Sunday, February 27, 2011

Two JD's and One Paralegal fighting for a job

Yeah, I am still here. I went on eight job interviews this past week and it has been very exhausting. Five of the jobs were for sales/contracts management jobs, and one was for marketing for a health care company. Only two of the jobs were in the legal industry, one as a file clerk and another as a paralegal.

I interviewed for a paralegal position with Iona, Hugh, Jass LLP* in the south bay of Los Angeles.

I showed up at the paralegal interview in my black suit, clean cut and writing samples in my brief case. I spoke to the receptionist about my scheduled interview and how I arrived 20 minutes early to meet with the hiring partner. As I waited patiently in the lobby, I picked up The New Yorker and Forbes and began to stare at the clock. Suddenly, a cute little east Asian girl came running into the lobby and rushed up the secretary.

"Thank you for giving me the key to the restroom, is the hiring manager ready yet?" she said.
"Yes, just have a seat, and he will be with you in a minute or two." replied the secretary.

The cute little Asian girl sat right next to me and started picking up the magazines. She told me that she loved reading The New Yorker, and how she was very enthusiastic about her job interview. She wore a tight grey flannel pant suit and her perfume was too strong. I didn't say anything to her, but she must have been extremely nervous since  she kept giving me her life story.

It was the Amy* the cute Asian girl. She said " Iona , Hugh, Jass*  is very good firm. I even remember hearing about some of their cases when I was in law school. I am sure they will be able to help you with all of your construction needs!"

Suddenly it hit me...

Amy thought I was a client waiting in the lobby and that I was going to Iona, Hugh, Jass* for civil litigation needs. I didn't reveal the true nature of my status as a poor paralegal, or that I was there for a job interview, but I just let her go on and on. In the next 10 minutes or so I pretty much found out that she was  looking for any legal job she could find.

She graduated with a BA in Journalism from a state school and then went to Southwestern for law school in LA. She used to work at a high end cosmetics line at a big department store in LA ( think Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus) and made about $40,000 working cosmetics, and was sick of working in retail so she applied to law school. She told me her managers in cosmetics were making $60,000-70,000 a year, and that she may end up going back to work in retail if she can't find any law related job. During our conversation, she even spilled the beans and said,

" I am actually a recent law school graduate who finished in 2009. I am interviewing for an entry level paralegal position at Iona, Hugh, Jass*.  I've heard such great things about this place, and I hope I can learn the practical skills of civil litigation and get promoted to being an associate attorney if they hire me. I am sure they will be the best attorneys to help you with all your legal matters."

I told her "Well, good luck on your job interview. Hopefully they will pick a smart woman such as yourself to work as a paralegal for this firm." and she replied "I hope so, but the competition is fierce in this economy. I just saw one of my old classmates leave before I arrived. I think he was interviewing for the paralegal job I want!"

The secretary called Amy from the lobby, and she said "I have to go now, but it was so nice meeting you. Please, Please pray that I get this job.. I REALLY NEED IT! Have a great day!"

The secretary then came up to me and said I would have to wait another 15-20 minutes before my interview.

However, I already got the reality check, and I knew that my interview was probably over before it even started.


Listen folks, it's pretty pathetic when you go for a Paralegal job interview and everyone who is interviewing for that position has a JD. The vast majority of law school graduates, even from many top schools are working as paralegals and taking the jobs away from other paralegals, because they can't find anything else.

The girl I met even told me that once you leave the profession as an attorney or work in a non legal related field, it is extremely hard to get back into the legal profession. My interview went well with the law firm I interviewed with, but I am not getting my hopes up since they are also interviewing law school graduates for paralegal positions! If you do foolishly decide to attend law school, be forewarned, you may end in a job that is quasi legal. You will be a paralegal, file clerk, administrator or legal secretary. Taking out 180k in debt and spending 3 years in law school to get a job where you will answer phones, work on Microsoft Word and use Outlook all day long really isn't worth it.

-The Poor Paralegal

* Name has been changed to protect privacy
Iona, Hugh, Jass  = I own a Huge Ass

Saturday, February 19, 2011

How Big Law Firms Treat Employees

I am currently working 2 jobs to make ends meet and every evening I head over to 24 hour fitness to get a good work out. Over the years I have always seen various different characters at the gym: The desperate housewife, the anorexic teenage girls and the juice monkeys on steroids.

After I finish the treadmill or do cardio, I usually head over straight to the free weights. I am a pretty big guy, and I bench over 345 lbs. Sometimes, I ask others for help as a spotter or someone will ask me to spot them doing chest presses. There is one guy at the gym who has asked me to help him and spot him while he is on the bench press. I've seen him a couple times before at the gym, and last night I saw his duffle bag with a "name tag" attached. He had just come back from a trade show in Las Vegas, and I told him that I would always go to trade shows at the Bellagio or The Rio at my old job.  Many people think that Las Vegas makes all its money from gambling, shows and clubs, but the reality is that the real money comes from trade shows. Many trade shows in manufacturing, IT, solar energy, fashion, merchandising, and sports competitions are held in Las Vegas.

As we started conversing, he told me more about his occupation and education. He was an executive VP for a solar energy company and a former attorney. His name was Mike* the mergers and acquisitions attorney. He went to UCLA for undergraduate and went to a top 50 law school in the Washington DC area. He worked in a big law firm for 5 years and then in house for a finance company. He eventually left and joined a solar energy company. I asked him why he left the legal profession, and we talked for a good 20-30 minutes at the gym.  He gave me an insiders look at how big law firms work. This is how the Question and Answer session went with Mike...

Q.   Tell me a little bit about your background, where did you go to college, law school?

A.    I went to UCLA and majored in History and Political Science. After graduating, I got a partial scholarship and so I went to (Law school ranked 30-50 in US News in the Washington DC area)

Q.   Where did you go when you graduated? How did you end up in Solar Energy?

A.    I went to work for Howe, Dewey, Blowe, Dixon, Cox LLP* in NYC .  They have offices all around the country and I went to work in the mergers and acquisitions department. I started off an as associate in corporate finance in my summer internships, but switched when I started as an associate. I left the law practice and it was the best decision of my life.

Q.   How long were you at your first job? Did you like it there?

A.   I lasted 5 years and once my student loans were paid off, I got the hell out. It was demoralizing, working like a dog doing mundane work and my vitality was slipping day by day. The hours and stress were killing me.

Q.   How many hours a week did you work? What was so stressful?

A.   I got in the office at 8:00 am and left at 10:00 pm every day, plus I would also work one day on the weekends. I would work about 70-80 hours a week. The stress was unbelievable, especially coming from the senior associates and partners in the firm. Everyone was biting eachothers heads off to get ahead. The senior associates viewed you as their competition to become partner and they would treat new associates like slave labor.

Q. Thats interesting, weren't  you aware of any of this before you started? Were you surprised by anything?

A.  No, my law firm showed us brochures with smiling associates, promised us interesting work, and the infamous "work life balance" bullshit. It was shocking, because you are basically their slave and then they send you back to your old law school to recruit new people.

Q. What happend when you left? Did your co workers feel the same or did they leave?

A.  I ended up working for a small private equity firm as an in house attorney.  Everyone I know who works in biglaw is miserable. They are only doing it for the money. I was smart enough to live frugally and save some money. There is a fairly high attrition in big law firms between the 2-5 years. Many take jobs in house or smaller firms for a better lifestyle. The partnership track is virtually non existent in many of these big corporate law firms. Out of all 30 of the associates who started at my firm when I graduated, only 2 are remaining. 

Q. I am actually a graduate of a Paralegal program. What was life like for the Paralegals?

A.   The paralegals worked insane hours, too. I knew one paralegal making over $100,000 a year. She was with the firm for over 14 years but worked even longer hours than me. From what I understand she would pull all nighters so often, she had dry cleaning delivered to the office. That's how bad it was.

Q.  So how did you end up in Solar Energy?

A.  One of the clients at the finance firm had a start up that had many investors. I knew that solar energy was a rapidly growing industry, and so I left my job as an attorney so I could see what else is out there.

Q.  I see, would you recommend someone like me to get into a field like solar energy? I am frustrated that I can't find a Paralegal job anywhere.

A.  Stay as far away from the legal profession as possible and be thankful that you found out sooner than later that the legal profession isn't as glamourous as it seems. I graduated during the tech boom and a lot has changed since then. We are now outsourcing legal jobs to India and those big firm jobs are vanishing. The future of the legal profession is very uncertain. Don't waste your time looking for paralegal jobs, go back to business. In the long term, the money in the legal profession really isn't there, since most people never make partner. Even I wish I got an MBA instead of a JD, but what's done is done. Live and Learn.

I have had many random conversations at the gym, but I feel so blessed to have met this guy. He gave me a real honest view of what life is like in a big law firm and he even told me about a professional solar energy association trade show that I should visit, and inquire about employment opportunities. This was such an amazing and interesting conversation that I had with him, so I decided to post the highlights of my conversation on my blog. If you want to know how big law employees feel inside their firms, just watch the video above!

- The Poor Paralegal

* name has been changed to protect privacy

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sad Letter

After my last post, I received scores of e mails and letters from unemployed and underemployed legal professionals. Many of them told me how hard it is getting through every day with massive student loans, not having a job and dealing with financial hardships.

Many recent law school graduates, attorneys and paralegals all sent me sad letters about their own own personal struggles and thoughts about suicide. Many of them are now grown adults in their late 20's and 30's, and are living back at home with mom and dad. A lot of them have defaulted on their student loans and are working minimum wage jobs or odd jobs just to make ends meet. They talk about how horrible it is to get ridiculed and made fun of at their jobs where they are "underemployed" and how they can't take it anymore.

One letter really hit me hard.

It was from a unemployed graduate of a third tier law school in the NYC area, who was now working in the operations warehouse of a major department store. She told me about how her parents were really strict with her growing up and they wanted her to be a successful professional. She got a scholarship to law school, but could not find any law job after she graduated in 2009. She struggled and found a warehouse job that pays her $13 bucks an hour. She constantly gets ridiculed from other co workers about having a JD, her parents, and told me that she has a gun and wanted to kill herself last night before her 27th birthday.

I told her to instant message me on AIM and we ended up talking for about 3 1/2 hours last night. She goes to bed every night crying because she hates being made fun of and being underemployed. She even tried to burn her law degree until her mother stopped her from lighting her degree on fire. She hates the uncomfortable feelings and depression she feels through cognitive dissonance of attending law school in the first place.

I usually don't get too personal on my blog, but I went on to tell this girl that everyone has problems but no matter how bad things can get in her life, that she should never ever pick up the gun she has at home. I told her about about my own personal struggles and how she has to maintain a positive attitude and things will get better. My father was diagnosed with cancer on my 18th birthday right after I graduated high school and I was taking care of him and tube feeding him for two years until he lost his battle with cancer. Right after my dad died, my mom had a major heart attack and it is very difficult.  I am the only son, my mom is a widow and I have 4 sisters. You can imagine how much pressure I have weighing down on my shoulders.

I told this girl that I know it's not easy to deal with her 13 dollar an hour job, but things will get better for her. I worked whatever jobs I could to get through college, and I was able to find a decent paying job after college. I talked to her again on messenger just a little while ago, and she was doing much better and is remaining positive that things will get better.

When my father died of cancer, the social workers gave me some of the best advice ever...

They told me, "Whatever you lose in life, you get it back later on in life. Some years of your life are the questions and some years of your life are the answers."

If anyone reading this is feeling very sad, depressed or having suicidal thoughts, please call

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline

Be Well...

-The Poor Paralegal

Friday, February 4, 2011


According to CBS MoneyWatch, there are   5 reasons not to get a law degree !

These five reasons are very articulately expressed and raises questions on whether or not many pre law students know about what they are getting themselves into. Many law schools misrepresent their employment figures, there is a glut of attorneys, the tuition is expensive, and the opportunity costs do not offer a solid ROI.

One of the people who commented on the article is a graduate of a Top 10 law school in the country. She even goes on to discuss the grim financial realities for law school graduates and has a blunt way of describing the situation,

 "If people knew just how horrendous the employment situation was at my law school, one of the top ten in the nation, they would not even think of going to a 3rd or 4th tier law school, i.e., outside the top 100...

Again, this is happening at a top ten law school, where, with a lot of luck, I have managed to land the job I wanted. If you can get into a top fourteen law school (fourteen has historically been the magic number), law school is probably still a gamble worth taking. A top-fifty, tier one school might also make sense if you can beat out 75-90% of your peers there. But whomever is thinking of going to a 3rd or 4th tier school, I would seriously advise to reconsider. You will struggle madly for three years, only to realize at graduation that you have just been digging your own financial grave."

Speaking of graves, the BLS published its January jobs report today, with only a grave 36,000 jobs created last month. It seems that much of the data was not properly recorded since there was a massive snow storm and blizzard in the midwest that has caused so much havoc and many employers did not get a chance to submit their responses to the BLS survey. Ironically, the US unemployment rate dropped to 9 % from 9.4% in December. This is the lowest level of unemployment in the past 21 months, so hopefully the worst of the "Great Recession" is over!

Many people are still unemployed and frustrated with their financial situation. This not only applies to unemployed legal professionals, but also everyone in corporate America across the nation. Many are scared and frustrated of the what the future will bring. Many don't know how to pay rent, put food on the table, or provide for their families. Sadly, many are even turning to suicide. To all the undergraduate students reading this blog, please think long and hard before taking out massive student loans to gamble away your future.

Recently, on other student loan scamblogs, I have read about young people who talk about suicide. It is very scary and not a laughing matter. You may think I am just a poor unemployed paralegal, but I don't want you to end up contemplating suicide because of your own financial difficulties from legal education. Even if you are an undergraduate who has a lot of student loans and can't get a job after college, don't run away to law school as an "Escape"! Hiding in school for 3 more years, deferring your undergrad loans and taking on more debt won't make your life any easier. You may think it will be tough to pay back loans and struggle financially, but taking out 200k in law school debt from a non elite law school won't solve your problems. Sure, you can defer your loans, but it all catches up to you.

Don't be afraid of the joining the real world after college and remember, there is always a way out of your problems!

-The Poor Paralegal