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.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tearing Away the Veil, and in Defense of Mr. Rakofsky

Something didn’t feel right.

At first, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the voice inside my head. It kept saying “something is wrong here.” I chalked it up to taking on a new challenge, to taking a big step and changing things. And, going back to school full time, voluntarily, would certainly generate some doubt.

So I concentrated on what was in front of me. Contracts. Torts. Constitutional Law. Those were the first challenges.

However, I was looking at the 3Ls, too. I saw their cynical malaise. I saw their insider joking and putting on airs. I figured that was part of the process of law school – it was probably inevitable at some level. The “Band of Brothers” approach. I saw too, however, that it masked a legitimate fear – what do I do next, after the bar exam? Where do I go?

A select few weren’t worried. These were the ones who came from families of lawyers. They knew law school was just a rite of passage. They also tended to have the better grades, too, in much the same way SAT scores correlate with zip codes. Just punch the clock and get through it.

Everyone else, though, smoked and drank. A lot. They were worried. I could see it.

But I was worried too at some level, too. After all, we were all taking the plunge. Things were uncertain, but that is life sometimes.

As a 2L, the voice got louder. I saw that all that mattered was the crucial summer clerkship that lead to a job upon graduation, and that the competition for the handful of OCI options were few. This was so critical in that there was nothing else out there to mentor students. Nothing to help them learn the ropes and gain some useful skills other than this one narrow path, through the neck of an hourglass. Surely I was missing something.

Internships/externships? Just a resume bullet-point. Clinics? If you could get in, they were a meager attempt to pass something on, for 10 hours a week during a whole whopping three months at best. Classes? They were preparation for the bar exam (maybe), nothing more. However, all these “choices” lead to one place - NOWHERE.

No, outside of fantastic pre-made connections you either had to run the gauntlet and be the lucky one that made it through to a firm, or you had to be a self-starter. Hang out a shingle. Network. Meet other experienced lawyers in your field. Drum up business. That’s what other respectable members of the bar did. So should you.

That would be great, the voice in my head finally shouted, if you ACTUALLY HAD SOME MARKETABLE SKILLS at graduation.

Take the case of Mr. Rakofsky, an attorney who arguably took the “get out there and make it a happen” approach, which is the lauded path of the self-starter. A non-whining, non-entitlement seeking member of the bar. He was reprimanded by a Judge for being incompetent at a murder trial.

There will be those who attack Mr. Rakofsky. That he shouldn’t have been doing this sort of case at his experience level. That he should have sought better training. That it was arrogant to think he could handle this sort of thing; that he should be disbarred and that he deserves everything he gets.

Perhaps he did indeed do too much, too quickly. But the attacks from others will only serve one point – to distract from the real truth that this is the result of the law school machine. That thousands of grads are pumped out into the market who have no business doing what they are doing, except that they have no other choice. That armies of unprepared lawyers are trying to do what they can to survive, most with the crack and whip of student loans behind them. This is the monster that the system has created.

Then it hit me, all too late. The worry, the fear, the 3L cynicism. I kept waiting for something to materialize. For something I had been missing to become clear. I thought with perseverance and hard work, the light would shine through the clouds. I just needed to keep at it until I saw a path. Surely law school just doesn’t take your money and dump you into shark-infested waters, does it?

Yep. It does. It is the responsibility of the public/private sector, not law school, to train you, and it is up to you to score that training. Granted, some people will never have to hustle – merely the ones who didn’t come from the right families or are otherwise unlucky. Which is the majority.

Good luck, law grads. You are the ones turned out there with no skills, in a let-the-market-decide-who-will-succeed system. It will be you who take the fall for your mistakes, and it is you – not your alma mater, not the ABA, not your bar licensing committee – who will be branded with a scarlet letter as insult to injury. They will blame you for trying to earn a living, for trying to “do justice.” Clearly it is not the fault of the law school machine, but YOUR fault. Your sub-standard representation. Your sub-standard service to society.

Just like the mortgage industry piled circuitous, unintelligible risk on their own investors to make their profits, the legal industry piles that same risk on you for their profits. But trust me…your alma mater will be all too happy to ask you for a donation after you graduate, after all they did for you.