Monday, April 25, 2011

Hybrid Careers - The Second (or Third) Time is (Allegedy) the Charm

"Maria Manano, a UNC-Chapel Hill Law School graduate and now director of career services at the law school, finds that older students have an advantage. "As career changers, they can blend their former career and their new career as a lawyer into a hybrid career which makes them more valuable in the job market," she says."

This is an oft-repeated canard that I am especially sick of hearing. You should be too.

Going back through the misty shrouds of time, you will see various numbers from various sources regarding all kinds of education and employment statistics. For the sake of argument, grant me that in the 1960s tuition was approximately 20% of family income at a four-year institution. While not chump-change by any means, it wasn’t going to break the family piggy bank, either. It was a stretch, but it could be done. Maybe throw in a part-time job, a grant or some other form of assistance, and you were largely there.

In 1960, around 10% of the population had a four-year degree. Out of 175 million people or so. When you spread 17.5 million jobs around the country, it isn’t that many on a relative basis. A four-year degree looks like an achievement. Heck, it’s not that expensive to boot. If you got another degree, especially a graduate degree – wow! Aren’t you a go-getter! When you blend, say, a law degree with a CPA designation, you are the bee’s-knees all of a sudden. “You’re the kind of person we need around here at ABC Corporation…!” says the CEO while putting his arm around you, giving you a noogie, and breaking out the brandy snifters. Life is good.

In 2000, almost 25% of the population had a four-year degree, Out of 275 million people or so. That is four times as many people as 1960, not counting the influence of the 40 intervening years along the way. All of a sudden, that four-year degree isn’t so shiny. In fact, neither is that JD or other graduate degree, because people were getting those in order to stand out. The hybridization effect, so allegedly effective in 1960, seems rather ho-hum now.

What happened to four-year tuition during that time? Well in 2000, it was approximately 50% of family income. In 2010, it was approximately 80% of family income. Graduate school has largely fared worse (or better, depending upon which side of the table you sit) than yearly undergraduate tuition, as law school tuition in particular has skyrocketed in the last ten years.

But, as we all know, academia is not all that well-known for venturing outside the confines of the ivory tower. The world is kind of messy out there. Kind of ugly at times. Best to stay in where it is warm and safe. Nonetheless, that old canard, seemingly so-true in 1960, is dusted-off, polished, and re-used in 2011 to entice the next round of prospective non-trad JDs.

Numbers don’t lie, folks. The world has changed a lot in the last few decades, the major difference being a simple numbers game. There are more people. Check. There are more students. Check. Tuition has increased drastically. Check. What was “unique” is now more “common.” Check.

Non-trads, do not believe the hype about the value of a JD as a valuable part of a “hybrid career”. It is just not true. With the ever-increasing amount of cookie-cutter resumes out there, employers are looking for a hand-in-glove fit, not a juxtaposed-rarity fit. Your investment in higher education is just too much to double-down on for the whim of someone thinking “Hey, this basket-weaving undergrad with basket-weaving experience, now turned JD, will be a perfect fit for our international bogbite practice! We just don’t see many basketweaver/JDs, and for that reason alone, I will hire this person!”

Nope, employers are looking for people with the “perfect fit” who can just “jump in” and make money now with little to no training, i.e. no hybridization at all. Outside of the halls of the elite, you go to School A to do Job A. If you go back to School B, you do it to do Job B. Period. It’s as if that prior education and experience evaporated. While I don’t like it, as it gives higher-education the depreciation value of an automobile, such are the times we live in. Any value that hybridization would have conferred, in some universe, has been counterbalanced by the cost to achieve said hybridization, the numbers game/passage of time cited above, and general labor arbitrage overall.

But the higher-education industrial complex will be blind to the irony of this, and instead of making education more affordable will instead place the blame elsewhere. Like on the backs of their non-achieving graduates, for example. You certainly can’t invite them around to the school fundraisers now, can you? At least not in any serious capacity. Best to advertise the one who “made-it”, a few years ago, as the subject of the fundraiser. See, it worked for that one. Money and pedigree cover a multitude of sins.

No, because there are so many look-alike "hybrid" credentials out there, so much more then is the need to stand out based on CONNECTIONS, which in turn impart the skills necessary to truly succeed. Which was always true, 1960 or 2010.

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.


  1. Back on November 3, 2010, former Biglaw associate and current psychotherapist Will Meyerhofer slayed this myth - and put it in a wooden coat:

    "But there’s a bigger, broader problem with switching careers when you have the letters JD after your name: people hate lawyers.

    Why do they hate lawyers? A bunch of reasons.

    If you are a real person in the outside world, the word “lawyer” means obstruction. The phrase “run it past Legal” means you might as well give up, ’cause it’s never gonna happen. Exciting business ventures ooze to a standstill like a sabre-toothed tiger in the La Brea Tar Pits. Some risk-adverse dweeb in a suit will spout dire warnings to you about unlikely contingencies until nothing seems like it’s any fun anymore.

    Lawyer means pretentious – socially awkward losers with fancy degrees telling you what to do when they’ve never run a business in their lives.

    Lawyer means threats. “You’ll hear from my lawyer” is the worst thing you can say to another person. And lawyers love to write threatening letters – it’s what they do best. That’s why lawyer is synonymous with wasted time and wasted money.

    Lawyer means annoyance. Lawyer means hassles. Lawyer means a total void of common sense. Lawyer means expensive, with little to show for it.

    Now mail someone in the real world a resume that says “lawyer” all over it and ask yourself why you never got called in for an interview."

  2. Lets face it, the U.S.A's legal education systems screams, "abuse me!" First, the typical JD class is 350 people. My MBA core classes had 25 people compared to the JD; my JD that had over 60! Second, most JD programs require no prerequisites other than 90 cr hours of work. Third, the JD is the only professional degree you can take F/T, P/T, On-line, or Correspondence. Finally, it also does not require clinical time of apprenticeship. You can graduate from a JD program and not know the practise of law.

    It's not surprising the career switchers jump at the JD's professional program. Hell, the MD's program requires all these prerequisites, four years of study, three licensing exams, and a residency of 1 to 5 years.