ve attended our school’s interview and resume workshops. I’ve met with our career strategy office to brainstorm a plan to obtain employment. The plan seems to be something along the lines of searching wider and digging deeper. Join bar associations where you’d like to hook into the legal community. Pillage the alumni directory for contacts. Consider working in legal fields you’ve never thought you’d like. It’s not bad advice. And, it’s not their fault that firms are not hiring. With or without the help and advice, our job forecast remains bleak and stormy.
From what I can gather, it seems the legal profession is saturated with new graduates, and many firms cannot afford to hire. Supply is very high and demand is nonexistent. If my sophomore economics course serves me well, I believe this makes new graduates a dime a dozen—a quarter-million dollar dispensable commodity. Harsh math. I have received many letters from firms congratulating me on my accolades and telling me how employable I am, but they are not interviewing or hosting a first-year associate program. Even the firms hiring are not taking many people.
I always thought there was more to the legal profession than how many personal injury law suits a student can find in a time-pressured torts exam during the first year or who is able to get the best outlines from upper classmen to snag the better grade. I’m a hyper-type-A personality. I’m welcoming and outgoing, patient, willing, empathetic, ambitious, and genuine. I’m a trusting person who could sell ketchup popsicles to a lady in white gloves. This description probably fits many third-year law students. Don’t firms want lawyers who will build a rapport with the public, comfort and reassure clients, bring in business, and work hard day-in and day-out? In other words, do firms actually seek an intellectual and social asset? In fairness, legal employers must watch their bottom lines and they go through hundreds of resumes a season. To expedite this process, they seemingly choose a few schools to hire from or only take the best GPAs from midranked schools. (Rankings are a whole other issue.) A logical deduction leads me to believe all of my hard work will yield nothing.
Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.
What to do from here? Well, law students are not known for giving up. Achieving admission to law school in itself is a lifetime achievement. The battle is uphill from there: deal with the stress and mental rigors of school; slave away during summers; graduate and study the whole summer to pass the bar. Doesn’t “success come to those who work hard?”
Despite losing comfort in that adage, I maintain that work does breed success. Another maxim keeps my fire alive: “Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.” We just need the chance to seize an opportunity where everything we’ve done shines through. Opportunities are few and far between, but some have to be out there.
My faith and calmness in this difficult climate comes from my atypical law student perspective. I went to law school to learn. I did not work hard through high school and undergrad to go to law school to get a high paying job. Don’t get me wrong, I have loans to repay, and hard work should be its own reward, so I hope to do well for myself. My ambition to attend law school, however, is not motivated by money. My aspirations are motivated by learning for learning’s sake and the privilege to help those in need of legal advice and support—to be someone’s confidant, source of reassurance, and, at times, savior.
I hope that I will find my luck—that my preparation will meet an opportunity. Although times are tight and things are difficult, there must be something out there for me. My persona and etiquette have provided me with many contacts and some good networking, and I will most likely find my match via these avenues.
Third-year law students approach the bleak and stormy horizon hoping for two results. On the one hand, perhaps things will clear up, and we will find a way to secure the spark for our career. On the other hand, we battle the darkness and survive long enough to find our respective paths. We don’t think about the third possibility.
John C. Stellakis is a juris doctor candidate of the 2011 class at Villanova University School of Law. He is an active member of the Villanova Environmental Law Journal, an officer of the Villanova Law School Student Bar Association, and served as chairman of his law school’s Constitution Committee for 2010. John graduated with a B.A.H. from Villanova University in 2008.
© Copyright 2011, American Bar Association.