My Day on Above the Law

Re: Consider this…

Re: Considered.

I intend to keep this blog focused on movies, but I was on Above the Law today and that probably won’t ever happen again, so I feel like explaining.

About three weeks ago I was stuck.  Since September, I’d been reaching out to different Chicago-Kent alums throughout Chicago for the purpose of expanding my network.  The common piece of advice I got, whether accurate or not, was that in this economy it’s not what you know but who you know.  So I made a list of all the firms I was interested in, looked for partners that graduated from Chicago-Kent, and emailed them to see if they could meet with me, provide me with some advice, and most importantly, take my resume.

The results suprised me.  I met a bunch of pretty successful partners, and even some managing partners at some of Chicago’s prestigious firms.   The fact that these people bothered meeting me (more often than not a complete stranger) just goes to show that lawyers are actually pretty good people.  Random acts of kindness live on, even in a down economy.

I loved these interviews because even if they didn’t land me a job, they got me out of the house, and god knows I needed that.  But after a few months, the well was drying up.  By January, I’d either met with an alum at a firm already or there wasn’t an alum there.  I started sending out emails to non-alumni, but didn’t receive much of a response.

Around the same time, my in-laws suggested I see a career coach, and figuring it couldn’t hurt, I did.  The session was pretty hilarious and I’m now the proud owner of two “web books,” but the guy gave me a bit of useful advice: don’t be conventional.  Now, his career was in advertising, and advertising covets originality more than law.  Still, I figured what I was doing had led me nowhere so it couldn’t hurt if I tried to be a bit more creative.

I tested the waters with a few cover letters to jobs I didn’t have a chance in hell of landing.  Once thoroughly inebriated with my newfound courage to just write whatever I wanted and push send, I hatched a plan to contact Mark Herrmann, Vice President and Chief Litigation Counsel of Aon.  Mr. Herrmann didn’t go to Chicago-Kent.  He had, however, sent me a signed copy of his book, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law, while I was a 3L at Kent, in hopes that I’d read it and use my editor-in-chief powers to persuade others to follow suit.  I read it, but if I knew how to persuade anyone, I’d probably be employed.  (The book is terrific, by the way.  And even better, it’s really short.)

I used the book as a backdrop to contact Mr. Herrmann and see if I could get an interview.  I figured my regular five sentence letter about getting advice wasn’t gonna do much for the cause, so I put together a tongue-in-cheek thank-you note.  In it I thanked him and his book for revamping my perspective on law school and work for the better.  And then I blamed him for making me feel compelled to work.  Unemployment’s a lot easier if you don’t actually want to practice law!  I said he could make it up to me by granting me an informational interview.

Now, he wrote his book from the perspective of a curmudgeonly old lawyer who cares more about competence than saying the nice thing.  He shared a dark, sarcastic sense of humor throughout, and I figured he could relate to the thank-you/hate-you note.  Worst case scenario, I never hear from him.  So I wrote the letter and snail-mailed it to him (it’s a lot more difficult to get the email address of corporate counsel) expecting never to hear from him again.

But I was wrong.  To my surprise, he got right back to me.  He immediately explained that he didn’t have a job for me, but that he admired my spunk and would be happy to buy me lunch.  I said I can’t do lunch because I keep kosher, and we settled on coffee (I don’t drink coffee, but mini-golf wasn’t an option.)

About a week before the meeting, he sent me a proposal: what if he used his book, my letter, and our meeting as a topic for his column on Above the Law?  If he couldn’t offer me a job, he could offer me some publicity, which as he put, could be good or could be bad.  Up to that point I had no idea he even wrote for ATL; I stopped following the blog a long time ago because it’s not exactly uplifting stuff for the unemployed.  But, the proposal intrigued me: in my mind, the potential gain in terms of employment outweighed the risk, my friends would be shocked to see me on the front page, and god knows I love the attention.

Mostly, though, it’d be a change.  Sitting around unemployed isn’t fun.  I look for jobs,  I apply to jobs, I volunteer, I interview, I watch tv, I eat potato chips, I rinse and repeat.  And then, every 15th of the month, I spend the remainder of my savings on a stack of student loans just so that I can avoid deferring for one more month, in hopes that I’ll find something within those next thirty days.  It really isn’t fun.  So a change — a change would be appreciated,  even if it meant I’d have to endure the notorious ATL commenters for one day.  (Best one, by the way, was the one claiming I impersonated Mike Borella, a friend who came to my defense in the comments.  I wish I was Mike Borella.  That guy’s awesome.)

So he sent me a draft of the article.  It wasn’t easy to write because neither of us wanted to damage Chicago-Kent’s reputation.  To show that it wasn’t the school’s fault (it really isn’t), we threw in the part about me not finishing at the top of the class.  It’s true: I finished in the top 34% of the class, not even good enough to put on my resume.  During law school, I fluctuated between top 39% at worst and top 27% at best.  But I never cared much for decimals, so I edited the draft and approved it, and off it went.

Last Friday we finally met for coffee and I really had one of the most positive experiences of the job search.  “Positive” because I didn’t just sit there hearing about how I should be doing what I’ve already been doing.  Instead, he treated me as an equal.  I mean, here’s a guy who spent the last 25 years building up an extremely strong litigation reputation for one of the biggest law firms in the world — a VP and chief litigation counsel of an enormous company and author of a terrific book (see, not very persuasive) — and he’s spending his morning listening to me, valuing what I have to say, and answering anything I ask him both candidly and completely.

Tomorrow it’s back to the job boards.  Stuff like this makes it a lot easier.

27 Comments

Filed under Objections

27 responses to “My Day on Above the Law

  1. BND

    Good for you, man. I hope it works out, and it’s nice to see some employed people wake up to the realities of the job market, too.

  2. Jerry

    Hey man, I just wanted to say thanks for putting yourself out there. As someone who graduated 2010 from a similar school with similar credentials, I am always met with a dumbstruck face when I say I had trouble finding a job. It was good to hear that I am not alone and I think we all need to be reminded that this market is the major reason for our unemployment. Lord knows that our schools do not want this story told, but it’s the truth for the Lost Generation.

  3. Mitch

    Job searching sounds awful, but hang in there.

    I caught the ATL post yesterday (it was a slow day here) and kept checking throughout the day to see what people were saying. Why I did that, I don’t know. After reading enough of CNN and NY Times, the only people who say anything on blogs like ATL or on news websites are either people who say terrible things without a second thought, or people so outraged by what group 1 said that they feel compelled to respond. Glad you held back and let others step to your defense.

    • David

      Mitch, will you get married already?! I need some warm weather and an excuse to dance poorly!

      • Mitch

        January 8th 2012! Don’t book tickets yet (don’t know if they’re even available), but the date is just short of a sure thing. And stay a while. There’s no reason to rush back to the cold.

        You’re more than welcome to head down to Florida now and plan the wedding for us too, y’know. It’s a balmy 75 down there…

  4. Seth

    David, I sincerely hope you can leverage your current exposure into some form of lasting and meaningful employment. No doubt a lot of ATL watchers will be curious to see how your story unfolds, and once you slough off the detraction of nay-sayers I’ll bet most people wish you well.

    This coin has two sides. As someone starting at C-K this summer (I’m a non-trad part-timer and will cling to my day job like grim death, thank you very much) I hope you’ll take the time down the road to share your experience — whatever its outcome — with the next batch of pre-minted JDs. Whether it’s over beers at Dylans or a club-sponsored speaking engagement, you’ll be able to impart some unique observations of real life after law school. Or at least how to make the most of one’s fifteen minutes in the ATL spotlight.

    Best of luck in your hunt.

    • David

      Cling, my friend, cling! But, seriously, Chicago-Kent is a great school with arguably the best career services office in the city (compare our Symplicity to those at other schools and you’ll see what I mean.) Don’t let the fact that I’m unemployed convince you otherwise.

      I would love to talk to anyone who’s interested in listening. Hopefully I’ll have a happy story to impart! Either way, I promise it’ll be funny.

      Good luck in school and keep in touch!

  5. Apartment 413

    You are my hero! On above the law for a second straight day!!!

  6. Correction

    NO, the best comment on ATL was actually a series of three, as follows:

    “How come the email address given is associated with Deborah Freedman? Try a search.”

    “Sex change ftw.”

    “living at home with mom.”

  7. anonymous

    Amen on the market keeping up.
    I would use you as an example of force to be reckoned with. You had enough self to face the people who commented on Above the Law (the pirhanas) with no fear. You took a lot of abuse. But no hassle, no sour grapes, no snappy comebacks, just a strong closing argument. Bravo.

  8. guest

    I read your post on ATL and followed the link here. You know what, good for you. I have friends in the same position at a t-14 and I know it is hard and know all of you will land on your feet soon. I admire that you haven’t given up yet and are getting creative. Hope things work out for you.

  9. Roy

    Best luck David! You’ll be fine

  10. Tree

    Best line – “I said I can’t do lunch because I keep kosher, and we settled on coffee (I don’t drink coffee, but mini-golf wasn’t an option.)”

  11. I can’t even imagine what you have been going through. Twenty years ago, when I graduated from law school, the market was very different. I didn’t know anyone who had trouble landing a position. Best of luck to you – maybe this publicity will offer you opportunities!

  12. The Jay Peterman Reality Tour

    Dave,

    I was on Law Review with you, but only as a cite checker. Even as a cite checker (and according to my EAE – I was a very poor one), the whole job took a lot of time. I don’t envy the EIC position, and it sucks that it has not paid any dividends.

    Hopefully something comes through. I got my job through Symplicity and it has been great. Keep pushing on!

    • David

      I can’t say it hasn’t “paid any dividends.” I mean, I learned a lot from the experience, made some very good friends, and got to make a mark at my law school.

      I know you’re not implying this at all, but I want to address something: In terms of being unemployed, I’ve never thought being the EIC entitled me to any job. Going into it, I figured it would make me, personally, a stronger lawyer down the line. Since doing it, I think I’m more valuable than I’d have been had I not done it. (People are free to disagree, but because we’re talking about “me” — a subject I’m an expert in — I won’t respond.) But entitled? People do a lot more and have a lot less.

      Thanks for the good wishes! I’m glad to hear Symplicity helped; I’m still checking every hour between 9-5, so hopefully my time will come soon!

  13. Erin

    David,

    I’m sure this is a piece of advice you’ve already heard, but don’t be afraid to look outside of Chicagoland, or Illinois for that matter. I’m also a fairly recent C-K alum (and C-K Law Review EAE!) and, since graduation, I’ve worked in Connecticut, about 30 miles outside of New York City. While the job market is tough everywhere, it really seems that Chicago is just a suck-hole for legal jobs! My current co-workers who went to east-coast law schools always look a little bewildered when I tell them that I couldn’t find a job in the Chicago area, even in the patent law realm.

    It seems as if moving out-of-state might be a little difficult for you as it sounds like your wife is currently a student, but it’s something to think about. Although, Chicago was pretty hard for me to leave and I only lived there three years! Best of luck.

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