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Unemployed Lawyers Go Zombie, And Why

by Charles Carreon
July 24, 2013

Nastier than a bag o’ baby rattlesnakes, that’s what I’d call ‘em, the latest generation of legal vipers turned out upon the world.  Young lawyers are a lot like baby rattlers, well-known to be much more likely to bite than an older snake, that realizes that even though every other living creature may well be an enemy, it doesn’t always pay to attack them. 

These little asps came slithering out of the laws schools under a trifecta of bad omens: a spike in law school tuition, a dive in the lawyer job market, and the explosion of “blawgs” where unemployed lawyers can “blaw, blaw, blaw” about stuff they’ve never done, in hopes that someday, someone will give them a shot at a job.

Law school was no picnic in my day, and when we got out we were in debt up to our necks, but we got jobs.  Being a family man, I felt considerable pressure when I walked out of school $70,000 in debt – and into a salary of $47,000/year.  My wife and I both worked full time, she as a legal secretary, me as an associate lawyer, and it was always a challenge to raise a family of five in LA on our income, and pay down the debt.  I cannot imagine what it would be like to have twice that much debt, no job, and an economy with few prospects of producing a job for me.  Which is the position of many, many young lawyers.

Statistics?  Almost 13% of new lawyers have no work.  Barely half of new lawyers have gotten a full-time job that lasts at least a year and puts their bar license to use.  Meanwhile, the median salary for new lawyers is $61,245, while average education debt for private law graduates (including those who will never pass the bar) has soared into the range of $125,000.  If you ask yourself how those numbers are going to even out, the answer is, they never will.  We have minted a generation of lawyers who are under water, personal-capital-wise.  And as we know, that debt is non-dischargeable in bankruptcy.  Nasty.

Nasty enough to drive some people right into zombiehood.  Take Adam Steinbaugh, for example.  He can’t find work, so he blogs about things he doesn’t understand.  How could he understand them?  A lawyer with no experience in the courthouse or the conference room is simply a helpless creature, often veering from one near-disaster to another, frightened of judges, frightened of other lawyers, unable to communicate with clients effectively, spreading an aura of discombobulation throughout the vicinity.

Of course, Adam doesn’t feel like a zombie, yet.  He knows that some sense of decorum is required, that he needs to show restraint, but he doesn’t know where the boundaries are.  Meanwhile, he makes heroes of people whose own careers are not exactly the envy of the profession, like Marc Randazza.  Adam worked for a little while at a firm that represents truly bad lawyers, like the Prenda Law Group fellas, whose conduct seemed so clearly criminal to Judge Otis D. Wright III that he referred these bad lawyers to the U.S. Attorney for investigation in a sanctions order.  Adam scrounges around for praise from Ken Popehat White, and what good does it do him?

Tell you what – the more closely he associates himself with the Rapeutation business, the longer it’s going to be before he is able to cleanse himself of the association and begin a life of normal, meaningful lawyering.

Because, you see, lawyering is not about blabbing about “legal issues” on the Internet.  It’s about having clients, whose interests you serve using a wide array of skills that you develop a little at a time, thanks to the patience of the more experienced members of the profession.  You learn virtues like loyalty, and how to subordinate your concerns to those of the client by working diligently and never selling out, even when it means you have to work long hours for no money.  You learn how to control your temper, stay cool under pressure, planning your adversary’s defeat, and putting that plan into action, putting in months and years of detail work.  You learn how to lose pretrial or at trial, and appeal.  You learn how to win at trial, and then lose on appeal.  You learn to respect your adversaries, almost all of them, even if only because they beat you.  Before you’ve learned these things, anything you write is like a child writing about sex.  Utterly ignorant.

But if you have nothing else to do as an unemployed lawyer, you might fall into it.  You might think you’re keeping your skills sharp, reading recent legal developments, picking up on the scuttlebutt, but likely you’re not benefiting yourself or anyone else, because you don’t have a client to work for, and you just don’t really learn that much, theorizing in the void.  It’s like target shooting without a target.

So then, since you’re a lawyer, you’re likely to pick a target.  Someone who’s been identified as a vulnerable target by someone like Ken Popehat White, who spends a lot of time identifying targets for rapeutational attacks.  He has some little mental quirk that spurs him to do that.  Then he gets guys like Adam Steinbaugh to form a cheering section of useful foolish “lawyers” who can agree with him, zombie-style, thus emboldening lower-grade zombies, the console-humpers who will truly ignite the fires of a full scale DIRA.  At that point, Adam may even think “Wow, this is getting out of hand!”  But he won’t be able to do anything about it.  Having participated in getting the DIRA going, he’s pretty much bound to stay true to its principles.

But all this blawging ain’t gonna pay the bills.  And baggin’ on other lawyers isn’t going to attract a client or a future boss.  So here’s a word of advice for unemployed young lawyers.  Work for free, if you have to, but don’t just fiddle around and write about stuff you don’t understand.  It’s low-grade zombie activity, and nobody is going to be impressed by your drivel.  Give it up now, before someone screencaps it and publishes it where you can’t get rid of it, or it could become a real enduring problem for you.