February 19th, 2009

Yes, I know — the law firm system is tanking. If you’re still entrenched in it, you don’t need me to tell you this — unless you’re busy clutching to those last non-billable threads of denial.

The fall of Legal Babylon is neither surprising nor unexpected, really — for years law firms have been the remora slurping up the I-banking shark’s bloody scraps. But, of course, now that it’s actually happening, we scream and flail like teenagers in a horror flick who just can’t believe they’ve discovered a psychopathic killer in the dilapidated shack filled with slashed newspaper clippings and rusty tractor blades.

So here we are, treading water in the era’s last gasps, wondering what will happen to all those fancy law degrees and six-figure promises. I will say it’s amazing how fast the game can change–when I started blogging somewhere in the blur that is 2005, capitalism was God, investment banks were His emissaries, law firms were the loyal priests, and blogs were some outer rim exercise in self-ruination. Now I get Gmail missives from 3Ls begging me for Wordpress tips.

But the fact is that the first step towards adjusting to the New World Order is giving up the delusional idea that the old way was how things were “supposed” to be: Law firms were houses of prestige, where the smart and risk averse could trickle in from their elite schools and dive into (moderate) riches. All of this was “right,” and it was “good.” Why? Because our career counselors and parents and peers told us so. And because money is, after all, money.

The problem is, we modeled our entire lives based on someone else’s promises. Kiss the right ass, get the plumb job offer. Bill the right hours, get the right bonus. And all of that is (supposedly) GOOD – it makes you successful, important, meaningful, and, of course, rich. Except now it’s all crushed under the weight of its own hubris, and the internal bleeding is carrying associates out like a burst dam. The irony is pretty rich, particularly if you’ve been getting plaintive e-mails for years (which I have) from woebegone associates bemoaning their horrible fate at the hands of the billable hour, and their yearning for escape. Thought you were miserable in that fourth year associate job? Now that it no longer exists, it’s suddenly worth slitting throats for (figuratively speaking, let’s hope).

For the record, I’m not happy that so many biglaw associates and staffers (and partners, oh my!) are getting the proverbial Prada loafer up the ass.

I don’t sit around cackling over the gruesome state of the private sector. But I do think it’s time to embrace the fucking revolution that is finally here. Time to throw out the “this narrow Newtonian sliver is success, and I want it at all costs” mindset and face the new reality that’s coming whether your septuagenarian career counselor will admit it or not. The “easy money” routes are gone. And guess what: They were never easy (or fulfilling) in the first place. So if you’re talented and driven and smart, find something useful to do with your law degree. It may not include a $160K starting salary and a five-figure bonus, but neither will Cravath in a few years. Peace.

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