What should unemployed young lawyers do?
There has been a lot of discussion lately about the problem of lawyers — most but not all of whom are fairly young — who have been laid off from big law firms or whose job offers have been rescinded at such firms. It’s an interesting whipsaw of fortune compared to the unsustainably high salaries new associates were being paid at those firms last year.
Bar associations are sponsoring programs for out of work lawyers.
Some legal aid agencies are inviting jobless lawyers to do pro bono work.
But it’s tough for agencies to house, supervise and effectively utilize a flood of big firm refugees.
There is of course a blog called unemployedlawyers.com.
The dilemma is aggravated by the fact that a great many of those young lawyers have staggering tuition debts that virtually require them to knock down high salaries that are no longer available. And those who aren’t so young are likely to have staggering mortgage payments.
So what are some of the options for bright young lawyers who have always lived on the fast track as top achievers, but suddenly find themselves unemployed? In no particular order, here are some random ideas.
- Keep yourself on a workday regimen. Get up, get dressed, get out. For heaven’s sake, don’t watch daytime TV.
- Work out a lot. Maybe train for a marathon or triathlon. Long runs outside are therapeutic, and endorphins are a great antidepressants.
- If you are relatively unemcumbered, consider taking off a few months to hike the Appalachian Trail, learn to surf, or backpack around Europe. You aren’t getting any younger, and it’s not likely you will miss any great career opportunities between now and fall.
- Network a couple of hours daily, unless you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail. If you spend more than a couple of hours a day, on average, networking and applying for jobs that don’t exist, it may not be psychologically healthy.
- Avoid the temptations of alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc. Those will only take you deeper into the pit.
- Resist moral compromises that would diminish your character and your good name. It’s OK to take a "bridge job" loading trucks or flipping burgers to stay alive. It’s not OK to get on a slippery slope regarding professional conduct in a way that diminishes your professional character and your reputation for trustworthiness. Dirt from honest labor washes off easily; sleaze doesn’t.
- Volunteer, even in a non-legal capacity. It may help you get outside your own problems and see that a lot of people are much worse off.
- Get another degree. An MBA program would be an obvious parking place for those who have spent most of their lives as excellent students. Or color outside the lines and get a masters in computer science, history, theology, or whatever may be your long-suppressed secret intellectual passion.
- Be creative. Develop the artistic side of your capabilities. Learn to play a musical instrument or write a novel.
- Consider hanging your shingle in a small town, bartering services for rent with an office landlord, attune yourself to the legal needs and financial capacity of grassroots families and small businesses. The country song "Country Boys Will Survive" made a good point. Even learn to barter your services for produce and firewood so you can eat and stay warm. Maybe even big law folks can learn a few survival tips from Jay Foonberg. I did it in an earlier recession. You can too.
- Think like an entrepreneur. Look for the diamonds hidden in the economic mudslide.
- Take a look at Solo Practice University.
- Remember that this too shall pass . . . eventually.
Ken Shigley is a trial attorney in Atlanta, Georgia who was recently listed for the fifth consecutive year as a "Super Lawyer" (Atlanta Magazine). He is also included among the "Legal Elite" (Georgia Trend Magazine) and in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers (Martindale). Mr. Shigley is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy. With longexperience representing parties in trucking and bus accidents, products liability, catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, brain injury, spinal cord injury and burn injury cases, he now serves as Secretary of the 40,000 member State Bar of Georgia.