Skip to content

The Lost Generation of Law School Students

Woe is me.

So lament throngs of law students as their eyes scan those dreaded words for the umpteenth time this recruiting season: “Although your credentials are impressive…”

Instinctively, we stop reading there. In an exercise of self-preservation, we skip the bad news and direct our attention to the disingenuous, albeit comforting, parting words that sit unhappily at the bottom of this two-paragraph letter: “We wish you every success in your legal career.”

If this account seems harsh, it is. Is it depressing? You bet. Is it occurring on a daily basis among students and recent grads in every significant American market? Regrettably, yes.

For those of you fortunate enough to never have received one of these letters, congratulations. You’ve either (1) picked a career that has not designated a “lost generation” (yet), or (2) fortuitously entered the legal field before the proverbial sky began to fall. No matter which of these categories you find yourself in, be thankful that these vapid and tiresome messages are not in your mailbox each day:

Dear Applicant:

Thank you for submitting your resume for our consideration. We appreciate the interest you have shown in our firm.

Although your background and credentials are impressive, we regret that we are unable to pursue your candidacy at this time.

We wish you every success in your legal career.

Very truly yours,
Every firm in America.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Lost Generation.

In August, a popular business website profiled an embattled Brooklyn Law School graduate struggling to make ends meet in the wake of the financial crisis. “Despite interning with the New York Attorney General’s office [and] finishing in the top half of his class,” the author sorrowfully explained, he still “has been unable to land a full-time law job.” Indeed, the outlook is grim.

I, however, am here to provide the perspective of the students not mentioned in that article. No, not the—gasp—bottom half of the class; the top 10%. And no, not the students who landed the plum internship in the AG’s office; those who matched wits with law clerks in the ivory towers of federal courts. So what, might you ask, is the connection to our friend from Brooklyn Law School? We’ll likely be waiting tables in the same T.G.I. Friday’s to pay the audacious student loans that made this whole experience possible.

By way of introduction, I’m a third-year law student at a New York-area school. Notwithstanding the self-gratifying preface, I do not boast an ivy league institution on my resume, nor do I engender any sense of entitlement with regard to the current legal landscape. Rather, I borrowed $100,000 to attend a mid-level school and spent the next three years chasing the carrot that dangled in front of my face.

Not so long ago it was axiomatic that a student who ranked in the top 10% of her class, wrote on the school’s Law Review, and spent her first summer doing some sort of meaningful (see: unpaid) legal work would eventually find herself at the center of a “BigLaw” feeding frenzy. Once here, the decision of which firm to join would have less to do with the $160,000 starting salary (since, after all, that’s market in New York) and more to do with the extravagant summer programs and five-star restaurant tabs they could bribe impress her with.

As the more astute readers can likely infer by now, there simply have not been enough seats at the BigLaw table in recent years to accommodate all of those who followed the marching orders and obediently earned a sparkling ranking, journal membership, and coveted summer experience. Thus, we find ourselves in uncharted terrain: a market saturated with overqualified lawyers vying for positions at firms whose decades of unrestrained hiring at exaggerated salaries turned out to be—brace yourself—an unsustainable business model mandating unprecedented layoffs.

Nevertheless, time marches on. And, notwithstanding all the talk about the diminishing value of a law degree (quite literally) and the blogosphere’s general acrimonious attitude toward the Lost Generation, I intend to shed some optimistic light on an all-too-cynical situation. From time to time, I will stop by to provide insight on the legal hiring dilemma from the perspective of someone whose credentials, although impressive, has not been fortunate enough to have his candidacy pursued at this time.

This post was contributed by an anonymous 3L.